Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Horatio the Cabbie

Today's blog post is brought to you by my friend Bert. Bert is in his first year of law school at the University of Utah, and he came across a Shakespeare reference in one of the cases he was reading.

The case is Cordas v. Peerless Transportation Co., a case in New York City Court in 1941.

Here's the story behind the case: Mugger #1 and Mugger #2 mug Helpless Victim at gunpoint. Helpless Victim then chases Mugger #1 and Mugger #2. Mugger #1 jumps into a cab to escape, and points his gun at Cabbie. Cabbie decides he wants to get away from the gun and jump out of the cab. After he jumps out, the cab keeps moving and hits Lady. Lady later sues the cab company.

Pretty crazy, huh?

So, the court decided that Cabbie did what any normal person would do, and that it's not his fault the runaway cab hit Lady. It was an emergency situation, so Cabbie wasn't guilty of negligence.

Anyway, if you read the court case, you can tell the judge had a lot of fun writing the decision:

"[The chauffer] states that
His uninvited guest
Boarded the cab at 25th Street
While it was at a standstill
Waiting for a less colorful fare;

That his ‘passenger’ immediately
Advised him ‘to stand not upon
The order of his going
But to go at once’
And added finality to his command
By an appropriate gesture
With a pistol addressed to his sacro iliac.

The chauffeur in reluctant acquiescence
Proceeded about fifteen feet, when his hair,
Like unto the quills of the fretful porcupine,
Was made to stand on end
By the hue and cry of the man despoiled
Accompanied by a clamourous concourse
Of the law-abiding which paced him as he ran;

The concatenation of ‘stop thief,'
To which the patter of persistent feet
Did maddingly beat time,
Rang in his ears as the pursuing posse all the while
Gained on the receding cab
With its quarry therein contained.

The hold-up man
Sensing his insecurity
Suggested to the chauffeur that
In the event there was the
Slightest lapse in obedience
To his curt command that he, the chauffeur,
Would suffer the loss of his brains,
A prospect as horrible to an humble chauffeur
As it undoubtedly would be to one
Of the intelligentsia.

The chauffeur apprehensive of
Certain dissolution from either Scylla, the pursuers,
Or Charybdis, the pursued,
Quickly threw his car out of first speed
In which he was proceeding,
Pulled on the emergency, jammed on his brakes and,
Although he thinks the motor was still running,
Swung open the door to his left
And jumped out of his car.

He confesses that the only act
That smacked of intelligence 
Was that by which he jammed the brakes
In order to throw off balance the hold-up man
Who was half-standing and half-sitting
With his pistol menacingly poised."


The judge goes on to explain that Cabbie did what anyone would do, including certain Shakespearean characters:

"If a person is placed in a sudden peril
From which death might ensue,
The law does not impel another
To the rescue of the person endangered
Nor does it condemn him
For his unmoral failure
To rescue when he can;

This is in recognition of the immutable law
Written in frail flesh.

Returning to our chauffeur.
If the philosophic Horatio
And the martial companions of his watch
Were ‘distilled almost to jelly with the act of fear’
When they beheld ‘in the dead vast and middle of the night’
The disembodied spirit of Hamlet's father
Stalk majestically by ‘with a countenance
More in sorrow than in anger’
Was not the chauffeur,
Though unacquainted with the example
Of these eminent men-at-arms,
More amply justified in his
Fearsome reactions when he was
More palpably confronted by a thing of flesh and blood
Bearing in its hand an engine of destruction
Which depended for its lethal purpose
Upon the quiver of a hair?

When Macbeth was cross-examined
By Macduff as to any reason he
Could advance for his sudden despatch
Of Duncan's grooms he said
In plausible answer
‘Who can be wise, amazed,
Temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man’.

Macbeth did not by a ‘tricksy word’ thereby
Stand justified as he criminally created
The emergency from which he
Sought escape by indulgence
In added felonies to divert suspicion
To the innocent.

However, his words may be wrested
To the advantage of the defendant's chauffeur
Whose acts cannot be legally construed as
The proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries,
However regrettable,
Unless nature's first law is arbitrarily disregarded."

Again, wow.

