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

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Antony & Cleopatra and World Domination


We’re in ancient Rome today, visiting a scene out of the Bard's Antony and Cleopatra. The Empire is being ruled by the triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavius Ceasar and Lepidus. This play and its events are a sequel to Julius Caesar, where the same three men avenged Julius’ death and re-established order and legitimacy (give or take) within the empire.

At the end of Act II there’s a banquet where the three co-emperors and Pompey get a bit tipsy and begin discussing Egypt:

Lep: “You’ve strange serpents there.”

Ant: “Ay, Lepidus.”

Lep: “Your serpent of Egypt is bred now
of your mud by the operation of your sun.
So is your crocodile."

Pompey: “Sit – and some wine. A health to Lepidus!”

Lep: “What manner of thing is your crocodile?”

Ant: “It is shaped, sir, like itself, and it is as
broad as it hath breadth. It is just so high as
it is, and moves with its own organs. It lives
by that which nourisheth it, and, the elements
once out of it, it transmigrates.”

Lep: “What color is it?”

Pompey (pronounced pompee) is by the way the son of an earlier emperor, also named Pompey. Indeed the Elder Pompey’s death started the ball rolling in the earlier play, Julius Caesar. Pompey the Younger, being an emperor’s son, maintains his own power center in the empire. If he wished, therefore, Pompey could call upon his father’s former followers to foment revolt. In so doing, he could conceivalby turn Rome into a hereditary empire, instead of one where the emperors are selected by the senate, or at times directly by the military. Think Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung in North Korea, or Assad the Elder and the current Baby Assad in Syria. Idiotic American liberals will add Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger, dismissing the key distinction of popular elections.

But anyway, does Pompey wish?

Menas: “Wilt thou be lord of all the world?”

Pom: “What sayest thou?”

Menas: “Wilt thou be lord of all the world. That’s twice.”

Pom: “How should that be?”

Menas: “But entertain it,
And, though thou think me poor, I am the man
Will give thee all the world.”

Pom: “Hast thou drunk well?”

Menas: “No, Pompey, I have kept me from the cup.
Thou art, if thou dar’st be, the earthly Jove.
Whate’er the ocean pales or sky inclips
Is thine, if thou wilt ha’t.”

Pom: “Show me which way.”

Menas: “These three world-sharers, these competitors,
Are in thy vessel. Let me cut the cable,
And, when we are put off, fall to their throats.
All there is thine.”

Bardseye viewers have not far to seek in substitution. Shall Menas stand for Radical Islamic theology, leading Iran’s leader/lunatic Ahmadinejad toward his dreamed of domination of the Islamic world and his devoutly-wished destruction of Israel? Shall the stubby Mr. Kim in North Korea take Chinese silence for consent and drop a nuclear weapon on Tokyo? (Bardseye has cousins in Israel and in-laws and friends in Japan, so for more than the usual number of reasons, I hope not).

Pom: “Ah, this thou shouldst have done
And not have spoke on ‘t! In me ‘tis villainy;
In thee ‘t had been good service. Thou must know,
“Tis not my profit that does lead mine homor;
Mine homor, it. Repent that e’re thy tongue
Hath so betrayed thine act. Being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done,
But must condemn it now."

I will draw a few hallucinatory modern parallels for this last speech of Pompey’s – expressing regret that Menas, his homeboy, had not done the killing first and the requesting of permission later – tomorrow night, since it’s late, and I’m a decade or two behind on my beauty sleep. Till then….

Friday, July 07, 2006

Henry IV, Part 2 and Unwitting Enlistment


There is a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II where the bard casts his great comic creation Falstaff as an army recruiter. The King must put down a rebellion, and Falstaff is charged with finding a few good men for the royal cause. Falstaff is holding a list of the potential recruits’ names, and in the language of the day to select one for enlistment, he will ‘prick’ the man’s name:

Fal: “Is thy name Moldy?”

Mol: “Yea, an ‘t please you.”

Fal: “’Tis the more time thou wert used….
………….Prick him.”

Mol: “I was pricked well enough before, an you
could have let me alone. My old dame will be
undone now for one to do her husbandry and her
drudgery. You need not to have pricked me.
There are other men fitter to go out than I.”

