Archive for the 'Histories' Category

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry V

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

After months and months of indignant denials, the Trump administration is finally being made to confront hard evidence of their campaign’s collusion with the Russians. To be clear, there’s not any evidence that they colluded in the Russians’ election-tampering, but there was definitely ongoing communication between the Trump people and the Russian government, and about the election.

Donald Trump Jr. was forced to reveal that he met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 because he wanted campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. The suspicious nature of the revelation was exacerbated by a string of lies and omissions surrounding this meeting. But the important thing to remember is that he was told in advance that this meeting was part of the Russian efforts to help the Trump campaign. There’s just no way to get around that.

And now we learn that the meetings that Jeff Sessions held with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were about the campaign after all, despite Sessions’ repeated insistence to the contrary, and this only after the secret meetings were revealed in the first place.

We really do need to let Mueller finish his investigation before we jump to any conclusions, but it’s not looking good for the Trump team. I don’t know; what do you think, Shakespeare?

From Henry V:

Their faults are open:
Arrest them to the answer of the law;
And God acquit them of their practises!

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Where Russian attachés offer to approach little frat squirt Don, and he’s eager to meet with them.

And I have send a special shout out to the brilliant Randy Rainbow, who’s like a modern-day Schoolhouse Rock for grown-ups.

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Lie Detection

Friday, June 30th, 2017

In Macbeth, King Duncan receives a report on the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, who had betrayed him in the war against Norway. Duncan notes his own surprise at the deception:

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

No art to find the mind’s construction in the face? Is it really possible that nobody in Shakespeare’s time (or even Macbeth’s time) had thought to study this? And if not, where is Shakespeare getting the idea from? My Arden Macbeth (Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason, eds.) says that it is proverbial, but that only raises more questions about what is meant by it. In all honesty, I think it’s time to bring back the Shakespeare Follow-Up.

First of all, the idea that different emotions would register in an observable way has always been as plain as the smile on your face. If anyone wants to doubt that, they need only look at the types of masks used in ancient Greek theatre to represent comedy and tragedy and see if they can tell which is which.

Wait, wait, don’t tell me…

So the idea of finding the mind’s construction in the face was well known in Macbeth’s time. But what about someone who intends to deceive? How could Duncan have uncovered Cawdor’s treachery?

As long as there have been liars, there have been techniques attempting to reveal them, which have had various degrees of accuracy. In ancient China, they used to put dried rice in a suspect’s mouth and ask them to spit it out. If they were lying, their mouths would be too dry to spit out the rice. At least, that’s what they said on The Unit (see 5:30 to 7:10 below):

In the clip, Jonas mentions the witch trials, and indeed, the trial by ordeal was a common method of uncovering deceivers throughout medieval Europe, whether by water, combat, fire, or hot iron. As Europe approached the Renaissance, these beliefs began to slowly evolve, marking a significant gap between the worldviews of Macbeth’s time and Shakespeare’s.

Shakespeare himself seemed intrigued with the idea that one could alter one’s own face to conceal evil intentions. Hamlet has an epiphany that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” And in Henry VI, Part Three, the future King Richard III actually brags about being such a villain:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.

Could Shakespeare have been influenced by the writings of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne? In his late 16th-century essay Of Physiognomy, Montaigne muses on this very question, ascribing moral implications to a false aspect:

The face is a weak guarantee; yet it deserves some consideration. And if I had to whip the wicked, I would do so more severely to those who belied and betrayed the promises that nature had implanted on their brows; I would punish malice more harshly when it was hidden under a kindly appearance. It seems as if some faces are lucky, others unlucky. And I think there is some art to distinguishing the kindly faces from the simple, the severe from the rough, the malicious from the gloomy, the disdainful from the melancholy, and other such adjacent qualities. There are beauties not only proud but bitter; others are sweet, and even beyond that, insipid. As for prognosticating future events from them, those are matters that I leave undecided.

Sorry, Duncan.