If I'm ever a judge, I hope I write cases that way. That would be awesome! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Northern Aggression

I, like many of you, spent the day yesterday at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah. We took a field trip down to see The Winter's Tale. It was really great to see the play so soon after reading the play, it was a lot easier to compare the two and learn from the story. For example, while reading the play I was having some trouble understanding the role and purpose of Autolycus, but after seeing him it made a lot more sense (and was a lot more entertaining).

Here are some of the big observations I made while watching the play:

- Probably the most striking feature of this Shakespeare play was that the costumes were from the 20th century, not the 16th or 17th. But they didn't change anything else or modernize anything else about the play. The characters' names were the same, two lords of Sicilia were still sent to the Oracle at Delphi, etc. But I think the costumes really added another dimension and was a very insightful decision made by the director Brian Vaughn (who also played Leontes).

The whole first half of the play, I was thinking "This is Winter's Tale meets The Great Gatsby," because that's what the costumes reminded me of. Very urban, very high society.

But then, when the second half of the play began in Bohemia, and it was very rural and country. That distinction of course could be made from Shakespeare's original play. But what added to it was the costumes. It was especially notable when Polixenes and Camillo came to the sheep-shearing festival dressed as Colonel Sanders.

That's when it hit me: Sicilia was the north and Bohemia was the south.

Here are some other images that sort of evoke the north and the south in the early 20th century.


The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Citizen Kane
The Philadelphia Story


To Kill a Mockingbird

Gone With the Wind

Forrest Gump

O Brother Where Art Thou?

- The other really cool thing about this performance of The Winter's Tale was who they chose to play Time, to open the play after the intermission. The actor who played Time was the same actor who played Antigonus. And it wasn't just to double-dip and save on personnel. The actor came out on stage in his whole Antigonus costume and make-up, beard and everything. But as he began to speak, he took off his suit jacket and beard.

I wonder what this was trying to say. Here's my theory: maybe all along, Antigonus was Time, or Fate, and through that capacity he was able to take Perdita to a place where eventually her true identity would be discovered. Sort of like how we Mormons sometimes think of The Three Nephites. Time/Fate is all-knowing, and somehow knew that by taking Perdita to Bohemia that night, she would be discovered by the shepherd and eventually reunited with her family. And after the intermission, Time comes to reveal that, 16 years later, his plan has been realized.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bookend Brothers

Check out these two passages:

Act I, Scene I

Sicilia cannot show himself over-kind to Bohemia.
They were trained together in their childhoods; and 
there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, 
which cannot choose but branch now. Since their 
more mature dignities and royal necessities made 
separation of their society, their encounters,
though not personal, have been royally attorneyed
with interchange of gifts, letters, loving 
embassies; that they have seemed to be together,
though absent, shook hands, as over a vast, and
embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposed
winds. The heavens continue their loves

I think there is not in the world either malice or
matter to alter it.

... and ...

Act V, Scene II

Third Gentleman: Did you see
the meeting of the two kings? 

Second Gentleman: No. 

Third Gentleman: Then have you lost a sight, which was to be seen, 
cannot be spoken of. There might you have beheld one 
joy crown another, so and in such manner that it 
seemed sorrow wept to take leave of them, for their 
joy waded in tears. There was casting up of eyes,
holding up of hands, with countenances of such 
distraction that they were to be known by garment, 
not by favour. Our king, being ready to leap out of 
himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that 
joy were now become a loss, cries 'O, thy mother,
thy mother!' then asks Bohemia forgiveness; then 
embraces his son-in-law; then again worries he his 
daughter with clipping her; now he thanks the old 
shepherd, which stands by like a weather-bitten 
conduit of many kings' reigns. I never heard of such
another encounter, which lames report to follow it 
and undoes description to do it."

So, the play begins and ends the same way, with a conversation between two less-than-secondary characters describing the brotherly love Leontes and Polixenes have for each other.

For good measure, here's me and my brother, who is 19 months younger than me (with two of our younger sisters):

By the way, why do you think it is that Act V, Scene II is a conversation between three characters, who aren't even named, about the climax of the story? Why didn't Shakespeare write out that scene? Did he just get lazy?