‘Pricked,” among other meanings, here means vexed or grieved. Mr. Moldy is displeased to be enlisted in the pressing and perilous campaigns of his day, preferring to remain pricked at home, performing his wife’s husbandry and drudgery. Thus do, for example, the sullen, underused manhood of France, Germany and Spain now molder at home while the flowering manhood of America, Britain, Australia and Japan risk their lives bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq.

Fal: “Shadow, whose son art thou?”

Sha: “My mother’s son, sir.”

Fal: “Thy mother’s son! Like enough, and thy
father’s shadow. So the son of the female is the
shadow of the male….Shadow will serve for
summer. Prick him (aside), for we have a number
of shadows fill up the muster book.”

“A number of shadows” refers to fictitious names enrolled on the army roster for the purpose of embezzling the royal fee paid for their enlistment. We are spoiled for choice in identifying such modern shadow-soldiers. Certainly the missing United Nations soldiers who could today be in Darfur, one of the bloodiest of the globe’s many current Islamist killing grounds. China and Russia, who continue to block UN action on the ongoing genocide in favor of trade with Sudan, must be charged as the corrupt recruiters whose acts have turned to shadow an army that could have ended a genocide. And by the way, can there be a greater or more humanitarian use of military might than to end a genocide?

In the end, the soldiers Falstaff has recruited line up to bribe a man named Bardolph to be relieved of their duty to enlist (Base means low or self-serving):

Bullcalf: [He gives money.] In very truth sir, I had
as lief be hanged, sir, as go….”

Bar: “Go to, stand aside.”

Moldy: “…My old dame…has nobody to do anything
about her when I am gone, and she is old and cannot
help herself. [He gives money.]”

Bar: “Go to, stand aside.”

Feeble: “By my troth, I care not. A man can die but
once. We owe God a death. I’ll ne’er bear a base mind.
An ‘t be my destiny, so; an ‘t be not, so. No man’s
too good to serve’s prince. And let it go which way it
will, he that dies this year is quit for the next.”

Whoops! The knowing, cynical, world-weary pacifism we thought Shakespeare was endorsing has been punctured by this unlikely working class hero, Mr. Feeble, who is introduced earlier as a women’s tailor. This noble man reminds us of no one so much as of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, the Italian security guard who was taken hostage by Islamists in Iraq. The fanatic killers proceeded to videotape Quattrocchi’s murder, hoping to transmit images of his humiliation back to Italy. But instead, Quattrocchi tore off his mask as the knives approached and shouted, “Now I’ll show you how an Italian dies!”

“A man can die but once. We owe God a death.
I’ll ne’er bear a base mind.”

Quattrocchi will live eternally in Italy’s heart (provided Italy itself endures). And not only in Italy’s. Mrs. Bardseye and I are expecting our first child, a son, this August. Quattrocchi was among the names we considered for him.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

King Lear and the New York Times


We find ourselves tonight in King Lear’s realm, a pagan and pre-Christian setting. As you know, the basic story begins with Lear’s abdication in favor of two of his three daughters, Regan and Goneril, whom he has unwisely chosen based on their false flattery. His third daughter, Cordelia, being too modest and sincere to so manipulate her father, was punished for her virtue and dispossessed.

The evil daughters proceed to insult and abuse their dad in every way they can think of. Lear’s friend Gloucester unwisely confides in Edmund, who is both Gloucester’s bastard son and the lover of both Regan and Goneril:

Glou: “I have received a letter this night; ‘tis dangerous
To be spoken; I have locked the letter in my closet.
These injuries the King now bears will be revenged home;
There is part of a power already footed. We must incline
to the King….If I die for ‘t, as no less is threatened me,
the King my old master must be relieved.” (Exit).

Edm: “This courtesy forbid thee shall the Duke
Instantly know, and of that letter too.
This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me
That which my father loses – no less than all.
The younger rises when the old doth fall.”

Let Lear, in all his grandeur and surprising vulnerability, represent America herself, and let Gloucester (Lear's and thus America's protector) represent those members of our intelligence services who are devoted to America’s protection, the cubby-holed analysts who seek that the “Injuries the King now bears will be revenged home.”

That sounds about right, with revenge coming in the form of a big fat bombing of Zarqawi and countless other raids, leading to the countless other enemy casualties and arrests that are taking place daily, about which our media does its best not to inform us. Yes, I know our military risk their lives to execute these raids, but intelligence is the oil that keeps the engine humming.

