Shakespeare Sunday: Macbeth Needs A Nap

Welcome my 12 faithful congregants!  If you’d turn your hymnals to the tragedy of “Macbeth”, let’s take a look at a very short passage:

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”,
the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast….

Macbeth (Act II, Sc II)

Even without knowing much about the context of this passage, I’ve always loved this image.  It seems to crystalized an image that I’ve always had of sleep–that it is a great healer of mind, body, and spirit. Whether it is a mid-day nap or turning in early to be able to shut my mind down to whatever may be troubling me, there is nothing like the retreat of sleep.  When I feel overwhelmed by exhaustion, worry, or anxiety there are sometimes where it is sleep alone that “knits up” and mends my soul.  Sometimes the clarity I have when I wake up is startling to me.

Of course, Macbeth has just murdered King Duncan in this scene and has a whole lot on his mind.  Not surprisingly, this little passage has been analyzed deeply but there is one simple (I like simple) aspect of it that I wanted to share.

Shakespeare often uses sleep as a metaphor for death or vice versa and so mixing them so closely here makes this passage even more interesting to me. He calls sleep, “the death of each day’s life” and then follows with two descriptions of it as a soothing “balm” that can cure the pains of both our bodies and our minds.

Then he calls it “great nature’s second course.”  Hmmm.  Does that make nature’s first course life and all that comes with it–experience, love, excitement, danger, sorrow, and death?

I needed some help from Dave’s blog “The Ape Philosophy” which can be found at (apeliterature.blogspot.com).  He suggests that:

“A “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of contravention we experience when we have so many problems that we can’t see the end to any of them.”

Truth be told though, I need very little excuse, to find my way to bed in the mid-afternoon for my  escape into unconsciousness. You know how when you can’t get your computer, TV, router, smartphone, or tablet to work properly and after maybe an hour of frustration you remember that the best medicine for anything technological is to shut it down, talk nicely to it, let it rest a bit, and then start it back up?  Sleep is like that for me.  It’s my chance to shut down, reboot, and waken, energized and ready once again to enjoy what the rest of the day has planned for me.

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Shakespeare Sunday: The Madness of King Trump

I’ve decided that it’s the transitive property of equality that keeps bringing me back on Sundays to interpret Shakespeare in light of the Trump presidency.  Or maybe vice versa.  I think the transitive property (if A=B and B=C, then A=C) applies here for the following reason:  Shakespeare wrote tragedies; the Trump presidency is a tragedy; therefore a big chunk of what Shakespeare wrote relates to the Trump presidency.

I wasn’t alone in noticing this phenomena this week as there were several articles about the new play that envisions Trump as Julius Caesar.  I noted the comparison also in the Shakespeare Sunday post “Pride Before the Fall.” However, this week Trump’s bizarre Cabinet meeting brought comparisons to King Lear.  One by one, as Trump beamed, each Cabinet member fell over themselves to tell him what it honor and a blessing it was to serve him (note in the picture that, when not speaking, the Cabinet members look awfully Pope-faced).

Just as Lear invited his three daughters to express their love to him as he decides just how to partition up his kingdom, clearly someone less elegantly put these poor fellows up to this silly show.

Lear at least does it with class as he demands:

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend

Where nature doth with merit challenge.

And then the groveling begins.  First Goneril proclaims:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;

Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;

No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;

As much as child e’er loved, or father found;

A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;

Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

Just as at the Cabinet meeting, it became important to out-toady the previous speaker and likewise Regan feels a need to out do her sister:

Sir, I am made

Of the self-same metal that my sister is,

And prize me at her worth. In my true heart

I find she names my very deed of love;

Only she comes too short: that I profess

Myself an enemy to all other joys,

Which the most precious square of sense possesses;

And find I am alone felicitate

In your dear highness’ love.

It is Cordelia alone who dares to be honest, to speak truth to power.  When asked by Lear what she can say that will make him feel even better about himself than the proclamations that have come before, she says, simply, “Nothing.”  An astounded Lear, urges her on, in essence, begging her to come up with something praiseworthy, but Cordelia honestly replies:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty

According to my bond; nor more nor less.

For her crime, Lear not only withdraws her part of the kingdom, but advises her that from this point forward she will be a “stranger to my heart and me.”

What a moment it would have been if just one of those “leaders” had been brave enough to say, “Hey, Mr. President, do we have time to talk about some issues here.  You know, like soldiers dying in Afghanistan, congressmen being shot up on a baseball field, the entire country waiting to find out about health care changes?”