I have one theory. Maybe Shakespeare intended to describe the scene rather than display it, tell instead of show. He does use some beautiful language in describing how happy everyone is now. Maybe he wanted to put together a few well-crafted words, and leave the rest to imagination.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clownin' Around

(Whoops! Sorry this blog post is late!)

While reading Act IV of The Winter's Tale, I was thinking a lot about the Clown as a stock character. When you think of a "doofus" character, he's usually on the antagonists' side. He's not necessarily evil himself, but for some reason he's been recruited by the villain. He just does what he's told, and seems to have nothing better to do than to do his master's bidding. Also, almost always the doofus/henchman is larger in size than the villain. I think typically, the villain is the brains behind the operation, but he is physically weak, so he/she has a big brute to do some of his/her dirty work.

Now, in the case of the Clown, his "master" is his shepherd father, and so there's nothing strange about honoring and obeying his father. And, the Clown and his father are not villains. In a way, they're both "doofuses" (or "doofi," haha), because they're both simple country folk. But I still imagine the Clown to be a big guy, especially in comparison to his older, somewhat doddling fool father.

Here are some examples of this stock character that come to my mind:

  • Igor from Frankenstein - Although Igor's and Dr. Frankenstein's plan isn't intentionally nefarious, it does involve from questionable ethics from the get-go. Breaking into a lab and stealing brains? Imitating God? But Igor mindlessly goes along with it anyway. I haven't actually read the book, but from what I can tell from the various representations I've seen, it doesn't even seem Igor recognizes the scientific ambition of the experiment. He doesn't seem to have much of any thought.

  • Pinky from Pinky and the Brain - Basically the same as Igor, but more of a doofus. (To go to my favorite Pinky line, skip to :59 in the video.)

  • Lenny from Of Mice and Men - Is Lenny a good guy or a bad guy? His violent tendencies are usually an obvious sign of evil, but in his case he doesn't know any better because he's a "doofus." Even more than just a "doofus," really. That doesn't mean he avoids getting in trouble though.

  • Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove - Another comical take on the chief henchman character, only this one is so "doofusy" that he seems like a good guy. Which makes him the highlight of the movie.

  • Nathaniel from Enchanted - I love the scene when he realizes that he's been a pawn in Queen Narissa's plan, and decides that he deserves to be his own man. It was one of my favorite modernizations of the classic fairy tale in Enchanted.

  • Little John from Robin Hood - Little John is a good guy sidekick. But he doesn't seem too much like a doofus, just somebody who honestly believes in the same cause as Robin Hood does. But, because he's the larger and more jovial of the two, he becomes the right-hand man.

  • Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - More than just a doofus sidekick, I think he's the actual driving force of the plot, because he's the reason Huck goes on his journey. Only, Jim doesn't seem to realize he's the focus.

What other examples can you think of?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sit right back and you'll hear a Winter's Tale

Here's a sort of hodgepodge of thoughts I've had while reading Acts II through IV of The Winter's Tale:


- I found three instances of characters comparing their characteristics as if they are measurable.

Paulina, talking about Hermione: "... a gracious innocent soul, More free than he is jealous."

Paulina, talking about herself: "... no less honest Than you are mad ..."

Hermione, in her testimony for the court: "You, my lord, best know, Who least will seem to do so, my past life Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true, As I am now unhappy."

It looks as though Hermione and Paulina should be understood as the opposite of Leontes. Where Leontes is the nadir, Hermione and Paulina are the zenith.

Also, do we do this in real life? Do we say "I'm as good at" something "as he or she is bad at" something? Do we compare ourselves to others with exact quantities?

Another way to think of it: Does the worst day of your life counterbalance the best day of your life? Does one unit of happiness equal one unit of unhappiness? Or does a little bit of happiness outweigh a lot of unhappiness? Or is it vice versa?


- I noticed two references very close to each other to shoulders.

Clown, when describing the bear attack he just saw: "And then for the land-service, to see how the bear tore out his shoulder-bone; how he cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonus, a nobleman."

Autolycus, when he is faking an injury to take advantage of the Clown: "O, good sir, softly, good sir! I fear, sir, my shoulder-blade is out."

