Beware the Ides of March

That is what a soothsayer says to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play. Caesar had reason to be wary of that particular date since that was the day the conspirators planned to assassinate him. Caesar ignored the warning, either out of fatalism or foolhardiness, and his assassination began the course of events that led to the rise of his grand-nephew Augustus and the end of the Roman Republic.

But what are the ides anyway? The Roman calendar was somewhat complicated and was reformed several times in the history of the Republic, until Julius Caesar straighten things out with his Julian calendar. Originally, the Roman calendar seems to have been a lunar calendar with the months corresponding to the lunar cycle. Thus each month began with the New Moon. The Romans did not count days from the beginning of the month, as we do, but instead counted before and after certain key days perhaps corresponding with the phases of the moon. The first day of the month corresponding with the new moon was called the Kalends, from which our word calendar is derived. The ides of the month was the day in the middle of the month, corresponding to the full moon. The ides was either on the thirteenth or fifteenth day depending on whether the month was a long or short one. The nones was eight days before the ides and corresponds to the half moon or first quarter. I would think that they would also make the third quarter of the moon one of the special days but it doesn’t seem to have been.

The day before the kalends, nones, or ides was referred to as the pridie, or the day before in Latin. So, yesterday, March 14, was pridie ides March. Other dates were simply counted back from the nearest reference day. So March 12 would be the the fourth day, ( the reference days were counted) before the ides of March, or a.d. (ante diem) IV id March. March 2 was six days before the nones or a. d VI non. March 25 would be 8 days before the kalends of April, or a. d. VIII kal. This seems to be a rather cumbersome system, having to remember how many days between the kalends and ides, etc, but I suppose the Romans were used to it, and maybe it wasn’t much worse than having to remember which months have thirty or thirty-one days. I’m glad we don’t do that though.

In any case, today is the Ides of March, so if you happen to be Julius Caesar, watch out.

Titus Andronicus

Most people today think of Shakespeare’s plays as the sort of thing that only the refined, intellectual highbrows could appreciate. They forget that Shakespeare was wildly popular with all classes of Elizabethan England. The Elizabethan audiences loved violence and gore as much as any modern audience and Shakespeare was always happy to give the theater goers what they wanted. Sometimes his plays are every bit as gory as anything made by Quentin Tarantino with bloody battles, eyes being gouged out, maidens raped, and worse. Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus is really in a class by itself as far as blood and gore on stage goes, as some patrons of the Globe Theater discovered recently, according to this account in the Telegraph.

With 14 deaths, brutal rape scenes, mutilation and cannibalism, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus has never been one for the fainthearted.
But the gruesome scenes at the Globe Theatre’s latest revival have proved too much for even the most daring of theatre-goers.
Members of the audience have been fainting during the play’s most violent scenes, with others reporting feeling sick and warning of sleepless nights.
The play, a revival of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production, is publicised with a warning that it is “grotesquely violent and daringly experimental”, with a “terrible cycle of mutilation, rape and murder”.
The play’s most famous scene sees Titus murder the sons of his rival Tamora, Queen of the Goths, later feeding their remains to her in a pie. A spokesman for the Globe confirmed five members of the audience fainted in a particularly gory five-minute scene, adding front of house staff are “very well trained to look after people”. It is understood all five fell while watching Lavinia emerge from being brutally raped, with her tongue cut out and holding bloodied stumps for arms. “Shakespeare definitely didn’t pull any punches when he was writing Titus – it is a brutally violent play and Lucy’s production is a bloody, exhilarating, incense-laden feast for the senses,” the spokesman added. “But not one for the squeamish!” One theatre-goer, who watched the show’s opening night, said there had been “quite a few droppers” in the audience, who fainted upon seeing so much blood. Another reported he had “almost puked” by the interval, while a third warned: “You will definitely need a strong stomach”. Others praised the “Brilliantly staged and flawlessly acted” production, but warned of “blood and violence galore”. “Can’t fall asleep after watching a great but gory performance of Titus Andronicus,” one ticket-holder wrote on Twitter. Sources at Shakespeare’s Globe confirmed trained first aiders were present for the show. The theatre is well-versed in fainting audience members, after visitors blanched at the blood and gore in the original 2006 production.
And you thought Shakespeare was boring. Titus Andronicus is one of the best known examples of a revenge play along with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. A revenge play is a tragedy in which the protagonist seeks revenge for some wrong committed by the villain, generally the murder of a kinsman. The genre was very popular in Shakespeare’s time but curiously, Shakespeare didn’t really use it much. Of his plays only Titus Andronicus and Hamlet could really be considered revenge plays, though there were elements in some of his other plays, such as Julius Caesar and Macbeth. Titus Andronicus was one of his earlier plays, his first tragedy,  and may have been a collaboration with George Peele. Perhaps as Shakespeare became more established and popular, he was less inclined to follow trends. After all, at the height of his career, he was the one setting the fashion in drama. I hope the promise of blood and gore will encourage people to investigate Shakespeare. Shakespeare really doesn’t belong to the intellectuals and the literature professors. He belongs to all of us.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Hail Caesar

