Archive for the 'Religion' Category

Shakespeare Follow-Up: The Atom

Friday, December 6th, 2013

In As You Like It, Celia reveals to Rosalind that she knows the name of Rosalind’s secret admirer. It is Orlando, who has already captured her heart. Immediately, Rosalind begins to pepper Celia with an overwhelming litany of questions, which causes Celia to exclaim:

It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover

Wait, what? Isn’t this the same play that said that the world is six thousand years old? How could Celia possibly know about atomic theory? Fortunately, there’s no job too small for the Shakespeare Follow-Up.

According to my Folger edition of the play (Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, ed.), the word “atomies” as used here means “dust particles in sunlight.” Oh.


Never mind.

Later in the play, Phebe uses the word, and this is clearly the meaning she intends:

Thou tell’st me there is murder in mine eye:
’Tis pretty, sure, and very probable,
That eyes, that are the frail’st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be call’d tyrants, butchers, murderers!

So that would appear to be that. But, wait! According to my Arden edition (Juliet Dusinberre, ed.), there’s more to the story. “Atomies” does indeed mean “tiny particles,” but…

The word, which occurs twice in AYL (see 3.5.13) and in no other Shakespeare play, may suggest the territory of the research conducted by Ralegh’s navigator, Thomas Harriot, into the atom and into optics, with particular relation to the refraction of light and the nature of visions.

(We’ll get back to Harriot, but as a side note, you may remember that Mercutio also uses the word “atomies” in the Queen Mab speech. To be fair, I checked my Arden edition of Romeo and Juliet (Brian Gibbons, ed.), and found instead the word “atomi,” which is from Q1. The Folio has “atomies.” So it’s arguable whether the word appears in another play, but the Arden is at least consistent. Even if you say the word is unique to As You Like It, however, the concept does appear in at least one other play.)

Atomism, the theory that all matter is made up of smaller units that cannot be further divided, was an idea embraced by several Pre-Socratic philosophers, most notably Leucippus and Democratus. Aristotle rejected this theory, believing that the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) were continuous and infinitely divisible. As with most of these kinds of arguments, Aristotle’s version won the day. Although there were some notable figures who did believe in atomism throughout the ages, Aristotle’s theory was still the prevailing concept even in Shakespeare’s day. So in Twelfth Night, Viola gets Olivia’s attention by telling her “you should not rest/ Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me!” as Sir Toby asks Sir Andrew “Does not our life consist of the four elements?” when trying to make a point.

However, even in Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century, atomism was making a comeback, boasting such impressive adherents as Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and even Galileo. Thomas Harriot was an early contributor to the developing theory, though at a time when it was still dangerous to speak too openly about what was considered a heretical idea. It’s intriguing to think that the notion may have captured Shakespeare’s imagination as well, but this is merely speculation. I don’t think you can strongly infer this from his use of a particular word twice in a given play, especially when the second use of the word points fairly decisively in the other direction.

In 1808, John Dalton (building on the work of Lavoisier and Proust) demonstrated that when a substance (such as water) is broken down into its components (such as hydrogen and oxygen), the proportion can always be described with small integers, implying that there is a direct correspondence on some foundational level. His atomic theory of matter led to further inquiry and discovery throughout the 19th century. In the early 20th century, quantum mechanics allowed scientists such as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and Nils Bohr to describe the unique properties of particles on the microscopic scale.

There’s a lot more to the story, but it will have to suffice to note that in the mid-20th century, science learned how to split the atom, unleashing the potential for a virtually unlimited power source, weapons of unthinkable destruction, and a series of ethical questions that have turned out to be much more difficult to resolve than even the propositions of a lover.

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Age of the Earth

Friday, October 11th, 2013

When, in As You Like It, Orlando threatens to die of unrequited love, the disguised Rosalind has some words of wisdom for him:

The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause.

Whether or not one could actually die from love will be beyond the scope of this Shakespeare Follow-Up. But we do want to examine how close is Rosalind’s estimate of the age of the planet to what we believe today.

