Sunday, May 18, 2014

Drink Whiskey, Be Cool!

Hipsters and other we wannna be sophisticates, I've been drinking bourbon since your daddies were babies.  Talk to me about whiskey in a few decades.  

Note: Esquire writes. "Now, whiskey of all kinds has become a fetish object of the young, urban, and image-conscious."

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Truth Hurts

From an editorial in the LA Times May 17, 2014. The editorial refers to the real problem in American education, the opportunity gap.

The same old thing educators have known for the past century: the problem is not with American schools or American teachers. The problem is with children who are poor. If we want to improve our educational system all we have to do is end child poverty.  Noting that while middle-class students are not improving very much in test scores,  affluent children have improved very much indeed, the editorial reports:

-- Strikingly, much of that income differential in test scores shows up among kids who are tested in the first months of kindergarten, before they've spent significant time in school. "It's preschool," Reardon said, along with "the out-of-school environment, that creates the gap." Affluent kids are far more likely to get a good preschool education and have parents who read to them and nurseries full of educational toys. 

Other scholars found in 2006, that parents in the top one-fifth of households spent about $7,500 more each year on their children — on child care, tutors, after-school programs and athletics — than households in the bottom fifth. --

Of course, according to Republicans those children are poor because of teachers and especially teacher unions. I'm not sure exactly how they're supposed to prevent preschool children from being poor, but everything is certainly the teachers' fault. Ask any Republican.

The fact is, the American educational system is one of the better systems in the world, if you discount child poverty.  Our affluent students are regularly are the top of the world in performance. How long do we ignore the facts? For as long as people will accept that smearing the teachers and blaming the unions will gain anything other than votes for Republican candidates.

American Spring Goes Splat

American Spring update: about 50 people turned up. The organizers were amazed that they didn't get the 10,000,000 to 30,000,000 they expected. Their plans included 1 million people staying permanently camped in Washington until Obama was forced to resign.

Supporters are amazed. All Americans agree with them, well, almost every single American agrees with them, so why didn't anybody turn up?  Can you guess why?

Hint: It is a problem every propagandist has...Believing your own propaganda.  It's the reason Republicans are convinced that recent elections must be spoiled by voter fraud. Since almost every American agrees with the Republican Party, how can they keep losing elections? The only possible answer is election fraud!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Whiny Guy Continued

I've had such a marvelous weekend that it seems strange that I should find my body suddenly coming apart.

 It was a three day weekend for me and every day was absolutely wonderful, including today. The weather was beautiful, the breezes cooling and pleasant, I was relaxed and at peace. I even got a lot of writing done (only at the blog level, but that is still writing).

Then, without any warning, a bad wave of vertigo. Bad enough to constitute an attack. Decades of experience have taught me that now I must to be careful for a week. Until seven days have passed without a repeat, I will be vulnerable to vertigo attacks at a higher rate than normal.

Although I have had some problems with my gut in the past few days, they appeared to be completely gone today. Until they came roaring back with a vengeance. Too unpleasant for details in a public post, but suffice to say this hasn't happened at this level in quite a number of months.

I have done the usual things. I made myself eat, although I wasn't hungry. I took a dose of pills. I drank more coke than I wanted to (for the caffeine). And it really hasn't helped much.  The edge is less cutting, but I remain in distress. 

That means it's time to lie down in a dark, cool, silent room. You have no idea how boring that is unless you have been forced to do it. But, it is a necessity. I will end up there sooner or later tonight. And if it is later I will end up there back in the midst of a severe vertiginous event.

I shouldn't complain.  I had most of three fine days, but I miss the days, so long ago, when vertigo was a rare attacker instead of a constant occupier and frequent conqueror.

Life and Literature Come Together

From my middle girl's final in Literature.  I am so proud of her and of her growth that I asked her if I could post it here.  She agreed.  I wish that more people understood the value of mutual support, of loyalty, of forgiveness, and of self control as well as she does.

What I learned through this class.
I want to say that I learned that there are some good teachers and some not so good teachers. There are some teachers that say they are there to help you through anything only to let you down and withdraw you from their class. 

I learned this semester that I can connect with some teachers on a real life level. I also learned that you are not only a good teacher but a real teacher with heart. That is rare in this day and age and it thrills me to know that not only did you teach me literature and drama but you taught me about real life and real tragedies (your tragedy). 

You are the only one of my teachers that stepped up and held me up so that I could learn through your class. You didn't just throw your hands up and give up.  You understood the dilemma that I am in with my husband. You alone held on to my schooling and kept me in school, if it wasn't for you I would have walked away and never looked back. 

Yes, I was going to run away. I didn't think that I had the strength to go through Ed's cancer and school as well, but through you I did it. So I learned that even when life deals me a dirty hand that I am not alone.  There are good people who care, sometimes it takes a horrible tragedy to find out who they are.

Something that comes from any study of literature, but especially when we are focusing on the tragedies in Hamlet and Oedipus, is just how hard we humans struggle. We try to find a little control in our lives, a little security, but whatever we can build can be swept away in a moment by forces completely beyond our control.  

Living is like a game of chance. Everyday we make deals and bets and take gambles in our lives. We truly do the best of our ability, We try to make  decisions that we think are good and right and using reason. But sometimes life (fate) proves that even the most carefully thought out actions can have horrible repercussions that can not be re-done or changed. Its just like the saying "That's the way the cookie crumbles".