Last week, Forbes ran an opinion piece which called for impeaching President Obama on the grounds that a president with such contempt for the constitution and the rule of law ought not to remain unpunished. As if to confirm the point, when President Obama traveled to San Fransisco recently, he was met by protesters who demanded that he stop abiding by the constitution and make laws by decree, or executive order. Zombie, the last sane person in San Fransisco, reported on this at PJMedia.

When Obama’s motorcade rocketed around San Francisco on Monday, very few locals even noticed his presence, and fewer still cared. The crowds awaiting him at each presidential fundraiser were by far the smallest I’d seen in over five years of covering his visits here. Ticket sales to at least one of the events were so sluggish that prices had to be lowered to fill the empty seats. Out in the street, rubberneckers and protesters had dwindled to the bare minimum. This is what happens when a hero disappoints: you don’t turn on him in anger, but rather just tune him out and move on to other interests.

Yet even with the small turnout, there was a theme amongst Obama’s protesters/supporters (supportesters?): They didn’t want him to change his political agenda — instead, they demanded that he assume dictatorial powers so that he could finally implement the radical plans with which they already agree. The message of the day was: Stop dilly-dallying around, Mr. President: Ignore the Constitution and just make The Revolution happen, as you promised!

That message would be disturbing enough all on its own, but it becomes much more disturbing when you suspect (as I do) that many of these pro-totalitarian protesters were astroturfed. In other words: Is the White House scripting/encouraging/guiding protesters on the left to beg him to become a dictator? So that later, he can explain, “I had no choice — the people demanded it!” Or is Obama simply telegraphing to his supporters that they should not be so disappointed when he throws in the towel and gives up even trying to achieve anything in his second term?

Zombie includes a video from BBC News of an apparently planted heckler and Obama’s response.

This reminds me of a scene at the beginning of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. While the two conspirators, Brutus and Cassius discuss Caesar’s ambition and fret that he means to make himself king, they hear the crowds offstage cheering three times in the forum where Caesar is speaking. When Caesar is done he appears briefly on stage looking upset and the two men ask a Senator named Casca who had witnessed the event what had happened. Casca explains that Mark Antony had offered a crown to Caesar three times and Caesar had rejected it. Each time the crowds cheered louder and Caesar rejected the crown more reluctantly.

Apparently Julius Caesar had staged this show in order to show the Senators that he was not planning to make himself king, while hoping that the masses would demand his crowning. He could then be king, saying that he had to bow to the popular will. Is Obama playing a similar game? Zombie has two theories.

There are two ways to interpret these bizarre theatrical skits involving Obama and his supporters.

Innocent Theory #1 is that Obama is essentially announcing to his base via these symbolic heckling exchanges that he no longer has the political will to issue as many power-grabbing executive orders as he’s done up til now, and that The Revolution has been put back on hold. “Ram through the progressive wish list with brazen executive orders? Why, I couldn’t do that (any more, at least) — it’d be unconstitutional!” Theory #1, if true, would certainly be in response to plummeting poll numbers and the sobering reality that the Republicans are now almost certain to maintain control of the House of Representatives in 2014, meaning Obama is conceding that he has been effectively stymied, and is thus warning his supporters not to get their hopes up.

Sinister Theory #2 is that Obama is staging these repeated calls for him to assume dictatorial powers as a way to later justify his actions when he amps up and redoubles his unconstitutional executive orders. “I wanted to be a passive and humble president, I really did — but the public demanded that I seize power, so I had to obey the people!” Theory #2, if true, would be based on the fact that Obama is a lame duck president and thus immune from any need to remain “electable”: He could basically do whatever he wanted for the next three years, however extreme, and “get away with it” since he never has to run for office again and Congress obviously will never impeach him at this stage of the game.

I’d say that both theories are true. Perhaps Obama staged these events to show that he does not intend to rule as a dictator, and yet is hoping to rouse public pressure that he do just that. To be fair, Barack Obama is not the first president to chafe at the limitations of his office and to consider that his job would be a whole lot easier if he were a dictator. I recall that one of the Bushes, I think the elder, made such a comment once. But, no other president planted hecklers in a crowd to demand that he simply ignore those limitations. It sounds crazy to be writing this, but I have never had the sort of feeling about any other president, that if he could get away with it, he really would do away with the constitution in order to effect the radical change he believes this country needs.