As Anna North, opinion writer for the New York Times pointed out in her article “President Trump’s King Lear Moment” (May 17, 2017) well before the above-mentioned Cabinet meeting:

He seems to lack a Cordelia who will speak to him honestly. Instead, Mr. Trump has been Regan and Goneriled all the way to the presidency, flattered and coddled by his advisers, the Republican establishment and his family to the point where flattery and coddling are useless and no amount of careful management can keep him from revealing state secrets and then bragging about it on Twitter.

That’s it for this Sunday!  Have a lovely Father’s Day wherever you are.  While you are relaxing in the recliner take a look back at the piece I posted earlier this week called “My Museum.”  You might like it.

 

My Museum

On my most recent visit spring visit to Phoenix, Arizona to watch spring training baseball, I took a day off to visit the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) which had been recommended to me repeatedly by two of my best friends.

I am not a great museum visitor.  If it says to plan to stay for three hours, I’m pretty sure I will be done in one.  It’s one of the substantial differences between my wife and I when it comes to travel is that she will go through EVERY room, and read EVERY card for every part of the exhibits.  This is not a criticism.  She likes to soak in all of the details and moves through the museum at a most leisurely pace.

I sort of cruise through and skim a lot of what I see unless or until something really catches my attention, and then I’ll read up on it more thoroughly.  On this particular day, I found two rooms that were terrific.  One exhibit, called “Dragons and Vines” was dedicated to the art of how elements like pearl, abalone and other substances are inlaid into the fretboard and body of guitars.  The technology,craftsmanship, and flights of imagination were incredible.  The second room was dedicated to individual artists worldwide featuring pictures, videos, instruments, and outfits that they wore on stage.  I think I spent over an hour in these two rooms alone. I had to go back into both rooms twice, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I spent about 10 minutes in the entire rest of the museum which featured a vast array of musical instruments from all over the world.  It was overwhelming, and I really didn’t care about the how or why the noisemakers of Sri Lanka were different that those from Serbia.  If I had read any of the info cards on the second floor, I would have forgotten anything I learned by the time I got back to my car.  It’s why I don’t spend the time reading up on all of the historical stuff.  I just don’t retain it. I leave museums with a few highlights in my mind and a general sense of if it met or exceeded my expectations going in.  In this case, the MIM absolutely did.  I loved the two rooms that I loved.  That was plenty for me.

Museums are like our archives of our civilizations, right?  Besides teaching us about who we are, we are trying to hold on to the good stuff so we don’t forget about it.

I’ve been thinking about that as my wife and I have been going through a continual purging process around the house.   It started when we had to move virtually everything out while we were having our floors re-done.  We have thrown away and given away boxes and bags full of clothing, books, furniture, kitchen supplies, you name it.  Going through the process made us look at everything, contemplate how long it had been since we used or even touched the item (we have lived in the same house for 36 years) and soon we had cleared whole shelves and emptied multiple storage boxes.

We’ve been trying to narrow the archive, our personal museum, down to the really important stuff–to the things that will bring us joy to look at and that will enrich the lives of whomever we decide to leave these things to in the future.

I keep thinking about what I wanted to leave behind to the people I love to remember me by.  Didn’t it make sense to start giving some of this stuff away now?  I’d rather give them a keepsake of some real or sentimental value now, while I can cogently say to them, “Here’s the story behind this object and why it’s so important to me, and I want you to have it because I know you’ll love and value it just as much as I have.”

Like, I have this wine opener, a simple but elegant design, that my dad gave to me when I was 21. We met up after work on the day I turned 21, and he took me out for my first official drink.  But as we were drinking in this divey little bar, he told me what he had REALLY wanted to do for me on my birthday.  He had planned to take me to a strip club when I turned 21.  Apparently, his father had done this with him on his 21st as kind of a rite of passage thing, to expose him to the “world of men” and show him it was no big thing.  He wanted to continue that little tradition with his son, but my mom quashed his plan, so we had to settle for a drink together.  I kind of wish he had thrown caution to the wind and that we had had that moment together doing something a little salacious, just me and him.  Even though we didn’t, I appreciated that his heart was in the right place.

The fact that I have managed to hold on to this token for over 40 years makes it valuable along with the memories it holds.  My daughter Emily, who enjoys an occasional glass of wine recently celebrated her 30th birthday.  I gave her the opener with a letter explaining its history and significance to me.  I knew that she would like the thought that the gift was from both me and her Grandpa Jack.

So, as I go through every box and crate, I take a hard look at what is still stuck in our own personal museum and think about the people I love and wonder if they might like this object or that book, dedicated especially to them.  It’s easy to accumulate a lot over nearly 40 years and sometimes so much harder to begin to let it go.