Almost 6,000 years was a good guess for Shakespeare’s day. But today, scientists believe the Earth is over 4,500,000,000 years old, give or take. How can we account for such a breathtaking discrepancy?

Early estimates for the age of the planet were based on Biblical scripture. God created Earth “in the beginning” which puts its origin on the first day of creation. Adam was born on the 5th day, and then the begetting began. Genesis actually goes into quite a bit of detail about how old each begetter was when he begat, so a literal interpretation and little bit of arithmetic was all that was necessary to trace how much time passed since the first day of creation and pinpoint the age of the earth.

Dating creation at 4000 BC was a popular estimate during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Shortly after Shakespeare’s death, Bishop James Ussher published a chronology that placed the creation of the universe on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Hey, someone has a birthday coming up!


But how many candles?

Still, nature was rife with clues that were ready for us when we were ready for them. As early as the 17th century, Nicolas Steno noticed the questions raised by fossil evidence and rock stratification, and other naturalist scientists would find reason to revise the Earth’s age gradually upwards.

In 1862, Lord Kelvin (before he was Lord Kelvin) used the cooling rate of the Earth to place its age at around 98 million years. That’s not quite there yet, but Lord Kelvin was getting warmer!

In the 20th century, scientists began measuring the decay of radioactive isotopes for dating objects that are very old. This is called “radiometric dating” or “radioactive dating,” but I’m only going to call it radiometric dating because I already have something that I call radioactive dating. Radiometric dating puts a rock native to Quebec, the Acasta Gneiss, at over 4 billion years old, and certain zircons found in Western Australia turn out to be over 4.4 billion years old. Based on non-terrestrial evidence, scientists put the age of the solar system at around 4.567 billion years, meaning the Earth can’t be any older than that. This gives us a window between 4.4 and 4.567 billion years to place our best guess.

Although science is long past the time of an Earth whose age could be measured in the thousands, the general public is not as unified. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Now, there is a difference between the age of the Earth and the age of the human being, but there is a lot of scientific evidence that humans have been around a lot longer than 10,000 years. Suffice it to say that the first homo sapiens are believed to have evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

But whether, in all this time, there was any man who died in a love-cause, I leave as a question for the reader.

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Cosmology

Friday, October 4th, 2013

The inaugural Shakespeare Follow-Up is dedicated to Rebecca.

As she can tell you, when Puck is first introduced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he meets a fairy who tells him:

I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moone’s sphere;

But what is the moon’s “sphere” and why should we believe it is particularly swift? To fully appreciate this line, and many like it across the canon, it’s important to know a little bit about how Shakespeare and his contemporaries viewed the cosmos.

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle described a system of concentric spheres, based on the works of pre-Socratic philosphers. Each observable planetary body, including the Moon, was embedded in one of these spheres. The spheres were made of transparent matter, in contact with one another, and able to rotate independently. (Positing a thin layer of WD-40 between spheres would have been beyond the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks.) The Moon’s sphere was the closest to the Earth, and therefore, could move the fastest. This was followed by Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the sphere of the stars. Outside the spheres was the Prime Mover, which is the original source of all motion. God, if you like.

Claudius Ptolemy was an astronomer living in Alexandria in the 2nd century AD, while Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. Ptolemy noticed that some of the data, particularly retrograde motions of the planets, could not be explained by the existing model. He added the idea of epicycles, spheres rotating within spheres, which allowed for irregular movement of the planets, and the concept remained the dominant cosmological model for centuries.

Around the 12th century, Aristotelian concepts (including Ptolemaic cosmology) became intertwined with Christian theology. By the time Copernicus developed his heliocentric model in the early 16th century, it was not only a challenge to Aristotle and Ptolemy, but also to Church teachings that God put man in the center of the universe.

This is the world that Shakespeare and Galileo were born into in 1564. The theories of Copernicus were known, but not commonly accepted as true. It should be noted, however, that even Copernicus accepted the idea of celestial spheres; he just put the Sun in the center instead of the Earth. Shakespeare makes reference to the spheres all throughout his plays, often metonymously for the cosmos as it affects our fates, or simply as a shared cultural reference.