The 18th-century actor David Garrick turned this vice into a virtue, developing great fame for his repertoire of facial expressions that could be used to convey a wide range of emotions on stage. Charles Darwin, in his 1872 work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, identified a specific set of facial expressions that he believed to be universal to humans as a product of evolution. Today, we know that, while many facial expressions are generally universal, they can be profoundly influenced by culture.

In the 20th century, the rise of the polygraph machine added an extra level of science to lie detection. The machine registers physiological responses the subject exhibits while answering questions. It’s not infallible, and it’s not unbeatable, but it just might have been able to reveal the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery, had it been available to apply.

But as far as finding the mind’s construction in the face, we should turn to the poker community, which has made a small science of identifying expressions, statements, and actions that reveal the strength or weakness of a players hand. When there’s money on the table, every advantage matters. These “tells” are catalogued, studied, observed, and – of course – faked when the opportunity arises. Some poker players, to defend against being read in this way, will conceal their faces with visors, hoodies, or even sunglasses. Interestingly enough, sunglasses were first invented in 12th century China, where they were originally worn by judges to assist them in concealing their emotions during a trial.

But the master of the art of finding the mind’s construction in the face would have to be Dr. Paul Ekman. Ekman is mostly famous for discovering the “micro expression,” a facial tell that sweeps across the face for a fraction of a second, betraying the subject’s true emotional state. They cannot be hidden. They cannot be faked. They also cannot be read without deep training, which Ekman provides.

Ekman and his research became the inspiration for the Fox crime drama Lie to me*. On the show, Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a fictionalized version of Ekman.  Each episode shows Lightman and his team using micro expressions and other scientific tells to find out the truth for desperate clients. If you’ve read this essay this far, you might enjoy the show:

So, with all of these clues available, how well does Duncan learn from his experience with the traitorous Thane of Cawdor? He grants the now-available title to Macbeth, and then Macbeth kills him. If there was an art to find the mind’s construction in the face, Duncan was very, very bad at it.

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry VI, Part Three

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

This week, former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

I’m not here to provide an analysis of that testimony. The current level of discourse is so far beyond facts and logic being relevant that you probably saw exactly what you expected to see. So did I.

But I do think that even those who are willing to suspend logic to support their ideologies should at least have a consistent internal logic to their arguments. That is, your statements should hold up against one another. This was not the standard reached by the Trump administration’s response to Comey’s testimony.

After I’d heard enough, I posted the following to social media on Thursday night:

We are now to understand that Comey’s testimony 1. demonstrated there was nothing wrong with what President Trump did, 2. established that President Trump didn’t do it, 3. was completely false, and 4. constituted an illegal leaking of confidential information. Any questions?

I wanted to make the point that the defense his people were mounting was full of internal contradictions, though I admit I was a bit verbose in doing so. But President Trump himself was kind enough to help me out by tweeting the following on Friday morning:

Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!

Thanks, Mr. President!

The problem is that Comey was under oath at the time. Which means that the president’s claim that Comey made “many false statements” is an explicit accusation of perjury. And this, according to Slate, could land him in a lot of trouble:

If the Trump administration truly believed that Comey had committed perjury, the Justice Department would, at a minimum, consider investigating his alleged crime. (It won’t.) If Trump himself really believed Comey had slandered him before Congress, he could set the record straight by rushing to go under oath as well. On Friday, he said he would agree to rebuke Comey under oath if asked. We’ve seen Trump make and break this kind of promise in the past; for now, it suffices to say that until Trump goes under oath, Comey’s narrative will essentially stand as the official public record.

Commence breath-holding in three… two…

From Henry VI, Part Three:

And there’s for twitting me with perjury.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Trump interfering with threats? We’d joy.

Shakespeare Anagram: Richard III

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

There’s a lot going on this week, but the story that stands out most for me is Montana Republican Greg Gianforte being elected to the United States House of Representatives a day after witnesses watched him grab a reporter by the neck and throw him to the ground.