Alas, these Gloucesters, these loyal intelligence officers, are obliged to work cheek by jowl with countless Edmunds. These would be the sly, subversive agents of what by now has revealed itself to be an unofficial shadow government, one that has acted to sabotage our government’s policies from within (rather than work honorably to win elections for candidates with whom they agree). Nor can they be considered honorable whistleblowers, such as would go public with revelations of government practices they regard as illegal, openly attaching their names to their actions and allowing themselves to be judged.

As we all now know, Edmund revealed the banking surveillance program to the New York Times. That is, he revealed Gloucester’s letter to the Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband.

Edmund: “This is the letter he spoke of, which approves
him an intelligent party to the advantages of France….”

Gloucester is arrested in his own house, tied to a chair, and while masked gunmen chant “Allah Akbar!” and a video camera records every scream, the following occurs:

Corn: “Fellows, hold the chair.
Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.”

Glou: “He that will think to live till he be old,
Give me some help!”

Servants hold the chair as Cornwall grinds
Out one of Gloucester’s eyes with his boot.

“O Cruel! O you gods!”

Thus did Shakespeare, through Gloucester, pronounce judgment on the NSA or State Department leakers who revealed the (totally legal) banking surveillance program to the now-disgraced New York Times.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Julius Caesar and the War on Terror


OK, so here we have a war council attended by Brutus and Cassius, two of the conspirators who have slain Julius Caesar. The pair have assembled armies to destroy the armies raised by Mark Antony and Octavius. Antony and Octavius represent the side of the civil war that remained loyal to Caesar and his concept of a benevolent dictatorship. Brutus and Cassius represent the concept of the Republic, which Caesar had destroyed under the banner of reform.

Bru: “What do you think of marching to Phillippi presently?”

Cas: “I do not think it good.”

Bru: “Your reason?”

Cas: “’Tis better that the enemy seek us.
So shall he waste his means, weary his soldiers,
Doing himself offense, whilst we, lying still,
Are full of rest, defense, and nimbleness.”

Bru: “Good reasons must of force give way to better.
The people twixt Philippi and this ground
Do stand but in a forced affection,
For they have grudged us contribution.
The enemy, marching along by them,
By them shall make a fuller number up…”.

Cassius wants to let the enemy spend its energy in travel, while his side waits to be engaged. Brutus sees a stronger reason for marching from their camp to meet their opponents in Phillippi; to stop the people living in between from joining the enemy’s army as it approaches. Abraham Lincoln moved the union army into Virginia even before formal hostilities began for a similar reason – he knew that Virginia’s loyalties were decidedly mixed.

Osama Bin Laden’s continued existence probably owes itself to a similar phenomenon. The people of western Pakistan do stand but in a forced affection on our side of the War on Radical Islamic Terror (WRIT). Because Pakistan’s government, or at least its prime minister, is far friendlier to the U.S. than are its people, our pursuit of Bin Laden into Pakistan would undercut the prime minister’s authority, making him look like our puppet. Maintaining a friendly regime in Pakistan is far more important than killing one isolated and decreasingly potent terror master.

Brutus gives another reason for marching to Phillippi:

Bru: “…..You must note besides
That we have tried the utmost of our friends;
Our legions are brim full, our cause is ripe.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.”

We seem to be winning the WRIT these days. Zarqawi is dead, his (first) successor proceeded to die before we could learn his name. The Sunnis may be suing for peace. Iraq at least for the moment has a democratic, functioning government and growing military might. The prospect of the world’s first Arab democracy flowering right beside its neighboring autocracies, whose peoples will increasingly envy the Iraqi people’s freedoms, stands within our grasp. President Bush has indeed taken at the flood a tide in the affairs of men, which may yet lead us on to fortune.

But in the process we have indeed tried the utmost of our friends. Most of the rest of the world spurns American-style idealism in favor of a world-weary pessimism. Those governments who have quietly assisted us in the face of opposition from their own peoples have been embarrassed by the disclosure (by the American press, no less) of that cooperation – particularly in the joint surveillance of international banking transactions.

It remains to be seen whether this tide will carry us safely to shore. Our enemies do indeed increaseth every day. But who would have thought that one of the most dangerous of them to recently emerge would be neither the new Islamist regime in Somalia nor the rejuvenated Taleban, but the New York Times?
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