So the Bastard in King John can ask “Now, now, you stars, that move in your right spheres,/ Where be your powers?” as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream observes “Yet you, the murderer, look as bright, as clear,/ As yonder Venus in her glimmering sphere.”

Fixed and unchangeable, the spheres also serve as a convenient metaphor for the rightfulness of hierarchies here on Earth. Shakespeare draws this comparison often, most notably in this speech from Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida:

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order:
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthron’d and spher’d
Amidst the other; whose med’cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check, to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth.
Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure!

When we see the Sun referred to as “the glorious planet Sol,” it has the power to remind us just how much distance is between the scientific understanding of Shakespeare’s time and our own. And reading this in 21st century America, we also feel the gap in worldview as we see hierarchic culture defended so fiercely. Both celestial spheres and geocentrism will likewise fade in the century following Shakespeare’s death, but the ideas remain forever embedded in Shakespeare like the planets in their spheres. Thus, we understand that when, in 1 Henry IV, Hal tells Hotspur that “Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere,” it’s Elizabethan for “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Astronomers during Shakespeare’s lifetime, most notably Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, already began using observational data to cast doubts about both geocentrism and the celestial spheres. The observation of comets was making the sphere model difficult to maintain. Galileo also took up the idea of heliocentrism and, after a long battle with the Church, was pressured into recanting. But the theories of Isaac Newton and the Scientific Revolution later in the 17th century gave heliocentrism a much stronger grounding in modern science which led to a wider acceptance as the culture became more open to the reexamination of our scientific understandings.

It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that science learned that none of these models was the center of the universe, but rather one solar system among billons across a vast sprawling cosmos.

One can only wonder what Shakespeare might have done with such a revelation.

I Talk About Politics

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

I wanted to address a question that isn’t Frequently Asked, but one that is often raised in more subtle ways: Why would a blog dedicated to the teaching of Shakespeare talk so much about politics? Why risk alienating Shakespeare fans that may not agree with my viewpoints? Wouldn’t it be better to build a community of Shakespeare teachers without venturing into the socially impolite topic of partisan politics?

First of all, allow me to clarify that this blog isn’t entirely dedicated to teaching Shakespeare, as you may have noticed. “Shakespeare Teacher” is simply meant to be my blogger handle. The blog has always been about whatever I happen to find interesting at the moment, which often includes education and Shakespeare, but it also will include politics from time to time. But the question does lead to a more interesting question about how contemporary politics and Shakespeare are related in the roles they play in our lives.

In The Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal tells us that “all theater is necessarily political, because all the activities of man are political and theater is one of them.” What’s the point of studying Shakespeare if we’re not going to learn from him? And what’s the point of learning from him if we’re not going to apply what we’ve learned to build a better world? People who study that other great work of literature never hesitate to cite passages from it to imply an endorsement of their political views. We should not be timid to bring Shakespeare into the discussion when his insights would add a vital perspective.

I sometimes try to do this with the anagram, and this example from King Lear is perhaps illustrative. Lear is looking at the helpless victims of a storm and recognizing that he is partly responsible for their plight. “O! I have ta’en/ Too little care of this.” And if we can be moved by his words, it’s only fair to ask: moved to what? If we can be moved to tears, we can be moved to action. Because what moves us in that line is our recognition of the things in the world that we ourselves have ta’en too little care of. Like, for example, the helpless victims of a storm, and our responsibility to them.

We venerate Shakespeare for his wisdom about the human condition. Some go so far as to say that he teaches us what it means to be human. But how does this understanding manifest itself in our society if not in the decisions we make as public policy? How do we define ourselves? How do we treat each other? How can we meet our most fundamental human needs? How do we deal with the unexpected? What are our priorities? What is our responsibility to one another? How we answer these questions for ourselves determines how we make the big decisions about the kind of society we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in. These decisions are swayed by policy, policy is swayed by elections, and elections are swayed by public opinion. Can Shakespeare be a voice in that discussion?

I talk about Shakespeare. I talk about politics. I welcome you to the conversation.

Shakespeare Song Parody: One More Knight

Friday, November 9th, 2012

This is the eleventh in a series of pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.

Enjoy!

One More Knight
sung to the tune of “One More Night”

(With apologies to Maroon 5, and St. Cripin…)

You and I look hard at each other while preparing for war.
You and I assess that our troop levels are less than before.
You and I agree it’s an issue that we should not ignore.
You and I diverge on the question of our wishing for more.

Yeah, today’s the feast of Crispin, Crispianus,
This day is holy-y,
And those who fight with us here, fight with us here,
Shall be not lowly-y,
And yearly when this day comes, when this day comes,
You’ll tell the story-y,
And so the fewer the men, fewer the men,
The greater share of glory-y.

We few are enough, if we’re marked to die,
And so now I pray, wish not one more knight.
Rather take their leave, those who would not fight,
But I pray thee, coz, wish not one more knight.

Gentlemen of England,
Who are now home resting quiet in bed,
Will curse themselves,
They were not here fighting with us instead,
Hold their manhoods cheap,
And find there’s little more that they have to say,
To the heroes that fought
Alongside the King on St. Crispin’s Day.

Yeah, today’s the feast of Crispin, Crispianus,
This day is holy-y,
And those who fight with us here, fight with us here,
Shall be not lowly-y,
And yearly when this day comes, when this day comes,
You’ll tell the story-y,
And so the fewer the men, fewer the men,
The greater share of glory-y.

We few are enough, if we’re marked to die,
And so now I pray, wish not one more knight.
Rather take their leave, those who would not fight,
But I pray thee, coz, wish not one more knight.

Top Ten Shakespeare Retrochronisms

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Don’t worry if you don’t know what a retrochronism is. I just made the word up. But feel free to throw it around at the dinner table and the water cooler; it’s a thing now.

Let’s say an author from an earlier time period uses a term in a sense that’s appropriate to that author’s time period. Then, the author dies and the language evolves. New technologies are invented. Culture shifts. Later readers or audiences then interpret the term as used by the author through the lens of their own time period, and incorrectly think it means something entirely different from what the author could have possibly intended. That’s a retrochronism!

This is not to be confused with an anachronism, a term generally used to describe instances where an author uses something from his own time in a work that is set before that thing would have been possible or appropriate. Shakespeare has many such anachronisms, such as the clock striking in Julius Caesar. But a retrochronism is different. It isn’t a mistake by the author; it’s an accident of history.

We’ve had 400 years now to develop a few good examples for Shakespeare. The quintessential example is from Romeo and Juliet:

JULIET: O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Most readers of this blog probably know that “wherefore” means “why” and not “where.” But this is far from obvious, and many newcomers to Shakespeare, entering his world through this play, assume she’s searching for him from her balcony. Who says “wherefore” anymore?

Another common example can be found in Hamlet:

HAMLET: Madam, how like you this play?

QUEEN: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

HAMLET: O! but she’ll keep her word.

In Shakespeare’s time, “protest” meant to promise. But today we think of it in the opposite sense of a denial. So when people quote the line, they often mean that a person is denying something so much that it must be true. But Gertrude meant that the lady was promising so much that it must be false!

Those two examples are probably the most well known, but below are my ten favorites, culled from years of introducing kids to Shakespeare and from my own journey of working through the language.

TEN. Was Doll Tearsheet a One-Percenter?

DOLL: A captain! God’s light, these villains will make the word captain as odious as the word ‘occupy,’ which was an excellent good word before it was ill sorted: therefore captains had need look to it.

Playgoers who have attended productions of Henry IV, Part Two in the past year must have been taken aback by this statement, possibly even suspecting editorial interference for political purposes.

But in Shakespeare’s time, the word “occupy” was slang for having sex with someone. It’s enough to make you wonder what was really going on at Zuccotti Park after hours.

NINE. Did the Witches prophesy Kitty Hawk?