 Life is what it is  So this reminds me that we should be careful of our actions and of the words that are spoken.  Once the words escape your mouth and hurt someone, there is no way that we can retract the negative actions our words have caused. Once something is done or said, there is no rewind or delete button.  It is forever saved in the memory of the one that has been affected by it. 

This is why I do not let myself get angry. I am conscious of how strong my tongue is and how much damage it can create. So I try, oh, I try, not to let myself rage because I can be ugly and vile and I do not want to be the cause of someone's injury. I don't think that I truly really grasped the concept of this until this semester.

This is what happened to Oedipus. He did everything that he believed to be right. He left his father and his mother behind and moved to a strange country so that his fate would not come true. Oedipus had no way of knowing that the people who raised him were not really his parents and by staying home he could have prevented the tragedy that he was trying so hard to keep from coming true. This goes to show you that even if you do good things and are truly a good person, bad things can still happen.  you don't have to be royalty to be a big influence on everyone around you or for big things to happen to you.  Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

Hamlet taught me that we may never be able to really know the truth and nothing is as it seems. Was Hamlet really insane to begin with? Did him acting insane lead him to actually lose his mind? Did Ophelia kill herself or was it a accident? For me there are no real clear answers. It just goes to prove that life can be a great big mess sometimes.

Hamlet had so many choices, but time and time again he made the most horrible choice. He had so few facts in front of him. Hamlet was not thinking clearly or very carefully. He truely let his emotions run away with him. While in contrast, Oedipus tried to think things out with reason and logic. It failed Oedipus as Hamlet's actions failed him.

For me in my daily life, especally with the Ed's tragedy of being dignosed with cancer, his tragedy could crush me and contribute to the me just running away or giving into despair. We have to keep going, No matter how rough our lives are going to be at times.  Just as in Angels in America, I must keep moving. I can not just sit there and think that life is going to fix itself. I must be proactive in my husband's treatment and I must advocate for the his right to good care. I must not let the demon of cancer hold me back from helping Ed.

If I were to give in and crumble, Ed would as well. Ed having cancer is a really ugly card that he was dealt. Even with the cancer diagnosis, it does not define the man that Ed is.  It is just a part of Ed. Just as me having bi-polar is not the same as bi-polar being me. Ed's cancer is just something we have to gear up and fight against. Ed will prevail, he will be healed and is being healed as I type this out. But just like our heros in Hamlet and Everyman, Ed has to go through the unknown (his quest) to reap the rewards of his fight. Will his fight be easy? Hell, no, it wont (its a fight for his life)!  It is not fair or right, but it is our life and we have no control over this part of it.

I've learned through the class and Ed's cancer that I have to live in the moment and do my very best in good moments. I will live in them and soak them up, for when the bad moments come.  The bad moments will take a lot of energy, but I must not to let them consume me or my life. Life is a balancing act with good and bad.  It's what I do with those moments that makes the difference.

Lastly, I would like to say that this class has taught me more then I could ever explain but it also helped me to realize that life is unpredictable, like when sometimes terrible things happen to everyday ordinary folk. In a stange way, I find these revelations bring me some comfort, strength and understanding that me, you, and my fellow classmates are emotional creatures and that's OK. It is life. It's plain and simple, we are what we are, good or bad. It is what it is.

We just have to do our best with it.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- You Say Manly Man and I Say Sociopath

10) Discuss the significance of the discussion between Roy and Joe in Act 3 Scene 5. Your response should summarize the conversation AND discuss what the conversation suggest about both characters.  

Joe meets with Cohen at his home. Cohen is in a bathrobe because he is actually in terrible pain and cannot dress. However, as always, nothing matters to him but show and appearance. Reality is irrelevant.  He does all he can to hide his weakness.

When Joe declines the offer of power and position in Washington, Cohen is disgusted. He doesn't care, and he feels that Joe shouldn't care, if a marriage is being destroyed, his wife is missing, or the man has a bleeding ulcer. All that matters is power and politics.

Cohen's obsession with the concept that manly men feel nothing, care about nothing, and are all-powerful at all times has made him into a sociopath. Or, being a sociopath has led him to these conclusions. In any event, he is clearly a very abnormal human being who is incapable of understanding the emotional needs of normal people.

Because Joe cares about something other than power, Cohen calls him a wuss. When Joe apologizes for not being able to carry on under these terrible circumstances: Cohen calls him a wuss again.  Since power is all that matters to him, he cannot imagine someone else really valuing other things. Joe must value exactly what Cohen values. Therefore, Joe must be a weakling.

Apparently in order to stiffen up Joe's backbone, and also to brag about the glories of having power, Cohen exhults about the greatest accomplishment that he has achieved as a politician. That is, illegally and unethically pressuring a judge to order the death penalty for Ethel Rosenberg.

Although Joe had been tempted by the power of Washington, he has remained at heart a decent man. Therefore he is shocked that Cohen did such a thing and even more shocked that he is proud of it!  He makes an excuse for the other man, suggesting that he is only saying these awful things because he sick and isn't thinking clearly. Joe really wants other people to be decent.