And then there is this, from the Examiner.

The recent “surge purge,” by the Obama administration, of senior military officers is astounding.

This year nine generals and flag officers have been relieved of command. In the five years, Obama has been in office 197 officers have been removed.

It’s being reported that a veteran U.S. Army intelligence official has said about the “surge purge” that it’s part of creating a “compliant officer class.”

WND said the veteran Army intelligence official told them there is a major concern brewing in our military about the “compliant officer class.” He spoke to WND on the condition of anonymity and said the following:

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find senior officers with a pair of balls in there [the military] now that would say no to anything. Maybe at the rank of major or below, and possibly there are some in SOF (Special Operations Forces), but to make colonel and higher is all politics.”

The veteran Army intelligence official also said, “I didn’t read one piece of resistance to the DADT repeal, and I haven’t seen one peep about females in the infantry.” According to him, there wasn’t any real “public concern expressed by officers” about either of these polices.

What the intelligence official said mirrors what other retired generals have said about the “surge purge.” These generals have grave concerns about the “high rate of senior military officials dismissed” by the Obama administration.

It would appear that the Obama administration has almost accomplished the work of extinguishing the morale of our military. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady told WND the following: “There is no doubt he (Obama) is intent on emasculating the military and will fire anyone who disagrees with him over such issues as “homosexuals, women in foxholes, and the Obama sequester.”

Gen. Brady is the winner of our military’s highest award, The Medal of Honor. Retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin had the following to say about the “surge purge:”

“Over the past three years, it is unprecedented for the number of four-star generals to be relieved of duty, and not necessarily relieved for cause. I believe there is a purging of the military, the problem is worse than we have ever seen. I talk to a lot of folks who don’t support where Obama is taking the military, but in the military they can’t say anything.”

When it comes to compliance with Obama’s new social order, the Army intelligence official told WND it would probably be accomplished by any means necessary. This includes the Army cheating to ensure at least one woman would pass through basic training.

It’s said the reason for creating the officer compliant class is so that our military will follow orders without question. The Policy and Issues Examiner Joe Newby reports the following:

“President Obama wants military leaders who will fire on U.S. citizens.” This was according to Dr. Jim Garrow, whom the Examiner had an exclusive interview with in Jan. of this year. Garrow is a renowned author and humanitarian who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

The Examiner also reported Garrow as saying, it’s part of the effort to weed out those who won’t swear loyalty to President Obama and obey orders to fire on American citizens who refuse to give up their guns.”

The new social order of Obama’s military also includes creating a compliant soldier. Last month, the Marine Corps Examiner reported the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was being used as a source to define extremism.

We also reported that soldiers at Fort Hood were told: “Evangelical Christians and tea party members are extremists and a threat to America.” Creating the compliant officer class seems to run hand in hand with how the Army has recently been training our soldiers.

It would appear indoctrinating our soldiers and using the SPLC as a reliable source is an effort to ensure our military will heed the orders from the Obama administration instead of the Constitution.

What is really going on here? Is Obama preparing for some kind of coup? It seems crazy to even ask the question, but somehow I can’t simply dismiss the possibility. Maybe, because it is not just President Obama. By himself he can do little. But there seems to be a certain number of my fellow Americans who are willing to give up their freedom in order to get certain policies enacted or even just to destroy the opposition. I wonder if we will still be a free country twenty years from now.


Shakespeare the Businessman

William Shakespeare is considered by many to be the finest writer in the English language and perhaps one of the best in any language. His plays have been performed, read, studied and translated into every major language in the four hundred years since he wrote them. Shakespeare’s literary works and influences are well known. Less well known is his personal life and his business affairs. As a recent study from Aberystwyth University has shown, Shakespeare was a ruthless businessman and even a tax evader. I read the story in Yahoo News.

Hoarder, moneylender, tax dodger — it’s not how we usually think of William Shakespeare.

But we should, according to a group of academics who say the Bard was a ruthless businessman who grew wealthy dealing in grain during a time of famine.

Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales argue that we can’t fully understand Shakespeare unless we study his often-overlooked business savvy.

“Shakespeare the grain-hoarder has been redacted from history so that Shakespeare the creative genius could be born,” the researchers say in a paper due to be delivered at the Hay literary festival in Wales in May.