The two events are 16 years apart in the story, and on either side of an intermission while watching the play. But when you read it, they seem like they are right next to each other. So I guess it might be a way that Shakespeare is playing with the fast-forward through time. Or, is it a foreshadowing of what is to come? Should this injured traveler's shoulder remind the Clown of Antigonus' shoulder being eaten by a bear? Should he be anticipating the story coming full circle? Should we?

Huh, I don't know, maybe I have a thing with the symbolism of body parts.

Speaking of bears, here's Jim and Dwight having an academic discussion on what bear is best:  


- A pretty obvious connection with Polixenes spying on his son and Polonius wanting to spy on his, right? One thing that is different to me is that Polixenes is doing it himself, instead of sending someone else with instructions of how to spy. What does that say about Polixenes? Is he more paranoid than Polonius? Or more of a "do-it-yourselfer" than Polonius?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Throne of Lies

(Our class took a brief pause during our reading of Hamlet in order to read The Winter's Tale, before we go on our field trip to see it at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

It is just amazing to see how far King Leontes is willing to go. First, he sees Polixenes and Hermione acting friendly, and assumes the worst. Then, he immediately assumes Hermione is pregnant not with his baby, but with Polixenes'. After he sends Camillo to kill Polixenes and they both disappear, he is certain that Camillo is in on this whole thing too. And, when his son Mamillius falls ill, there is no question in his mind that it is because his son is so distraught by his horrible mother.

Isn't that the way it goes with lies? We probably all have personal experience with an initial lie, that we have to expound upon further and further until our story exposes itself as false and ridiculous. Along those same lines, I think of David from the Bible. Not only did he advance a lie further and further, but also a sin. He started with lustful thoughts and before he knew it he had committed murder.

What's funny in King Leontes' case is that he has no need to one-up himself or anybody else. He's not competing with anybody, and no one is paying much attention to his lies from the very beginning. His only audience is himself. So why does he perpetuate his senseless jealousy?

I suppose it could be similar to what often happens when we feel mad or sad. We have a tendency to want to stay mad or sad, and resist any efforts to cheer ourselves up. For some reason, it's like we want to be mad or sad. It's ridiculous, of course, but for some reason we do it.

Speaking of trying to one-up everybody...

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm All Ears

For those of you who were in class the other day, you've already heard me make this comment. So I'm recycling it for a blog post, not because I'm lazy but because I'm interested in it. (Okay, it is 11:30 p.m., so maybe I'm a little lazy...)

As I was reading Hamlet, I kept noticing the words "ear" or "ears" pop up. I think knowing the plot summary before reading Hamlet, and knowing that Hamlet Sr. died from poison being poured in his ear, must have put me on "ear" alert. Maybe it was just such a strange way to die, I don't think I've heard of it. It kind of reminds me of Yeerks ... Animorphs, anyone?

Anyway, when I brought up in class the reoccurring ear theme, Professor Burton pointed out the perfect website for researching this kind of thing: Shakespeare Searched. You can search for any word or phrase in any Shakespeare play or spoken by any Shakespeare character. It's a handy way to find any instances of a motif you want to learn more about.

So, here are a few of the quotes from Hamlet (Acts I, II and III) with the words "ear" or "ears":

Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen.

Season your admiration for awhile
With an attent ear, till I may deliver,
Upon the witness of these gentlemen,
This marvel to you.

O, speak to me no more;
These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears;
No more, sweet Hamlet!

I would not hear your enemy say so,
Nor shall you do mine ear that violence,
To make it truster of your own report
Against yourself: I know you are no truant.

... He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I...

Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain,
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmaster'd importunity.

'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And with a sudden vigour doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,
All my smooth body.

Do you notice any connections?

What I'm noticing is the ear being described as a portal into the body, one of "the natural gates and alleys of the body," as Shakespeare put it. But only in the case of the Ghost was it actual poison invading the body through the ear. In the other examples, what was infecting the body was lies.

