Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quote Archive

I'm going to use this post as a place to store for posterity all of my "Quote of the Weeks." Look for it later under "Musings from the Vault" on the sidebar. It will be updated weekly with every new quote. Thanks for stopping by!

March 14, 2005:
You can argue with your Maker, but you know that you just can't win - alrightokuhuhamen.
You can argue with your Maker, or know the joy of saying "yes" to Him - alrightokuhuhamen.
--Rich Mullins, "alrightokuhuhamen" from the album Songs.

March 21, 2005:
There are 10,000 books in my library, and it will keep growing until I die. This has exasperated my daughters, amused my friends, and baffled my accountant. If I had not picked up this habit in the library long ago, I would have more money in the bank today; I would not be richer.
--Pete Hamill, "D'Artagnan on Ninth Street: A Brooklyn Boy at the Library"

March 28, 2005:
Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Anybody can say "I've got cancer" and get a rise out of a crowd. But how many of us can do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?
And worrying is less work than doing something to fix the worry. This is especially true if we're careful to pick the biggest possible problems to worry about. Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.
--P.J. O'Rourke, "Fashionable Worries" from All the Trouble in the World

April 4, 2005:
In the beginning the word was with God; all explanations, physical and moral, rested on the divine. And now for storytellers, even though those patterns of explanation are strictly human, the word has not lost a superhuman power to connect young and old, writer and reader; to connect us with each other and with the causes and consequences of what we do.
--Jill Patton Walsh

April 11, 2005:
If you love the language, the greatest thing you can do to ensure its survival is not to complain about bad usage but to pass your enthusiasm to a child. Find a child and read to him often the things you admire, not being afraid to read the classics.
--Robert Macneil, Wordstruck: A Memoir

April 18, 2005:

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of humans are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with the quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!
And, now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.
--Frederic Bastiat, the thrilling denouement of The Law

April 25, 2005:
People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and, yet, they pass by themselves without wondering.
--St. Augustine

May 2, 2005:
A tax-supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state...The most vindictive resentment may be expected from the pedagogic profession for any suggestion that they should be dislodged from their dictatorial position; it will be expressed mainly in epithets, such as "reactionary," at the mildest. Nevertheless, the question to put to any teacher moved to such indignation is: Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them? Why do you have to extort your fees and collect your pupils by compulsion?
--The Inimitable Isabel Paterson, "Our Japanized Educational System" from The God of the Machine (1943)

May 9, 2005:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
--G.K. Chesterton, as quoted in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett
(I have also seen this quoted thus: The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.)

May 16, 2005:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
--C.S. Lewis, as quoted on Rebecca's blog, doxology.

May 23, 2005:
A sign above the main exit door of Hope Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD:
You are entering the mission field. Go in peace. Serve the Lord.
To which I add: Amen.

May 30, 2005:
We are His daughters and sons. We are the colorful ones. We are the kids of the King. Rejoice in everything!
--Keith and Melody Green, "Stained Glass"

June 6, 2005:
"Miss Bingley," said [Darcy], "has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."
"Certainly," replied Elizabeth --"there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."
--From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter XI

June 13, 2005:

The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love (and honor and respect and marry*) their mother.
--Anonymous (*words in parentheses my [Justine's] enhancement, because looooooving the person with whom you create a new life just ain't enough!)

June 20, 2005:
Keely Smith (singing): "Never treats me sweet and gentle the way that he should - I've got it bad and that ain't good . . ."
Louis Prima (cutting in): "I've got it good and that ain't bad!"
--From the recording of "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" (Ellington/Webster) on the new CD Live from Las Vegas: Louis Prima and Keely Smith

June 27, 2005:

A lot of American principle is contained in the two words: "Just don't." Much of the rest is encompassed by the suggestion of minding one's own business. The whole is summed up in the word "liberty."
--Isabel Paterson

July 4, 2005:

Away on vacation - the I.M.P. quote from above is excellent enough to suffice for two weeks, especially in the week that Americans celebrate our nation's birthday.