Cohen, on the other hand, only wants to be seen as powerful. He thinks this is the only thing that matters to everyone because it is the only thing that matters to him.  He takes Joe's kindly excuse that his sickness has caused him to act inappropriately as an insult.  Manly men don't get sick.

He's so upset that he denies his sickness, even though Joe quickly points out that it was Cohen himself who told Joe that he had cancer.  Even in the face of this plain fact, Cohen again denies that he has cancer.  Since appearance can make a weak, ill man seem healthy and powerful (all that matters to him), he again assumes that it is all that matters to everyone else.  Joe's pointing out facts doesn't make any sense to Cohen. Since power is all important, if you are actually weak, of course you lie about it. You do so even if people know it's a lie. And they should accept the lie as if it were true. This way, you remain powerful.

When Joe, again trying to be decent, offers his hand, Cohen gives him a bearhug instead and declares that he's only being hard on Joe because he cares about them. Once again, Joe understands that people suffer and need each other, Cohen needs and wants only power over others.

When Joe tries to leave, disgusted with the inhumanity of this man he had respected, Cohen grabs him. Joe pushes him away and very nearly punches him.  Cohen makes things even worse by suggesting to Joe that he a break a law. If necessary, find one he can break. The point being that if he can get himself to do that even once, it will destroy much of Joe's sense of morality. It will at least open the door which may well lead Joe down into the empty hell of all interpersonal relationships being interpreted as power games. This is the road that Cohen took many years ago.

When Joe leaves in disgust , Cohen bends over in agony. He's been in pain the whole time, but manly men don't show weakness in front of others.  If they did, they might lose some of their power.

Knowing that he's alone, he feels free to call out to someone for help.  Ethel Rosenberg appears. Terrified at the sight of her ghost, he shrieks out in fear, "I'M NOT AFRAID OF YOU OR DEATH OR HELL OR ANYTHING!"  It's clear that he is in fact terrified of those things. But he is afraid that if he admits the fear, he will lose control of the situation.

Helpless from pain and fear he falls to the floor. It is Ethel Rosenberg, whom he illegally and immorally caused to be executed, who picks up the phone and calls for an ambulance.  Still trying to impress her with his absence of fear, he declares to her that he is immortal because he has made history. Apparently, he thinks this makes him in some sort of God, or at least demigod, like Hercules in the ancient myths. Or perhaps he is an Hegelian and thinks the World Spirit has chosen him to be a World Historical Figure.

Not only is she unimpressed with his power moves, she is delighting in his suffering. This is her revenge. She says to him, "History is about to crack wide open. Millennium approaches".

Idle Thoughts -- Transform and Roll Out!

9) Discuss the theme of transformation and movement as it applies to at least two characters.

Let's consider the transformation and movement of Cohen. At the beginning of the play he is still a very powerful man. He is powerful enough to make a local hospital pretend that he has cancer when he clearly has AIDS.  He brags to his doctor that he can pick up the phone and talk to the president's wife if he wishes to.  He declares that he can have sex with a man and yet the president will still shake his hand. This in a time when homosexuality was regarded as a perverted mental illness and fear of AIDS meant physical isolation for anyone even suspected of possibly having the disease.  He sees himself as a sort of demigod. He has so much power that he thinks he is above all the ordinary rules which mere mortals must obey.

An historical note:  in real life, Cohen was so arrogant in his assumption of power that he actually thought he could give orders to the US Army and force them to obey. This is one of the major events which led to his downfall and the downfall of his master, Joe McCarthy.

He is wrong, of course. He cannot beat this disease. Although his power allows him to blackmail his way into a secret stash of AZT, the only medication which had hope of slowing the progress of AIDS, it is not enough to save his life.

Politically, he is also being destroyed. Sen. McCarthy, the great source of his power, has been censured by Congress. All his   careful political structures, which made him into such an incredibly powerful person, have not only faded away, they have become negatives. No one in Washington wants to be associated with such a miserable failure.

He cannot even find peace within himself. Either because she is actually there haunting him, or because his guilty conscience forces him to believe she is there, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg haunts and torments him.  He illegally and immorally used his political power and cleverness as a lawyer to ensure that she would be executed, so now she's back to take vengeance.

Sounds a lot like Hamlet's father, doesn't she?

All the power of which he was so proud cannot save him from dying in shame and disgrace. Rosenberg's ghost is delighted to inform him as he dies that he has been disbarred. The one thing that he feared more than anything has happened. The complete stripping away of all his power and all his show has occurred.

Another historical note: Cohen did die in shame and disgrace. He had lost everything that he had fought for and that mattered so much to him.

There is a moment of reconciliation for Cohen. After his death the Jewish ritual of Kadesh must be performed.  This can be done only with the cooperation of Bélize and Rosenberg's ghost, two individuals who were the enemies of Cohen in life.

Then there's Harper. As a play opens, she's in very bad shape. As it progresses, she continues to decline. Eventually, she enters so severe a hallucinogenic state that she believes she has been transported to a magical Antarctica and is arrested by the police.

But her journey is far from over. While she does fall to this 
level, it appears to be the lowest level. She does not miraculously recover, but she does begin to show progress.

In the meantime, her marriage is going through its own set of transformations. She has gone from very needy but supportive wife, to angry rejected wife, to fearful wife who discovers her husband has homosexual desires, and eventually she even rejects him when she learns he's had a sexual encounter with a man.