Jayne Archer, a lecturer in medieval and Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth, said that oversight is the product of “a willful ignorance on behalf of critics and scholars who I think — perhaps through snobbery — cannot countenance the idea of a creative genius also being motivated by self-interest.”

Archer and her colleagues Howard Thomas and Richard Marggraf Turley combed through historical archives to uncover details of the playwright’s parallel life as a grain merchant and property owner in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon whose practices sometimes brought him into conflict with the law.

Actually, none of this is much of a surprise to anyone who has read a decent biography of Shakespeare. He was well known, in his time for being a shrewd and wealthy man. We think of Shakespeare as a writer that writes in an archaic language and who only scholars would care to read. In fact, Shakespeare was popular with Elizabethan and Jacobin audiences. He was the Steven Spielberg of his day and audiences flocked to see plays put on by his company. Thus, he became a wealthy man.

Shakespeare did not actually make his fortune by writing plays. Except for pirated versions, his plays were not published until after his death. No theater company published their plays because publishing plays did not earn nearly as much money as performing them and they did not want their competitors profiting by their efforts. He made his fortune as a part owner of his theatrical company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men or later the King’s Men. Shakespeare was not trying to create great art which would last the ages. Writing plays was a matter of business for him.

This was long thought to be the only portrait ...
Is this the face of a hoarder and tax-evader? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare led a rather frugal life in London and used most of his earnings to buy property and investments in his home town of

Strafford upon Avon. His wife and children stayed behind as he made his living at London and although he did visit his home, Shakespeare spent much of his life away from his family. Perhaps they felt the living he was able to provide for them was adequate compensation for an absent husband and father. Because Shakespeare was careful with his money, he died a wealthy man, unlike many of his contemporaries in the literary scene, and he was able to give his family a generous inheritance when he died.

I notice that many of the news reports on the Aberystwyth University study are fairly critical of Shakespeare’s business dealings. They shouldn’t be. Shakespeare was trying to do the best he could to get ahead in a hard world.

Archer said the idea of Shakespeare as a hardheaded businessman may not fit with romantic notions of the sensitive artist, but we shouldn’t judge him too harshly. Hoarding grain was his way of ensuring that his family and neighbors would not go hungry if a harvest failed.

“Remembering Shakespeare as a man of hunger makes him much more human, much more understandable, much more complex,” she said.

“He would not have thought of himself first and foremost as a writer. Possibly as an actor — but first and foremost as a good father, a good husband and a good citizen to the people of Stratford.”

After all, a poor, struggling Shakespeare might not have given the world his marvelous plays.

My Secret Vice

I have a confession to make, something that I have never told anyone before, but I feel it’s time to come out of the closet.


Okay, maybe not quite that shocking. Here it is. I like to read Shakespeare’s plays, for pleasure.

The problem with Shakespeare is that over the centuries, the literary critics and the intellectuals have gotten hold of him. They have given the impression that the only way to read Shakespeare is with furrowed brow, studying the great themes he put in his plays, etc. Shakespeare himself, if he came back from the grave, would probably laugh at all of the interpretations of his plays, and explain that Hamlet was a rush job, or that the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet was written while he was drunk. Isaac Asimov actually wrote a short story, The Immortal Bard,  in which a scientist brings Shakespeare to our time. He is amused by all of the commentary his plays had produced and takes a college course on his own plays. The scientist has to send him back in humiliation when he flunks out.

Shakespeare was not writing for the ages. He wrote his plays for his audience. And, they are good, really good. They are full of action, romance, even humor. The language is a bit difficult but not insurmountable. The meanings of most of the more archaic words can be deduced from context. The blank verse takes a little getting used to but it’s not so hard. After a while you get to actually enjoy the rhythms.

Shakespeare’s characters talk more than is usually the case in modern plays and movies. This is because he did not have the advantage of modern technology to create special effects. Nor could he use such camera techniques as close-ups or various angle shots. He couldn’t usually show a battle with hundreds of soldiers on stage. A lot of the action had to take place off stage with the actors describing what was happening. He couldn’t show a flashback. An actor had to say what had happened before the events of the play. The soliloquys were the best technique he had for telling the audience what was on the character’s minds.

When you take into account the limitations that Shakespeare had to work with, his genius is all the more incredible. I can’t help but wonder what he would have made with all the technology of modern Hollywood, and why there are no contemporary Shakespeares.

Anyway, try reading and watching his plays. You’ll like them, trust me.

Oh, and if you want to insult someone and don’t want to use the usual stand-bys, there’s the Shakespearean insulter, thou weedy, common-kissing pignut!

%d bloggers like this: