Shakespeare Anagram: Henry V

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.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

July 20th, 2017

I’m aerobics with blocks; I’m a marriage-formed clan;
I’m a unit of dancing; each stage of a plan;
I’m a real-number function that breaks up its span;
And the action a thousand-mile journey began.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

July 13th, 2017

I’m a minor league team; I host ant life for show;
I’m to send out a job; to work crops so they grow;
I have cows, sheep, and chickens, E-I, E-I-O;
And those owning me thrive; but those buying me, no.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Theatre: Measure for Measure (TFANA)

July 9th, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the production of Measure for Measure at the Polonsky Center in Brooklyn, performed by Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA). It was a good production; I would even say very good. It didn’t come close to the two other productions I saw in the same space: Pericles and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But that’s an unfairly high bar to set, so let’s just say it was very good. The acting was strong across the board and the play was well communicated. There were some creative choices made with the text, and it was very entertaining to watch from beginning to end. They didn’t seem affected much by the recent controversy of a Trump-like Caesar at the Public Theatre. The Duke was a dead ringer for Justin Trudeau and Angelo was channeling Richard Nixon, and yet I saw no protesters from Canada or the 1970’s.

The director wanted to create an immersive experience for the audience, and to that end, we were brought into the theatre through a “brothel” that was set up on the ground floor. Mistress Overdone greeted me with a sultry “Hello Papi, welcome back. It’s good to see you again.” We walked past displays of adult toys and various rooms where implied sex acts were being performed behind plexiglass walls. It was gimmicky, sure, but I liked it. It made me feel like I was complicit in the decline of Vienna at the start of the play; I had just come from a brothel, after all.

My main complaint was that the production was a little too cute. It relied too much on jokey gags where the play itself could have sustained the comedy in a much more compelling way. Not always, but too often. In fact, the best scenes in this production were the ones that featured two actors alone on a bare stage communicating with each other using the emotion from the text. These scenes were truly explosive, and were actually the immersive experience the director wanted. “Trust the text” is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: it works. And it worked here. I’d have liked more of it.

Also, there’s an actor’s trick where you take one of Shakespeare’s more poetic turns of phrases and pause just before it, delivering the expression as though it were a polite euphemism for what you were really about to say. It’s usually good for a laugh, and I like the trope. But as one can desire too much of a good thing, this production used the device again and again and again. It’s just too cute.

I had a directing professor in grad school who was fond of the expression “Strong, but wrong.” I always appreciated the way it turned a criticism into a praise, and there were several aspects of this production where I would bestow such a praise.

One key example was the choice to show the Duke shooting up heroin at the beginning of the play. Here’s why that’s strong: The Duke is motivated by the fact that he is responsible for allowing vice to spread unchecked throughout Vienna. Having him actually be part of the debauchery makes him all the more driven to correct the fault. Here’s why it’s wrong: the play only works if the Duke has the moral authority to skulk around incognito, pulling secret strings and passing judgment “like power divine.” And I suspect that, for this production, that’s a feature and not a bug, but you have to admit that it does undermine to some extent the Duke’s comic scenes with Lucio. How can he be indignant about being called a drunk when he’s actually a junkie?

I’ve lived in New York City for the past twenty-five years, so I’ve become accustomed to “color-blind” casting. But in the shadow of recent events, not the least of which is the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile, color has become an increasingly harder thing to be blind to. In this production, Angelo was played by a white man, while Isabella and Claudio were black. I don’t know if the choice was deliberate, but it highlighted the entitlement Angelo feels in having control over each of their bodies. When Isabella asks “To whom should I complain?,” we could not understand her more clearly. When a man wrongs you, you can appeal to the system. When the system wrongs you, what recourse do you have?

Cara Rickets was a fantastic Isabella, bringing a lot of personality and humor to a character that often lacks both. Johnathan Cake (Duke), Thomas Jay Ryan (Angelo), and Leland Fowler (Claudio) helped her carry the production with strong characterizations and solid performances. But the real standouts of this production were the bit players, particularly those who doubled and tripled up. January LaVoy as the strait-laced Escala (a female Escalus) was completely unrecognizable from the Mistress Overdone who had flirted with me when I arrived. Kenneth De Abrew was always engaging to watch, whether he was playing Froth, Abhorson, or Friar Peter. And Zachary Fine absolutely stole the show – I mean, just absolutely stole it – as Elbow. Then, he did it again as Barnardine.

Measure for Measure runs through July 16.

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: Much Ado about Nothing

July 8th, 2017

Well, so much for politics stopping at the water’s edge.

Speaking in Warsaw, while on his way the G20 summit in Hamburg, President Trump was asked about Russian hacking, and he used the opportunity to go after President Obama, the American media, and our own intelligence community.

And now that he’s in Germany, he’s using Twitter to attack the media and, bizarrely, John Podesta.

From Much Ado about Nothing:

There’s not one wise man among twenty that will praise himself.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Man, he still posts a whiny tweet from anger while nations meet?

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

July 6th, 2017

I’m a fancy dress button; a ladies’ man name;
I’m a cleat on a shoe; I’m a sire to the dame;
I’m the wall-hidden wood that is part of the frame;
And an “ace in the hole” can be found in my game.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: Julius Caesar

July 1st, 2017

The NRA put out a frightening new ad this week:

From Julius Caesar:

Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

NRA’s odd spot: you fomented furious domestic strife; the guns will not defend you!

The End

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Lie Detection

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.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

June 29th, 2017

I’m to log, with the state, a new car or a boat;
I can ring up a purchase; the range of a note;
To create an account; or to sign up to vote;
And a ledger that lists the transactions you wrote.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: Henry VI, Part Three

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.

The End