FIRST WITCH: Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wrack’d as homeward he did come.

Most modern audiences are familiar with the word “pilot” as meaning someone who flies an airplane, obviously not what Shakespeare meant in Macbeth.

The word “pilot” meant (and still means) someone who steers a ship.

EIGHT. Was Lord Capulet a pimp?

CAPULET: What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!

Here is one that comes up often when working with kids; this example from Romeo and Juliet is as good as any. Shakespeare had a lot of words for “prostitute,” but “ho” was not among them.

If you bring your voice up on the word, it’s an antiquated expression of zeal. If you bring it down, it’s a contemporary form of derisive address. Voices up, please.

SEVEN. Was Bottom a Lea Michele fan?

BOTTOM: Nay, I can gleek upon occasion.

Folks who are “Glee Geeks” might enjoy imagining Nick Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one of them. He admitted he can “gleek” after all.

Sure, I’m being a little silly with this one, but why not? “Gleek” means to joke around.

SIX. Did Olivia have some work done?

OLIVIA: We will draw the curtain and show you the picture. [Unveiling.] Look you, sir, such a one I was as this present: is’t not well done?

VIOLA: Excellently done, if God did all.

OLIVIA: ’Tis in grain, sir; ’twill endure wind and weather.

Viola’s quip “if God did all” can set a Twelfth Night audience roaring if delivered just so. Does Viola suspect a little Nip/Tuck help is behind Olivia’s epic beauty?

Don’t start fitting Dr. 90210 for a doublet and hose just yet. Viola is merely making a reference to cosmetics.

FIVE. Was Hamlet a fan of Wayne’s World?

HAMLET: I did love thee once.

OPHELIA: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

HAMLET: You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.

Again, this one came from the kids, though it was more common back in the ’90’s, when Wayne and Garth had more of an effect on the language.

Think of the line from Hamlet (and similar lines throughout the canon) as being delivered like this: “I loved you… NOT!” Yeah, they really used to do that… I kid you not.

FOUR. Was Feste creating a hostile work environment?

MARIA: Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse. My lady will hang thee for thy absence.

CLOWN: Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colours.

MARIA: Make that good.

CLOWN: He shall see none to fear.

Well hanged? Oh, no he didn’t!

Well, no he didn’t. It’s usually a safe bet to assume that any possible sexual innuendo was intended by Shakespeare, but Twelfth Night pre-dates the earliest known uses of the expression “well hung” to refer to a generous anatomical endowment. Plus, in the next line, Feste makes it clear he’s literally referring to a hanging. If the sexual pun were intended, why would Shakespeare have backed off the joke?

THREE. Did Ariel suffer from low self-esteem?

ARIEL: Where the bee sucks, there suck I.

Ouch. It’s not hard to convince high-school students that Shakespeare’s characters do, in fact, suck. But would Shakespeare have said so in The Tempest?

No. Bees, you see… eh, go ask your father.

TWO. Did the Porter invent a new art form?

PORTER: Knock, knock! Who’s there i’ the other devil’s name! Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven: O! come in, equivocator.

Rather than answering the knocking at the door, the Porter from Macbeth imagines himself as the Porter at the gates of Hell, and does some schtick about the various characters he might meet in that position. The expression “Knock Knock, Who’s there” is used to introduce new characters in his standup routine.

But if you’re expecting him to answer “Ophelia,” you’re going to have a long wait. The Knock-Knock joke as we know it is a twentieth-century creation.

ONE. Is Dromio of Syracuse a pothead?

DROMIO S: I am transformed, master, am not I?

ANTIPHOLOUS S: I think thou art, in mind, and so am I.

DROMIO S: Nay, master, both in mind and in my shape.

ANTIPHOLOUS S: Thou hast thine own form.

DROMIO S: No, I am an ape.

LUCIANA: If thou art chang’d to aught, ’tis to an ass.

DROMIO S: ’Tis true; she rides me and I long for grass.

Zing! Dromio’s jonesing for some weed! The Comedy of Errors is a drug play!

