Shakespeare’s Best Female Character

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-2-54-27-pmShe’s in a poem that’s rarely read. Not only is she Shakespeare’s best female character, she’s his second best character overall (darn you, Hamlet!). She’s Lucrece, of the long narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece.

Two things especially impress me about her. The first is right before the criminal act of the title, when she attempts to persuade her attacker not to do it. She does not, however, say what might come to mind first in that situation, like saying that it’s cruel and selfish and hurts an innocent person. She actually improvises a compelling bit of oratory that appeals to his point of view, essentially warning him about the unintended consequences this act will have on his political career. Quite clever.

But after it happens, most of the rest of the story takes place inside her head, as she mentally soliloquizes about her situation for dozens of pages. She throws out one apostrophic lament after another, addressing her impassioned complaints to fate, lust, the gods, etc. Her thoughts here go far deeper than just depression (though, obviously, that’s a big feature) as she waxes profound about the nature of life and the world in a frenzy of philosophy that would make the Prince of Denmark jealous. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s truly and undeniably great writing.

More than once while reading it, I marveled at the depth of detailed world building that Shakespeare achieved in the mind of this one woman, and often wished that the reader could have met her under better circumstances.

 

Why We Teach

Talking to a few colleagues a while back, I learned that we all had a common inspiration behind our decision to enter the teaching profession. Sure, we’d all had some great teachers ourselves when we were young, some uplifting role models in the Dead Poets Society / Stand and Deliver / Mr. Holland’s Opus vein, but each of us also had had some incompetent buffoons in front of our classrooms who only inspired us all to say, “I can do better than that.”

“Silent Night” In “A Christmas Carol”

The rest of the world seems to have ignored the existence of this great 1999 film version of the classic story. I really like the use of “Silent Night” to illustrate people’s troubles to Scrooge. (Coincidence: this is the 2nd video with Patrick Stewart I’ve posted this week.)

A Bible Story About Guts And Poop

If you’ve never read the book of Judges in the Bible, you’ve missed this little gem in chapter 3:

17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

So, not only is this king assassinated, but the text makes it as pathetically undignified as possible. We have to be told of the king’s obesity, with the lovely detail that the sword sank into his guts up to the hilt, so that Ehud couldn’t even pull it out again.

And then that bit about “dirt,” a delightful euphemism telling us that when he had been impaled trough the intestines, this king’s last act on earth was to soil himself as his bowels released.

These details are here, and they’re here for a reason. The only thing I can think of is that the author really wanted to humiliate the memory of this king who’d held Israel captive for 18 years (Judges 3:14), perhaps as an illustration of God’s power to deliver his people and punish those who oppose him. Can there be any other reason for including these unsavory details?

800px-speculum_darmstadt_2505_55r_cropped

Checklist of 18 Gospel Study Resources from Elder Ballard in December 2016 Ensign

In “By Study and by Faith,” an article based on an address by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve Apostles, in the December 2016 Ensign, he urges church members to study a number of resources until we’re familiar with them.

Some of these resources are already common, like the scriptures, and others were only vague categories, like “the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful LDS scholars,” but he also mentioned 18 specific online resources by name, each of which was linked in the church web site’s version of the article, with each carrying a specific injunction for us to keep in mind as we read.

If it helps anyone to follow up and actually look into these great resources, here they are in a simple checklist:

ballard

May We Take The High Road

Despite the hope implied in the masthead of this blog–“The rebel of the 21st century will be old fashioned”–I don’t know if there’s really a resurgence of conservative culture on the rise, especially since so little of what is coming into power now is actually conservative.

However, if the Right is about to enjoy a cultural moment of influence, some seem keen to abuse it…or at least are enamored of the fear that it might be abused:

Back in 2009 when Nancy Pelosi and the proggies were ramming ObamaCare down our throats someone opined that they were acting like they’d never lose another election. Since then they’ve spent eight years weaponizing the federal government. Now they’ve handed all that power over to The Donald and the Republicans and they’re terrified that we’ll do to them what they wanted Hillary to do to us. They’re looking under their beds and in their closets, terrified they might find the monsters of their own creation. The monsters they thought they’d control.

But monsters, once created, are notoriously difficult to control. You’d think all those English Lit majors would have remembered that, and we should remember it too…

This will be a chance to prove ourselves to posterity. Now we will see if we truly live by values, or if we will succumb to the growing temptation to be populist fascists. For example, I agree entirely with this:

Conservatives have understandably felt for decades that the higher education establishment is indifferent or hostile to their interests. The number of right-of-center faculty has dwindled to the point of disappearance; Republican speakers are regularly shouted down; campus speech codes and harassment policies seem designed to disfavor conservative points of view. Now that the cultural wind is at their backs as never before, some on the Right may be tempted to be vindictive, and to do to college liberals what college liberals have done to them. Ben Carson, currently being considered for a Trump Administration cabinet position, suggested during the primaries that the government should police colleges for liberal bias.

