A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Julius Caesar & Auto-Immune Disease


A medical R&D firm, PharmaFrontiers, recently developed a "personalized" vaccine for multiple sclerosis. The company explains how it operates:

"The vaccine is designed to rein in and destroy the renegade white blood cells that attack myelin cells lining the brain and nerves of patients. To make the vaccine, we take blood from an MS patient and extract a sample of these renegade cells. The cells are then multiplied and weakened with radiation before being re-injected into the patient, whose immune system will then recognize them as damaged and attack them."

The company informs us that not only will the immune system recognize attack the altered renegade cells, it will also begin to attack healthy renegade cells, which have the same markers on their surface. In an admittedly small trial of 15 MS patients, new flare-ups were reduced by 92%.

(Bardseye viewers who suffer from or know someone suffering from this disease should refer to the cited article, and – please - not rely on a mere Shakespeare blog for medical advice).

And speaking of Shakespeare, I trust my fellow bardners are not doubtful of the bard's relevance here. Nothing is foreign to Shakespeare, not even auto-immune disorders and their 21st century cures.

We will take as our text a scene from Julius Caesar, specifically a conversation between the renegade cells who have been removed from the body for radioactive alteration; that is, among the loyalists (those fighting to avenge Caesar's assassination), who are discussing their planned return to power:

Antony: "These many, then shall die. Their names are pricked."

Octavius: "Your brother too must die. Consent you, Lepidus?"

Lepidus: "I do consent."

Oct: "Prick him down, Antony."

Lep: "Upon condition Publius shall not live,
Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony."

Ant: "He shall not live. Look, with a spot I damn him…".

The three men are targeting for death their own kin and clansmen who have given their loyalty to those renegade white blood cells, Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins, former friends and comrades-in-arms with whom they are now locked in a fatal auto-immune reaction; that is, a civil war.

Indeed, no sooner does Lepidus leave the room than Octavius and Antony begin turning on him:

Ant: "This is a slight, unmeritable man,
Meet to be sent on errands. Is it fit,
The threefold world divided, he should stand
One of the three to share it?"

Oct: "You may do your will;
But he's a tried and valiant soldier."

Ant: "So is my horse, Octavius…".

Careful Bardseye viewers will have noted that both the radioactively weakened white cells (Antony, Octavius and Lepidus) residing outside the body (just as those three soldiers have escaped Rome to raise an army), and the unweakened white cells that reside within it (Brutus and Cassius) are renegade cells, whereas in the play only Brutus and Cassius are renegades. Bardseye could argue that by planning a division of the Roman Empire among themselves without seeking the consent of the Senate, Antony and friends are just as renegade as Brutus and Cassius, even as they fight under the banner of revenge for Caesar's death and restoration. Or Bardseye could remind the reader that we are, after all, just having fun here. Anyhoo, let's see what happens when the radioactive white cells are reintroduced into the body of Rome; that is, when the civil war gets started. Here Pindarus describes Titinius, a Brutus loyalist who is charging through the battlefield on his horse (light means get off your horse):

Pin: "Titinius is enclosed round about
With horsemen, that make to him on the spur,
Yet he spurs on. Now they are almost on him.
Mow, Titinius! Now some light. O, he
Lights too. He's ta'en. And hark! They shout fro joy."

"Enclosed round." Aha! Just like renegade white cells being swarmed by the healthy immune system cells! Isn't it obvious? Is it only Bardseye who sees it? Anyhoo, this report so distresses Cassius that he orders Pindarus, his slave, to run him through with his own sword.

Cas: "Here, take now the hilts,
And when my face is covered, as 'tis now,
Guide thou the sword (Pindarus does so.)"

But wait! Just after Cassius arranges for his assisted suicide (oh – make a note for a future post), here enters Titinius. He's not dead at all! The swarming cells were friendly, not hostile, and were greeting and not killing him. But a fat lot of good that does Cassius, or Titinius himself. Anticipating Romeo and Juliet (unless this play was written later), Titinius offs himself as well, loyal toward Cassius to the end.

Thus was Rome restored, and with hope, luck and more miraculous medical research, thus may be restored to health those among us who suffer diseases like multiple sclerosis.

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