We don't know where she will end up. What we do know is that she is off on the journey. At least, she has a chance. At least, she has a choice.

It is interesting that in the play, although everything comes from God, He too is subject to change.  It is essential to the play that we accept the conceit that God himself has become so confused and disgusted that He has abandoned His creation. That's quite a transformation!

Idle Thoughts -- Manly Men Can't Be Gay

8). Discuss Roy's visit to the doctor in Act 1 Scene 9. Your response should address the manner in which Roy uses language.

The doctor knows what's happening. This patient has AIDS and he's attempting to explain the diagnosis and prognosis. Cohen refuses to listen. Although he  knows that he has had sex with men, he insists on denying it.  It is important to him that he can convince the doctor that he is not a homosexual.

Part of this is because of social pressures. Remember, homosexuals were almost universally condemned at this time. Even many homosexuals hated themselves.  However, there's another reason for this. Cohen is an important part of the conservative movement in America. The conservative movement abhors homosexuals, and while they deny that they are bigots, their actions demonstrate that they are.

All of Cohen's political power, including his ability to resist the charges being brought against him, are based on the support of conservatives. If he is revealed as a homosexual, he will have no political support whatsoever.

Even more important than those two issues is Cohen's feeling of his own power. He can't be homosexual because homosexuals are weak. He's not a weakling. He is strong. Therefore he is not a homosexual.

Can't resist a side note here. The Romans had no word for homosexuality. They was just sex. Sex between a man and a man, sex between a man and a woman, whatever. It was all just sex.  What mattered to them was that a Roman man never took the subordinate position. In other words, if he was having sex with a woman,  he had better be on top of her. If he was having sex with a man, he had better be using his penis to penetrate the other man. Anything else was unmanly.

In a completely contradictory conclusion, after roaring at his doctor about the impossibility of his having aids, Cohen is willing to accept the treatment for AIDS, AZT, a new experimental drug, even though that drug would not be effective against the liver cancer he claims is his problem.

Perhaps it's because he's a lawyer and a politician, or perhaps it is just because he's a very corrupt person, but all that matters to Cohen is the correct label. He finally acknowledges he has had sex with men, but only when forced to make the admission.  And even then he denies he's a homosexual, because homosexuals are weak.  

To Cohen, words and labels are much more important than mere reality. This attitude is reflected by the Republican Party today in many of its pronouncements and political actions.

Idle Thoughts -- Premillenial or Postmillenial?

7)  The first part of Angels in America is titled "Millennium Approaches" Discuss what that the title suggests about the first part.
Your response should take into account the plight of at least two characters. 

Looking only at the first part of the play and ignoring all that happens in part two allows a clear vision as to why this particular title is appropriate for this particular work.  

As the play develops, we discover that many individuals are in a state of crisis. This is happening at a time when all of America was in a state of crisis. Ronald Reagan's Conservative Revolution is threatening to undo everything that American politics has accomplished since the days of FDR.  One of the catchphrases of the 1960's was, "Times, They Are A-Changin!"

This phrase was certainly appropriate in an era of civil rights, but it is also appropriate for both the individual characters of the era of the play and to the nation at that time.

At the beginning of the play we can assume a certain level of stability. Yes, individuals are ill, but they aren't entirely aware of it or believe it is under control. At the same time conserveratives are attempting to change America from a moderately liberal nation into an extremely conservative one. Gone are the days of moderate conservatives like Pres. Eisenhower.

Everything quickly turns into a crisis.  Prior discovers that he has AIDS, a strange and terrifying disease for which there is no effective treatment or cure. Harper's delusional fantasies grow deeper and deeper, preventing her husband from taking on an important new position in Washington.  Cohen realizes that he may be stripped of his position as a lawyer, the core accomplishment of his life.  Joe realizes that his hidden homosexuality may be revealed. And Louis begins to fear that he will not have the strength to stand by his beloved partner.

All of this is taking place in the context of two things. First, the millennium is in sight. The year 2000 is approaching.  Although as a practical matter this is just the changing of one more year into the next year, it has profound significance for the human psyche.  We cannot help but feel something wonderful when we enter a new century.

We may be excited about it or fearful of it, but the idea of being at the beginning of something new and powerful, a new age for the world cannot be denied.

Second, there's all the religious implication. Since the play is so deeply focused on religious imagery, it is impossible to imagine that the author wasn't full aware fully aware of all the religious implications of the term, millennium.

There're two basic threads to millenarianism. One is pre-millennial.  The other is post millennial. These refer to the thousand years of peace. Premillennialists think this thousand years of peace must come before Christ returns to judge the world. Postmillennialists think that the thousand years will come after Christ returns, judges the world, and then rules for 1000 years of peace.

The key, as applied to this play, comes in the judgment.  As these crises develop and begin to drastically alter the lives of the protagonists, it is clear that judgment is going to come to all of them, and to the nation itself.

Obviously, there is not going to be a great deal of peace either before or after the judgment!  But it is also obvious that judgment is coming, and it's coming fast.  Each of the characters is profoundly aware of this in his own life. 

Cohen knows that he may soon be disbarred for his crimes and offenses. He is doing everything he can to avoid judgment and to avoid punishment.

Harper, in her periods of rationality, realizes that her descent into madness is accelerating and becoming destructive to herself and those around her.