But not really. Dromio just longs for the freedom of greener pastures. Grass means grass, baby. However, the “she rides me” part probably does mean what you think it means.

So those are my ten favorite retrochronisms from Shakespeare. Did I miss any? Feel free to add to the list!

Shakespeare Song Parody: Countrywide Problems

Friday, September 28th, 2012

This is the eighth of a series of Shakespeare-themed parodies of popular songs.

Enjoy!

Countrywide Problems
rapped to the beat of “99 Problems”

(With apologies to Jay-Z, and anyone who came here looking for stuff they could use in class…)

I ain’t worried ‘bout the Maid of Orleans.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.

I got morbid fears on the war frontiers,
This thing’s been ragin’ on for a Hundred Years.
Charles the Dauphin named himself the French King.
I’m the French King, stupid, you don’t know a damn thing.
My father did conquer, or haven’t you heard,
Reclaiming the title of Edward III.
So now England and France are united as one.
If you don’t like the arrangement, too bad, it’s all done.
But with our generals shaken, an army unskilled,
With Talbot taken, and with Salisbury killed,
The French took back Champaigne and Rouen,
Rheims and Poitiers, and now Paris is gone… zut alors!
I don’t know what you take me as,
Or understand the divine right that Henry has.
We took back Rouen, but the French ain’t done.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

Countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
I ain’t worried ‘bout the Maid of Orleans.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

It’s 1429, and the realm is fine,
But some folks just want to step out of line.
My uncles spend hours debating my powers,
And out in the garden, they’re choosing up flowers.
Plantagenet shows up with a smirk on his face,
And actin’ like the fool thinks he owns the damn place, so I
Take the time out of planning for wars,
And I heard “I have a claim that’s better than yours.”
You don’t have a claim, who you messin’ with?
Your pops was a traitor, mine was Henry V,
So what’s this claim you think you can flaunt?
“From my mother from a brother who was older than Gaunt.”
Uh-huh. “My uncle carried the Mortimer name,
And now that he’s gone I inherit his claim.”
Descended through a female, so you missed your chance.
“If that’s how it goes, what are we doing in France?”
We use English law here, you wanna be a smart alec,
French law is different, and it’s not the Law Salic!
“Aren’t you sharp as a tack, you some type of scholar or somthin’,
Some kind of royal family historian?”
I ain’t got all the lineage trees from Burke’s,
But I know a little somethin’ ’bout how this all works.
I gave him York, but his trench ain’t done.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

Countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
I ain’t worried ‘bout the Maid of Orleans.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

Now once upon a time, when I had to invade,
A monarch like myself had to strong-arm a maid.
This is not a maid in the sense of some girl with a sword,
But a self-proclaimed handmaid who waits on the Lord.
My army met hers on an Angiers field,
And in force of war, York made the witch yield.
You know the type, claiming divine sight,
But she couldn’t hold her own in a brute fight.
The only thing that I’d let happen is to stop all her yappin’,
Take her to the stake and start strappin’ with the wrappin’,
And then watch the witch start bargainin’,
In a desperate attempt just to save her skin.
Such an unholy lass, so afraid of death,
That she’s spouting out lies with her dying breath.
She denied her father, claimed a noble birth,
And an unborn child to increase her worth.
But from Renier of Naples or Alencon?
So much for the “Maid” of Orleans.
We lit the fire, and the stench ain’t fun.
I got countrywide problems, burnin’ a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

Countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
I ain’t worried ‘bout the Maid of Orleans.
I got countrywide problems, but a wench ain’t one.
Back me!

Shakespeare Song Parody: Boyfriend

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This is the third of a series of Shakespeare Song Parodies.

The idea is to take a popular song and change the words so that it’s about Shakespeare. Enjoy!

Boyfriend
sung to the tune of “Boyfriend”

(With apologies to Justin Bieber and to all that is good and right in the universe…)

You’ve come to plead before me,
To let your brother go.
Ask me not for mercy,
‘Cause my blood is made of snow.