Needless to say, such efforts would be deeply destructive. If Orwellian left-wing speech codes are wrong, then McCarthyist speech codes are wrong as well. If the principle of academic freedom requires the protection of conservative scholarship, it requires the protection of liberal scholarship, too. The aim of genuine defenders of the liberal tradition must be to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, not to replace left-wing academic hegemony with a right-wing version.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two wrongs don’t make the Right.

Patrick Stewart Performs Shakespeare’s “This Sceptered Isle” Speech

I like each of the four versions in this video, but the final one–starting at 5:35 and delivered by Patrick Stewart, from the Richard II segment of The Hollow Crown–really gives me chills.

My Favorite Scene From It’s A Wonderful Life

My favorite scene from It’s A Wonderful Life; a great–but tough and sobering–lesson is taught here:

“Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.”

“That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!”

“Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.”

Face Melting Bagpipes

I took my family to Celtic Thanksgiving IV on Saturday. Among other great acts was bagpiping stud Stuart Liddell (pronounced like the children’s book mouse), and this guy was AWESOME. I’ve never seen such blistering shredding! He has a bunch of videos on YouTube; here’s a good one:

Excellent Audio Bible on YouTube

There are a lot of audio Bibles on YouTube, for various translations, but some are better than others. I just finished one of the more dense sections of the Old Testament by reading along with the excellent dramatized audio at the minimalist-named Biblical channel. I’m surprised they have so few views–it’s really great work.

Sherlock and The X-Files

untitledI’ve seen a couple of episodes of BBC’s great Sherlock series with Benedict Cummerbatch, but now I’ve been watching them all on Netflix. As I watched the pilot, “A Study in Pink,” I realized that this show is built on the same dynamic as The X-Files.

Each show is about a man who already investigates mysteries. The man is a social outcast because of his peculiar interests and obsessive personality.

Each series starts with a new partner teaming up with him. The partner is much physically smaller than the man, and has a much more reserved personality. Clearly, the two main characters are foils.

The partner is a medical doctor.

Throughout the series, each character grows by becoming just a little more like the other.

Their adventures are complicated by powerful behind-the-scenes interests who alternately help and oppose them.

It’s a great foundation for any high-energy mythology. Surprising it isn’t used even more often.

Nephi Really Loves The Bible!

Today is International Day of the Bible, and that got me thinking about Nephi and his love for the Bible. Not only does he absolutely adore Isaiah–he cites, paraphrases, or comments on nearly a fourth of that prophet’s book–but consider this:

In 1 Nephi 17, he tries to teach his brothers about faith, essentially–he corrects their complaining about their lot in life by comparing it to previous precedents. Notice how detailed his metaphor is–Nephi clearly believes their situation is deeply analogous to that of their ancestors’.

Not only does he make several specific references to Old Testament material in one place, he writes that all into his record for future readers, for us–he expects us to be well versed in Bible stories, too!

Here are six references in 1 Nephi 17 to specific stories from four different books of the Bible, with the Biblical books to which he refers added in red:

 27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh. Exodus 

 28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness. Exodus and Numbers

 29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst. Exodus and Numbers

 32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. Joshua

 40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made… Genesis

 41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. Numbers

The Weight of Time

I turned 39 years old last week. While a lot of people my age are freaking out about being 40 soon, I couldn’t be happier. I love getting older. Every year is better than the one before.

I like the feeling of memories, and the growing accumulated weight of experience that aging gives. Every adolescent seems to enjoy posing as a wise old sage, but to actually have those things that come only and naturally through the measured passing of many calendars…there’s a sense of being in harmony with life just by participating in so much more of it.

Remembering things that are only history to the younger people I work with–that’s a good feeling. It’s warm.

Having actual nostalgia for decades long since disappeared–that’s also its own special experience.

I like watching public figures I care about getting older with me over the years. I like seeing  those figures from earlier generations in their past work and realizing just how young they  truly were then.

It seems like all the most beautiful women, for example, are all about 40 now. I suspect that in another 20 years they’ll be the 60 year olds. That’s fine by me.

Aging is like a heavy cotton comforter. You can wrap it around you and feel its solid weight. Youth–that ephemeral idol of our society’s worship–is just a light, silky blanket by comparison. There’s no real substance. I like substance. I prefer the comforter.

I realize, too, that this pontificating is coming from someone who still isn’t really old yet, but that’s just it. I know that. I don’t dread it. Of course I don’t look forward to the aches and pains, the diminished physical capacity that aging brings, but the increased store of memory and experience makes even that worth it to me.

I can’t wait to be in my 40s. I’m sure that my 50s will be even better. Decades of joy are still ahead.