Shakespeare Sunday: Smooth Talker

R: If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

J:  Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

Which mannerly devotion shows in this;

For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

R:  Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

J:  Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

R:  O! then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;

They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

J:  Saints do not move, thou grant for prayer’s sake.

R:   Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

Welcome to the weekly literary nerd edition of “Retired, Not Dead”!

Most of you will recognize this as the very first words exchanged between Shakespeare’s “star-crossed” lovers from maybe his most well-known tragedy, “Juliet.”

OK, it’s actually known as “Romeo and Juliet” but if you’ve read the play, you know that this is really Juliet’s story.  Romeo is pretty much an accessory.  Juliet gets the great speeches, the deepest conflict, and the most achingly perfect death.

However, in the passage above, Romeo does have his moments.  It took my faithful poetry anthology Sound and Sense (Arp–9th edition) to point out to me that this lovely exchange, when lifted from the play, is actually a sonnet written as dialogue.

Romeo has been struck with the lightning bolt of love when he sees Juliet for the first time, as I was when I first saw Olivia Hussey playing Juliet in the 1968 film.  I  thought it was cruel for Franco Zeffirelli to unleash this 15-year-old beauty on my 15-year-old self when I first saw the film.

OK, the dialogue.  The beauty of Romeo’s appeal to Juliet for a kiss is that he frames himself (his lips, rather) as “pilgrims” approaching a “shrine” and then continues to work the worshipful metaphor with references to “saints,” “devotion, and “prayer.”  Juliet plays along as she tries to chastely and gently deflect his desire for a kiss.

Thankfully for Romeo, her resistance only lasts for fourteen lines of poetry before she allows his reverent kiss.

Ah, young love in iambic pentameter.  It doesn’t get any better than that!  Happy Sunday, everyone!

Grumpy Old Man

My wife recently made the observation, with both honesty and concern, that I was becoming a grump.

With both reticence and reflection, I had to agree that she was 100% correct.

The evidence was undeniable.  There are a growing number of things which I just find intolerable.

First and foremost is that Donald Trump continues to be President of the United States no matter how often I wake up and hope that I’ve just been having a bad dream.  Sure, there is some satisfaction in watching him careen about from crisis to crisis, constantly showing off his incompetence and ignorance.  But watching the horrifying damage he is causing to America’s reputation, his willful destruction of our environment, and his lack of concern for justice and human rights is almost as appalling as the fact that 30% of Americans still think he’s doing a good job, or at least are willing to “give him a chance.”  The hypocrisy of his backers grates on me remembering that this same 30% along with 100% of Congressional Republicans never gave President Obama a moment of support even as he advanced initiatives that would improve the lives of all Americans.

I mean, that should be enough to justify four years of grumpiness.  It is epic and bigly, and I have absolutely no control over it.  So, I think that carrying around that angst has made me hyper sensitive to little things, like noise.

I always thought I lived on a quiet street until I retired and was home more hours of the day.  Now it seems as though there is a mower or a blower or a chain saw in operation near my house (actually as I am writing, a chain saw just fired up somewhere nearby) from 7:30 AM on.  I appreciate that people are keeping their houses and yards in good shape, I really do, but couldn’t we have some established “quiet hours” in the middle of the day when I like to take my nap?  Is that really too much to ask?

And when did it become OK to carry on conversations in public places with your phone set on “speaker”?  It seems that everywhere I go now, I run into people on their phones and have to listen to both sides of the conversation when I’d prefer not to hear either of them.  I was taking my walk around a local lake and had to push myself hard to get past a lady who was negotiating with her bank, phone set on “speaker”,  and I could hear her getting put on hold and bounced from person to person and telling and re-telling the story of her loan problems.  I got anxious just listening to someone else getting the runaround!

I even feel my grouch level rising when I know someone with whom I am having a conversation has put me on speaker so that he or she can walk around the house or dust or do the dishes or god knows what.  Can’t we stop a moment and actually talk to one another without feeling a need to multi-task?

I love my smartphone.  I don’t want anyone to take it away from me.  But I don’t want to listen to your conversations.  I certainly don’t want to listen to your music (headphones, please!), and if you want to dust, or do the dishes rather than talk to me, call me back when you have time, for god’s sake.

See what I mean?  Grouchy.

It can even come down to a scrubbing sponge, wet and soapy and full of germs, left in the bottom of the kitchen sink.  I’m not a germaphobe, and I can’t even pinpoint when I started to obsess over this, but when I do the dishes, I’ve trained myself to always wring out the sponge and put it in a spot to dry.  So when I find it sitting, soggy and gross in the bottom of the sink, there’s only one other person who could have left it there.  We no longer have the kids at home to blame things on, and I think we both really miss that.