From Richard III:

I do the wrong, and first begin to brawl.
The secret mischiefs that I set abroach
I lay unto the grievous charge of others.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

The idiot congressman-elect’s sorry for a bad hate wrath.

But if he regrets rough fight violence, what is to be his action?

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry VI, Part Two

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

The hits just keep on coming this week, but I suppose the top story is President Trump leaking classified information to the Russians in a meeting held in the Oval Office.

From Henry VI, Part Two:

This tongue hath parley’d unto foreign kings

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Russia got thy unhinged leak for nothing, pet.

Shakespeare Anagram: Richard III

Friday, May 12th, 2017

From Richard III:

And is it thus? Repays he my deep service
With such contempt? Made I him king for this?

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Trump’s mad they think the timing which he fired Comey raises deep vast suspicion.

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry IV, Part Two

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

President Trump says he “thought it would be easier.” Who knew?

From Henry IV, Part Two:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

He wants a recount. Yeah, weasel, it’s hard.

Sean Spicer Does Shakespeare

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, I am pleased to share with you an out-take from one of his most popular histories, King Richard III. Historians remember that Richard had a press secretary named Sean Spicer. This is no coincidence – he was a distant ancestor of the current White House Press Secretary! And all of this is well-recorded in the history books.

But what you probably don’t know is that an early Quarto version of Shakespeare’s play includes a scene with the famous spokesman.


SPICER: And this is how we know that King Richard had the most attended coronation in English history. Period. Now, I’ll take a few questions before we go.

PRESS: Sean, how does the King respond to allegations that he had his brother Clarence murdered in the Tower?

SPICER: Well, I would remind you that this was something that happened under the previous administration. It was King Edward who ordered Clarence’s execution, and these were the orders that were carried out. Nobody was more upset to hear the news than King Richard. Nobody.

PRESS: The Earl of Richmond is reportedly claiming today that the entire York line is illegitimate and the throne was usurped from the House of Lancaster. Any comment?

SPICER: You have to remember that these were horrible, horrible people. I mean, if you look at what happened with Rutland, with the Duke of York… they killed their own people. You didn’t even see that in the Spanish Inquisition.

PRESS: They didn’t kill their own people in the Spanish Inquisition?

SPICER: No, only the Jews. I, of course, do realize that many Jews were… were invited in for conversion interviews, and all the stuff that was going on. But it’s nothing like the behavior we saw with the Lannisters.

PRESS: The Lancasters?


PRESS: But if the York line is legitimate, wouldn’t King Edward’s son, young Prince Edward, be next in line, and not Richard?

SPICER: You say that Edward is King Edward’s son:
So say we too, but not by Edward’s wife;
For first was he contract to Lady Lucy,
The Duchess lives a witness to his vow,
And afterward by substitute betroth’d
To Bona, sister to the King of France.
These both put by, a poor petitioner,
A care-craz’d mother to a many sons,
A beauty-waning and distressed widow,
Even in the afternoon of her best days,
Made prize and purchase of his wanton eye,
Seduc’d the pitch and height of his degree
To base declension and loath’d bigamy:
By her, in his unlawful bed, he got
This Edward, whom our manners call the prince.
All these are facts and you can look them up.

PRESS: What?

SPICER: No more questions.

The scene ultimately had to be cut from the play, not because of historical accuracy, but because the Master of the Revels had objected to the character of Sean Spicer being played by a woman.

However, we still have the scene as it exists in the Quarto, and it’s amazing how it still feels relevant to our world today!

Shakespeare Anagram: Richard II

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

From Richard II:

Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word: such is the breath of kings.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

We learn to get through this sordid windbag in office, sprung on us sans frank warning.

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry VI, Part One

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Now, President Trump is making baseless claims via Twitter about President Obama wiretapping his phones during the election. This is just completely unhinged. And I continue to anagram as Rome burns…

From Henry VI, Part One:

Becomes it thee to taunt his valiant age
And twit with cowardice a man half dead?

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Aw, fanatical DT tweets again – without hard evidence – Obama listened to him chat.