Your brother broke the law,
As his girlfriend starts to show,
Which is punishable by death,
As you must surely know.

(Shag, Shag, Shag) You do.
There’s nothing in this case that would merit review.
But if you could save his life, exactly how much would you do?
So say hello to false fellow in three, two…

(Shag)

Feel free to tell anyone you want.
Hey girl, who’d believe it’s true?

If I was your boyfriend, I’d let your brother go.
Torture him to death, girl, if you tell me No.
He won’t have to die, though, if you give me love.
If I was your boyfriend, I’d let your brother go.
I’d let your brother go.

I hear that you’ve been studying.
You want to be a nun.
But you haven’t been invested yet.
We could have some fun.

Your virtue gets me going.
No strumpet ever could.
Do I desire you foully,
For that which makes you good?

You fear for your salvation,
As that’s your only goal.
But just yield me up your body;
I talk not of your soul.

If I say you must do it,
Well then, of course, you must.
Just close your eyes and think about
How the law is just.

Feel free to tell anyone you want.
Hey girl, who’d believe it’s true?

If I was your boyfriend, I’d let your brother go.
Torture him to death, girl, if you tell me No.
He won’t have to die, though, if you give me love.
If I was your boyfriend, I’d let your brother go.
I’d let your brother go.

Change We Can Afford

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, I’d like to return to a comment he made earlier in the campaign.

“I think this is a land of opportunity for every single person, every single citizen of this great nation. And I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.”

The key phrase is “as much education as they can afford.” Right now, our taxes provide a K-12 education to all children in this country free of charge. This drives conservatives crazy. Their fantasy is a free-market education system where schools have to compete for learner dollars. If a school isn’t making the grade, well, parents just won’t send their kids there and, bang, the education crisis is over.

And I have to admit that the position is consistent with their other ideals. Liberals believe that the government can be a force for good in people’s lives. Conservatives believe that it cannot be, that government interference is always unwelcome. So getting rid of government services like education and Social Security and Medicaid makes perfect sense to them.

Even their lopsided tax values make sense, in an odd sort of way. For you see, Romney tells us in the quote above that the ingredients of success are hard work and the right values. If you don’t have a job, that’s your fault. (Unless the president is a Democrat, in which case it’s his fault.) So the wealthy are a special class of people who deserve special consideration. They should get as much influence in government as they can afford.

It’s not surprising that Romney believes that his immense wealth is a direct function of his hard work and correct values. And it explains his cringe-worthy comments about the economic disparities between nations being due to culture. This is his worldview. The free market is a just God, and doles out rewards and punishments appropriately.

For obvious reasons, he doesn’t like to talk about this worldview very much. We only get the occasional glimpse of it through these “education” and “culture” slips when Romney commits the ultimate gaffe of speaking from the heart.

But with the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, he is signaling that this is not an accident, not a coincidence, not an occasional gaffe. Paul Ryan is the human embodiment of this philosophy. And it’s not just his adoration of Ayn Rand; his actions speak much louder than her words.

Paul Ryan’s plan phases out Medicare. It phases out Medicare. You hear that, PolitiFact? It phases out Medicare. Over the past few days, Republicans have been quick to point out that, under their plan, current seniors would not have their benefits affected. But after that, they phase out Medicare. Really. Under their plan, Medicare would be replaced by a voucher system which – just like their voucher proposal for education – would be underfunded and ultimately targeted for elimination.

And then seniors will get all of the health care they can afford.

Shakespeare Anagram: Sonnet CXVI

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Sonnet CXVI:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

The hero’s vivid verse betokens what
Revision moods for marriage norms befall.
Rethinking home life won’t disturb ours, but
Denying some their rights makes shames for all.
Religious voters revved up, think again.
Deem this opinion, not like proven fact.
We minimise Him at evoking men
To harbor hidden love and not to act.
To honor same-sex lovebirds who invest
In that we vehemently do erect,
To think that love should not be too suppressed;
It tends to kick in where we least suspect.
For while the Bard was wed to Mrs. Anne,
He wrote this sonnet for another man.