I tried to approach it in a lighthearted way since it was one of those issues that I can recognize as being both petty but increasingly critical at the same time.  “Hey,” I told her, “you know, it’s the weirdest thing, for some reason I’ve developed this sponge obsession” which I went on to describe to her.  You know, subtle, joking, not really a big deal.  She just looked at me blankly.  “I never do that,” she claimed.  “Oh, ha ha!  Guess it’s just me!”  because, you know, it’s petty, inconsequential.  So now, I’ve begun snapping photos of every time it happens, every time she leaves the damn sponge behind.  Clearly, I need to come with evidence next time.

See what I mean?  A Class-A grump.

I’m not actually taking pictures of every time she leaves the sponge in the sink.  I’d like to continue to stay married.  In truth, the root of my grumpiness is me.  Sure, I need to read the news less and take whatever other medicine is available to combat the Trump-virus in my brain.  But I came to realize as we talked about my moodiness that most of my unhappiness comes from the nagging anxiety that comes with being retired and a little unsure if I am still relevant in some way.  It comes from being unhappy that I can’t lose the same 10 pounds that all Americans are trying to lose, no matter how many failed attempts that I make. It comes from every new ache, pain, and wrinkle that announces my advancing age.  It comes from every time I look about me and see a project I haven’t finished or the list of projects that I haven’t even had the energy to begin.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina.  I have discovered one powerfully curative potion.  Within the past week, on a trip to visit my niece in Colorado Springs, in the space of 4 days, I went zip lining over beautiful Colorado canyons, something I’d been afraid to try on other occasions AND spent two glorious hours roaring down the Arkansas River through Class III and IV rapids, feeling an utter sense of calm and a pure rush of adrenaline coursing through me at the same time.

When I got home, suddenly everything seemed possible again.  I came home younger than when I left, ready to let the little stuff go.  Ready to look for the next chance to push the limits for myself.  Turns out that that may be the cure-for-what-ails-you.

Shakespeare Sunday: Pride Before the Fall

In reference to the title, it turns out that “pride before the fall” is actually a misquote from Proverbs.  In the King James Bible, the quote is, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”

Sound like anyone we’ve seen in the news recently?

In casting about for a Shakespeare moment that I liked for today, I couldn’t get my mind off the cascade of news coming out of Washington. It’s like I have the Trump virus and it’s infected my brain.  However, his bully-boy tour of Europe and decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris accords, his continued narcissism and dog-eat-dog mentality took me to a quote from Julius Caesar, where Caesar admits that yes, there are other men but compares himself to the Northern Star, immovable and incomparable–in other words he too sees himself as unpresidented.  It goes like this:

I could be well moved, if I were as you.

If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.

But I am constant as the Northern Star,

Of whose true fixed and resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;

They are all fire and every one doth shine.

But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.

So in the world: ’tis furnished well with men,

And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank,

Unshaked of motion; and that I am he

Let me a little show it, even in this:

That I was constant Cimber should be banished,

And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)

Of course, this is moments before he is lured into the betrayal by his most trusted allies and is brutally assassinated.  The quote reminded me of how fragile leadership is especially when it is not tempered by self-awareness and a sense of morality.

And then columnist David Brooks’s essay in the New York Times, kicked my Trump virus into full gear with his insightful break-down of a statement made by two of Trumps lackeys this week.  Brooks wrote:

“This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: ‘“The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”’

What disturbed me most (and made me think of Roman times) was their use of the word “arena” to describe the world view of the Trumpistas.  They claim that their leader has a “clear-eyed” world vision that we are locked in battle with everyone seeking our own “advantage.” It derides and sweeps away generations of foreign policy that were centered on the creation of a “global community” for the greater good.

Brooks continues to comment that this attitude, “explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.”

Have you seen the reports of how difficult it has become to find anyone willing to work at the White House? There are fewer people running this White House than there were cast members of the “West Wing” television series.

Brooks ends his column with a historical insight (Greeks this time) that suggests we are on a path that fills people like me with dread:

“I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.”

Likewise, the Biblical passage above is somewhat incomplete.  The full passage is, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

Bits of wisdom that Mr. Trump would be entirely immune from.  Besides, they come in long sentences with big words and no pictures.

Oh, well.  Think I’ll just brew me up a big pot of covfefe and enjoy the rest of my Sunday.  I hope you do too!