Louis fears his own inadequacies will cause him to abandon the man he loves, even while he desperately wishes to be strong enough to stay and be loyal.

Prior fears that he will be punished for something that should not be a punishable act. As with any individual who suddenly finds himself desperately ill, his sickness has made him question the very idea of justice and fairness.

Other characters face similar worries.

The millennium is coming. It is coming on the calendar. It is coming to the nation, which must decide if it will continue to be a nation that cares about its citizens or cares only about the wealthy.  It is coming to each and every one of the characters in the play.

But this millennialism isn't about 1000 years of peace. It is about judgment.

Idle Thoughts -- Birds of a Feather

6).   In Act 1 Scene 7, Harper says to Prior: "Deep inside you, there's a part of you, the most inner part, entirely free of disease" (40). What does she mean? Is she right ? Can the same be said of other characters? 

This is going to be hard, kid. I have never seen more than bits of the play when it was a new series on HBO,  and all I can remember is the scene where an angel appears. Also, I'm having trouble finding a script I can access immediately. So I'm going to dive into this and attempt to give you reasonable answers based on plot summaries. I don't really feel comfortable with that, but you have a deadline, and have read the play, so maybe you can piece together reasonable ideas out of this.

If this doesn't work, give me a call and I'll see if I can get a copy at the local library. That means a trip out and I'm trying not to leave the house today and then time to read the script... but if we have to we have to.

Stage directions of the play for the scene say: this is a  "Mutual dream scene. Prior is at a fantastic makeup table, having a dream, applying the face. Harper is having a pill-induced hallucination"...

So, first of all, we have to wonder, how did the hallucinations caused by the pills connect to the nightmare that the tormented Prior is having due to his illness?  Considering the religious strain that runs throughout the play, we assume that this is  taking place because of a miracle.  These two are meant to have contact and therefore these normally degrading experiences, a nightmare and a drug-induced fantasy, are used to bring about a greater good.

It is important to note that we are dealing with two people who are in many ways very similar. Both are suffering from terrible illnesses. One is suffering from AIDS; the other from depression and a valium addiction. For very different reasons, they are both sick and terrified. Moreover, they are also both suffering illnesses which are not considered to be socially acceptable.

At the time of the play, homosexuality was still regarded as a form of mental illness by society as a whole and even by medical professionals.  Prior, then, was mentally ill by the standards of the day even before he contracted AIDS.  The disease itself was physically devastating but on top of that Prior was denied support systems that are normally available to the ill. AIDS at that time often described as "gay cancer", but unlike real cancer patients, someone with AIDS was regarded as disgusting and highly contagious.

Whereas everyone would be expected to be at least sympathetic to a cancer patient, it was considered moral to condemn an AIDS patient. After all, they got this disease because of their choice to be homosexual. A choice which, remember, was regarded as sick and diseased, in and of itself. That's the simple choice which was disgusting, not to mention any illness which might result.  Therefore, it was a common belief that anyone who got this disease deserved their fate.  Even today, many people will declare that AIDS is a punishment from God. And since it's from God, it is obviously just and well-deserved.

Harper isn't in a much better position. Depression and mental health issues were still commonly regarded at the time is being signs of a weak character.  Strong people didn't allow themselves become mentally ill. Strong people didn't allow themselves to become addicted. So, Harper also faces condemnation and a refusal to give her sympathy or assistance by most of society.

Ironically, there are also severe differences between the two, and yet those differences are in many ways also similarities. She declares that she's a Mormon and Mormons don't believe in homosexuality, to which he responds that in his church they don't believe in Mormons. These two people, suffering in many ways similar fates, nevertheless find much to condemn in each other. Clearly, they should be more ready to give each other mutual support, but they, too, are members of the very society which is condemning and harming them.

The two of them laugh at the Mormon joke so there is a reaching out. They rather quickly realize that their prejudices are setting up artificial and unnecessary walls between them and that they should be giving each other mutual support.  Since both find themselves isolated and condemned by society, it makes sense to reach out to each other.

Harper comments, "Deep inside you, there's a part of you, the most inner part, entirely free of disease."  This is true of both of them. She is aware that she has an addiction. She knows this is not a good thing. She has a difficult time facing it, but that does not mean that she is able to convince herself that her fantasies are entirely real. Part of her knows that it is possible for her to return to mental health.

 Prior faces a similar situation.  Society is bitterly condemning him, yet he knows there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual. It is as natural as other types of sexuality.  Intellectually he is well aware that catching AIDS is no more punishment than someone else having heart disease. But with so many condemning him, it is hard to accept that fact.

As to the other characters, this is more a philosophical question than it is a question about the intent of the playwright.  Some of the characters clearly are rather comfortable with themselves and are able to give assistance and comfort freely.

Bélize is strong and deserves praise.   However, should we condemn Louis because the stress and strain of caring for a desperately ill partner is beyond his capacity? Is he a bad man or just humanly weak? And how is that so different from being homosexual or being addicted and not being able to take command of those situations?

The one character who seems truly a bad person in this play is Roy Cohen. He IS making choices. Nothing forces him to be an unscrupulous shyster. He could be a decent, honest lawyer. He really does choose not to be.