"The whole ear of Denmark" was told that Hamlet Sr. was killed by a serpent, which wasn't true. If Ophelia's ears were too quick to believe the flattering lies Hamlet was telling her, she'd get in trouble (and have to get herself to a nunnery). The actors would amaze the ears of the audience through their lies (albeit benevolent lies, for the sake of entertainment). Hamlet takes Horatio's claim of truancy to be a lie. And Bernardo tells Horatio and Horatio tells Hamlet that they had better get their ears ready for the story of the ghost, which might seem like a lie but really isn't. (Or is it?)

Maybe what Shakespeare is trying to do is equate the "cursed hebenon" poison with lies. They both do damage -- in fact, lies possibly do more damage than poison would. After all, Hamlet Sr. just has to wait it out in purgatory, while the family and subjects he leaves behind are misled, confused, suspicious and crazy in an intricate web of lies.

In the case of Gertrude's quote, it's not lies that "like daggers enter in [her] ears." No, what is actually stabbing her ears is the truth. Hamlet is accusing her of living "in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty!" And calls her "a murtherer and a villain!" Because she has succumbed to such evil and has let it dictate her life, she is so far gone that the truth stings worse than lies do. The wicked taketh the truth to be hard...

(If you want to hear President Obama's ears joke, skip to 4:00. If you love the troops, you'll watch the whole thing.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welcome to Refudiatin'

So, I have a total of four blogs to my name: first, Adventures in Animation, a short-lived blog for sharing my sketches and drawings while I tried to get into the BYU animation program (to no avail); second, J Squared, a personal blog that has evolved into a source for all my newspaper articles and cartoons as well as some political commentary; third, J.J., Erin and Allisyn, the blog that tracks all of my adventures with my wife and one-year-old daughter (mostly run by my better half); and fourth, Man Stuff, a collaboration with guys from the Ward Formerly Known as the BYU 5th Ward who wanted to offer a counterpart to their wives' mommy blogs (my contributions are usually related to BYU sports).

Now, if I were to tell you that I was starting a new blog, your first reaction would probably be, "What? This guy blabs on and on and on as it is. He's on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Blogger, in the newspaper all the time ... isn't that enough already?" And after you come to terms with me blowing yet more hot air online or in print, you would probably guess the subject would be either trying to get into law school or our two months living in New York. But, nope, you'd be wrong.

Even if you had 100 guesses, you probably wouldn't think it would be Shakespeare.

But, yes, this semester I'm taking a Shakespeare class at BYU, one I've always wanted to find room for but couldn't until now. And one of the main class projects is a network of Shakespeare blogs manned by my professor, Dr. Gideon Burton.

I've always been interested in Shakespeare, I think because I've always been interested in a little bit of everything. Knowing stuff is just one of my favorite things to do. I like knowing current events, world capitals, old movies ("Oh, so that's why Citizen Kane is such a big deal") and classic rock ("Oh, so that's why The Beatles are such a big deal). It just helps me feel smart. And at the very least, knowing all this trivia helps me to be awesome at armchair "Jeopardy!" or it helps me understand all the pop culture references on "Gilmore Girls" or "Psych."

For some reason, I've always wanted to know more about Shakespeare. Shakespeare is probably the second most pervasive writing in the world, just behind the Bible. I would bet most people were introduced to lines like "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" and "To be, or not to be? That is the question" before they even entered kindergarten.

And around that age, when I knew all the U.S. presidents from Washington to Clinton and knew all 50 states in the United States, I actually looked forward to the day when I would read Shakespeare plays in school, instead of watching every token "Romeo and Juliet" episode from every family sitcom.

(Skip to the 3:50 or the 14:13 mark on the timeline)

In high school I read "Julius Caesar" and "Macbeth," and here at BYU I read "The Winter's Tale" and "King Lear." And now that I'm taking a class with Shakespeare as its focus, I'm excited to become even more of a Shakespeare scholar.

Two other bits of my personal history with Shakespeare: I've had two cartoons in The Daily Universe that were references to Shakespeare.

This was my response to the ridiculous hullabaloo over President Boyd K. Packer's talk last October.

And this was making fun of Sarah Palin for comparing herself to Shakespeare last summer (which also brought about the name of this blog).

And now, I'll close with this, since for the class I'm currently reading "Hamlet" (this is "The Simpsons," so there is some mild, not-BYU-appropriate swearing):