And yet, isn't his desire to remain a lawyer even in the face of the accusations made against him and in the face his own imminent death evidence show thst he does have still enough decency left to want to at least be able to put up a show of respectability? Or is this just another act of evil?  Is his being a lawyer just the makeup he is putting on, as Prior was putting on makeup in his dream, attempting to at least appear healthy?

Let me also note that later in play Harper finds that while it was easy to give comfort and to reach out to a person she has met in a drug-induced fantasy; when her husband turns out to also be gay, this is more than she can stand. If she being a hypocrite? Or is it just that it's easy to do something for someone with whom we are not intimate and very hard to do the same thing for your own husband and lover?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Alas, Poor Audience!

5). Discuss Act 5 Scene 1. Your response should address the conversation between the Clowns and the famous "Yorick Speech" that Hamlets delivers.

Quite suddenly, for no particular reason, there is break in the dramatic action of the play for some low comedy. Shakespeare is famous for this. The characters who indulge in such actions are not important in themselves, they serve the purpose only of delivering some comedic relief. In the Golden Age of television, in the 1950s, there was always a sidekick to the hero. He was always silly and goofy and not very bright.   When the writers thought the action was getting too serious for the viewers, he would relieve the tension.  I'm sure the television script writers were imitating Shakespeare when they did this.

Personally I find that the clowns, or mechanicals, as they are sometimes known, interfere with my enjoyment of the play.  On the other hand there is little doubt that their joking back-and-forth about death and their making of silly puns was probably very popular with the audience. It was especially popular, no doubt, with the audience who were in the pit. That is to say, the people who were poor and uneducated and might otherwise find the play too confusing and difficult to follow.

Of course Shakespeare can't resist throwing some meaning in. They do make the point that death is inevitable and comes to all. This was a matter of obsession for society at that time.  This was largely due to the fact that so many people died in the disease ridden cities and in the conditions of extremely poor sanitation.

The entrance of Hamlet and Horatio quickly turn the topic to the more serious point.  Hamlet philosophizes about the shortness of life and it's inevitable end, and about how sad it is that the bones before him were once part of a living being.  At first it is just philosophy. He feels no real emotional attachment to the individual, only to the tragedy that will befall him and everyone else.

Then he is informed that this is Yorick, a jester he remembers from his own childhood and youth.  Suddenly this is not an obscure or abstruse philosophical issue. This is a man he remembers. This is a man for whom he felt affection.

Although the script does not specifically mention it, it is implied that his feelings here are beginning to cause him to reflect on the death he is already caused, that of Polonius, and the death he intends to cause, that of his uncle. Although he does not specify this, you cannot help but imagine him wondering what is the difference? My father is dead, in time Claudius will be dead. Even he, Hamlet will be dead. Is there really any point to this terrible struggle he's putting himself through? Shouldn't he enjoy what he has and allow those around him to enjoy what they have?

The problem with such an attitude is that it would allow people to gain by committing terrible crimes including killing others and then just shrugging the whole affair off. It's not an acceptable alternative.

At this point, the funeral for Ophelia enters. Watching it from hiding, Hamlet no doubt feels guilt about his hand in helping to driver her to suicide or at least in contributing to her accidental death.  When Laertes throws himself on her grave in grief, Hamlet jumps in. He declares that his grief is greater than that of a mere brother.  This inevitably leads to a fight.

Critics have two interpretations of this event. One is that Hamlet really is overwhelmed with grief and, in his grief and madness, takes this extremely provocative action.  The other is that he does it deliberately to upset Laertes and to continue to convince everyone that he is mad.  If the second is so, it shows again what a despicable character Hamlet is.

He doesn't come off much better if he really is overcome with grief.  Even assuming that to be true, he certainly is sorry now that she's dead. Being sorry that he was hurting her before she died would have been much more beneficial.  It is always very easy to be sorry after-the-fact when there's nothing you can do about it, than it is to be sorry before you cause a bad thing to happen, and to take corrective action.

Idle Thoughts -- Hamlet Freaks Out

4). Discuss Act 3 Scene 4. Your response should summarize the events of the scene AND analyze those events. In particular, your response should address the advice Hamlet gives his mother, Gertrude.

Polonius encourages Gertrude to be stern with her son in hopes of breaking through his insanity and getting him to behave more rationally, then hides himself to observe the results.  On his part, Hamlet is determined to be extremely harsh with his mother for reasons that, as always, aren't really clear.

It is clear that he is angry at her for not remaining loyal to his father after his death, but does that mean he thinks that she helped commit the murder? In any event, he is determined to cause her injury.

The confrontation goes as badly as can be expected considering that both of them start with the intent of straightening the other one out.  Well she tries to convince her son to behave in a more respectable manner, he becomes vile and disgusting and attacks her relationship with her husband in graphic sexual details. He has no business speaking to his mother this way under any circumstances. Even if she is as guilty as he assumes, simple decency should prevent him from speaking in this manner.

Hamlet is so out-of-control that she cries out in fear that he will attack and possibly kill her. This results in Polonius making him aware of his presence leads to Hamlet murdering him, thinking he is killing his hated uncle.

The horrified and terrified queen now either in shock or out of fear for her life, either goes along with Hamlet or pretends to go along with him in order to escape. Hamlet convinces himself that Polonius deserved to die anyway, and having killed him by mistake is God's way of punishing Hamlet. This is a critical moment in my interpretation of play. To me the entire sordid affair is compelling evidence that Hamlet is not an admirable or even a decent human being at heart.  

Even allowing for possible insanity or the extreme stress of his situation, his behavior is totally wrong and inappropriate.  Remember that Hamlet really doesn't want to act, yet  at the same time but he feels compelled to do so. Thus, he drives himself into frenzies in order to get done what he feels he must do over his own feeling that he is acting excessively.  

He has lost all sense of balance. He behaves in ways he knows are wrong because it is the only way he can force himself to overcome his conscience.  If I felt more sympathy for Hamlet, perhaps I would like to play better. But his eventual death comes to me as a relief. While it is true that at least Claudius deserved punishment, the only other person truly seems to deserve punishment in this play is Hamlet himself.

After all, only we the audience and God know that Claudius is guilty. Hamlet's actions destroy everyone around him, largely because he cannot bring himself to make a clear decision and act on it without whipping himself into an hysterical frenzy first.

I can't resist adding that I think Shakespeare made a very bad error when he did let us know that Claudius was in fact guilty. If the whole point of the play is the confusion and the difficulty of knowing reality in every day life, then why should we get this information?  The point would be made much more effectively if it is never clear with the man was guilty or innocent. I believe it is a serious weakness in the structure of the play. I suppose,however, that he put in this knowledge because he thought it was necessary to please his audience.

Idle Thoughts -- Lucretia Borgia vs Ophelia and Gertrude

3) Discuss the treatment of woman in Hamlet. Your response should consider that we only have half their story- and their half is told not from thier perspective but from the perspective of others.

Since the play opens with the statement that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, one comes to the conclusion as we watch or read that a lot of things are rotten in the state of Denmark.

One of these may well be the treatment of women. As with all the rest of the play, you can interpret it in different ways. Was Hamlet truly in love with Ophelia? Was he just toying with her as Laertes  feared? And even if Hamlet did love her, why was his need for revenge so much more important than his love for her?

On the face of it, Ophelia does not necessarily come off terribly well. Even assuming that there was a love between her and Hamlet was suicide really a very wise choice?  Of course, we aren't even sure she did commit suicide.  One could argue that whatever the cause of her death it is a result of the way she was mistreated by the males around her. But in other plays Shakespeare presented very strong women who were prepared to stand up for themselves. The possible interpretation is that the society that we are examining in this play is itself poisonous. Remember, they play is about royal and noble families where women are considered to be tools of diplomacy and are expected to be married off according to the needs of the state.

Then there is the matter of Hamlet's mother. He regards her as a foul, despicable creature.  He clearly blames her for the marriage which resulted from his father's death. Again, this made a great deal of sense in dynastic terms. The state was stable if she married the King's brother. This provided continuity to the throne and kept the nation stable

On the other hand, there's always the implication that perhaps she assisted in the murder of Hamlet's father, her husband.  If we assume that she was at least attracted to, if not actually in an illicit relationship with her brother-in-law, the entire picture changes.

So we are left to wonder. Is Ophelia weak because society and an overbearing father and overprotective brother have made her weak? Is she weak because she has a weak character? Is Hamlet's mother guilty or innocent? And even if innocent are we to condemn her because she should have said she preferred to be the queen mother and have no power even if this affected state stability in a negative way?

One thing is clear, the women in this play are objects to be used by the men who care for them, or at least who control them.  With the possible exception of Laertes, who perhaps did love his sister, the men are the only characters who matter, and even he expects her to obey him in protecting herself.

You will have to decide for yourself, Kid. The whole point of this play seems to be the real life can be incredibly messy and very confusing and nobody ever really knows much of anything with certainty. You can defend any position you care to take in this regard.

I think we should note that even under these extreme conditions, women in real life sometimes showed great courage and independence.  Over the centuries Lucretia Borgia has been accused of being a truly horrible individual. A careful study of the facts shows that she was a strong woman, a loyal daughter, and probably not the murderess she has been accused of being for the past few centuries.

Although she did do her duty and accepted marriages for purposes of state, she nevertheless remained a strong individual within that framework. This was a very remarkable accomplishment. Certainly none of Shakespeare's characters in this play rise to that standard.

Idle Thoughts -- I Wanna! I Wanna! I Wanna!

2) Discuss Hamlets soliloquy that ends Act 2 " O what a rouge and peasant slave am I...." Your response should summarize Hamlets words AND analyze how those words suggest the transformation Hamlet has began.

Hamlet, who is feeling torn with doubts and insecurities, is amazed at how an actor can pick up a part about a person was just a myth doesn't really even exist, never has existed, and develop real feeling and real meaning in these imaginary sufferings. Hamlet feels he can't develop real emotions in himself. Of course he is racked by too many contradictory emotions, but he is determined that only revenge is good enough.

Since the actor can do this with the character never truly existed why can't Hamlet do it for his beloved father whom he has recently lost?  He sees this is clear evidence of their something profoundly wrong with him. He ignores the skilled capacity and the training of the actor because he only wants to blame himself.

Hamlet's purpose is to punish himself, to drive himself to do a thing he doesn't really want to do, A thing he isn't even really certain he ought to do. And that is of course, to seek revenge. He is using the skill of the actor it evoking emotions as a jockey uses a whip to drive a horse. He wants to drive himself into doing something that he knows is really not a good idea.  On the other hand, he is torn enough within his own internal psychology that he wants to do it even as he rejects the act as foolish and self-destructive.

He hopes, by belittling himself, arouse himself to anger so that he will overcome those doubts.  In other words, he has actually made up his mind. He is going to seek revenge. He just needs to convince himself that it's a good idea or at least a necessity to do so. He is being disingenuous. He's lying to himself.

To accomplish this and he goes on to attack himself even more. He calls himself a slave, a mope, a dreamer, and an ass.  He even calls himself a coward.

When that doesn't work, he changes tactics to assault King Claudius to make him see more deserving of punishment.  The king is described as bloody, and bawdy, and a tyrant. Surely such a man deserves to be punished. This seems to convince Hamlet because he then decides to create a plot to test his conviction.  While it is absurd to imagine that the play would actually have any real value is evidence, he convinces himself that it will. Again, he's lying to himself.  It should be obvious already, that whatever the results are, Hamlet will decide that the case has been proven.

Hamlet himself is aware of this. He begins to express his doubts about the validity of the ghost. Clearly, a spirit has power to do many things and perhaps it's deceiving him.  Nevertheless, his need for taking some action leads him to decide that the plot will continue and he will, "catch the conscience of the king".  Again, what's clearly being caught here is the conscience of Hamlet. Although later we will find out the Claudius is guilty, Hamlet never does so. He only convinces himself on the basis of flimsy evidence and the word of the probably imaginary ghost.

Idle Thoughts -- Shakespeare's Helicopter

1) Discuss the advice Polonius gives his son Laertes in Act 1 Scene 3. Your response should summarize the advice and discuss what the advice suggest about Polonius 

You can't really discuss Polonius's advice to Laertes without regarding Laertes advice to Ophelia which comes immediately before.  Shakespeare put them together so that they would be juxtaposed. We are supposed to compare and contrast even as viewers, and certainly as students.

The one thing that is clear from Laertes advice is that he really is a loving brother very concerned about his sister's welfare.  Is deeply concerned that her sincere love for Hamlet will be destroyed by Hamlet's need to act as a ruler, which means he cannot marry for love, and by the fact that men tend to callously use young women who are trusting and loving.

There are two points critics frequently make about this with which I disagree. The first is that  Laertes advice is just as pretentious and useless as his father's advice to him. The second is that Laertes is simply trying to be another domineering male figure like his father, controlling the female in the family.

First point: Laertes is clearly giving actually very good advice. It is very likely that a girl her position will be used and abused. Being a young man of wealth and power himself, Laertes knows how easy it is to use and abuse a trusting girl.

This is hypocrisy in that what  he wants to do himself to other girls is what he doesn't want to happen to his own sister. Nevertheless, it does reflect a real concern and love for her and her desire to see her protected and safe

The second point: Laertes is indeed trying to control his sister, but it is clear that he is experienced while she is not. He is in a position of superior knowledge. Of course, we cannot deny that he is trying to control her life for her, however good his intentions may be.

Immediately after this advice is given however, she points out but she doesn't want him to be like so many preachers and ministers. They tell everyone how to follow the hard road to heaven and then themselves are dissolute and disobedient to the very rules they themselves have  laid down. In other words, she knows that he is being a hypocrite. He wants his sister to be treated better than he treats other men's sisters.

At this point Polonious comes in to get his advice. His advice, unlike his son's advice to his daughter, is not practical at all. It is the very vague, sort of catchphrase that one frequently hears in old wives tales, Ben Franklin's almanac, and other collections of advice that can be taken almost anyway you want them to be.

It is not that the advice is bad, it's just very general. It's a list of statements that are so obviously true that you wonder why you need to waste breath to state. On the other hand how do they apply to any practical situation?

Laertes is trying to protect Ophelia in a very specific situation, from a very particular threat. Polonius wants to fill his son with a set of guidelines which will apply everywhere, anywhere, anytime. And of course, because they are so vague they also don't apply anywhere or at  anytime in a useful manner.

You need to consider George Washington's two lists. What a young man, he made a list of virtues and a list of manners. They sound a lot like Polonius' advice in many cases. But Washington took them seriously and they greatly affected his future character. So maybe Polonius' advice is not entirely pointless.

This is often interpreted by critics as showing that Polonius is shallow and pompous but nevertheless wishes to exert extreme control over his son. I disagree. The man clearly does love his son and wants to protect even though he will be far away in a foreign land at school.  He does not seem to be an overbearing parent, but an over concerned parent. He reminds me less of a domineering father of the past than of a father who today we would call a helicopter parent. Always hovering over their child trying to protect them and keep them from harm.

I contrast this to the relationships of the baby boomer generation. Our parents were quite distant in many ways. They were distant authority figures with whom we often felt in conflict. This was true even as we grew up, in fact became more true as we grew up. Today I see families in which parents and children often do end up in close adult relationships. This was virtually unheard of for my generation.  I see Polonius as a much more contemporary parent even then the parents of my generation.

I am not  so critical of him as so many literary critics tend to be 8 I see him as a rather a bumbling figure. He's trying and is trying very hard. He just isn't very competent.

In fairness, I must add that, in keeping with the beliefs of the time, he does regard his daughter is a permanent child until she is married to her husband, and then he expects her to be a permanent child toward him.