July 11, 2005:

I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen--but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest--I will not equivocate--I will not excuse--I will not retreat a single inch--AND I WILL BE HEARD.
--William Lloyd Garrison, from the editorial of the inaugural issue of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, published January 1, 1831. A wonderful rallying cry that applies today to the pro-life movement. May we be as stalwart in proclaiming the truth about abortion.

July 18, 2005:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
--Thomas Paine, 1776

July 25, 2005:
We are battered and torn from the day we are born, in a world that has blinded and bound us.
Is it any surprise we don't open our eyes to the truth that's disguised all around us?
Like the secrets we keep, and don't know we're keeping, from before there was time, before there were lies.
Can we find You again, this far from the garden? Do we dare even try?
Do we dare pay attention - dare even mention - the mystery we find ourselves caught in?
And do we dare to remember all that we have forgotten?
--Carolyn Arends, "Do We Dare," Feel Free (1997)

August 1, 2005:
Democrats are . . . the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.
--P.J. O'Rourke, from Parliament of Whores (1991)

August 8, 2005 - September 6, 2005:
Dead computer. No new quotes.

September 7, 2005:
She's my wife, so she stays home and takes care of me. Maybe that's the way you tell the ladies from the broads in this town.
--Humphrey Bogart of wife Lauren Bacall

September 13, 2005:

There's enough good in the worst of us and enough bad in the best of us, that it never behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.
--Mary Chapman, mother of singer/songwriter Gary Chapman

October 3, 2005:

Right now it is a terrible thing to be a rugged individualist; but we don't know what else to be except a feeble nonentity.
--Isabel Paterson

October 11, 2005:

God does not have grandchildren.
--Gloria Grant

October 18, 2005:
Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger.
--Keith Green

November 2, 2005:
Man hurts man -- time and time and time again. And we drown in the wake of our power -- Somebody tell me: Why?
--Amy Grant, from the song "Lead Me On"

November 10, 2005:

[The Politician] has developed a sixth sense
About living at the public's expense,
Because in private competition
He would encounter malnutrition.
. . .
Some politicians are Republican, some are Democratic,
And their feud is dramatic,
But except for the name
They are identically the same.
--Ogden Nash, the greatest poet of the 20th Century, from "The Politician"

November 18, 2005:
Chris: You know, there's a word for people who think that everyone is conspiring against them.
C.W.: I know: perceptive.
--From the movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

December 1, 2005:

Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people. Today, in the Town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.
--Luke 2:10-11

December 30, 2005:
This will be my resolution: Every day is New Year's Day!
This could start a revolution: Every day is --
One more chance to start all over.
One more chance to change and grow, oh!
One more chance to grab a hold of grace and never let it go.
--Carolyn Arends, "New Year's Day" from the album Feel Free (1997)

January 6, 2006:
Some people seem to think that the answer to all of life's imperfections is to create a government agency to correct them. If that is your approach, then go straight to totalitarianism. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200.
--Thomas Sowell

January 20, 2006:

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.
--Thomas Jefferson

January 31, 2006:

The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight, 'cause it's asleep in the light. How can you be so dead when you've been so well fed? Jesus rose from the grave -- and you? You can't even get out of bed!
--Keith Green

February 20, 2006:

God is in control. We believe that His children will not be forsaken.
God is in control. We will choose to remember and never be shaken.
There is no power above or beside Him we know -- oh, God is in control.
--Twila Paris, "God is in Control"

March 6, 2006:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
--William Cowper

March 16, 2006:
Almost all intellectuals profess to love humanity and to be working for its improvement and happiness. But it is the idea of humanity they love, rather than the actual individuals who compose it. They love humanity in general rather than men and women in particular. Loving humanity as an idea, they can then produce solutions as ideas. Therein lies the danger, for when people conflict with the solution as idea, they are first ignored or dismissed as unrepresentative; and then, when they continue to obstruct the idea, they are treated with growing hostility and categorized as enemies of humanity in general.
--Paul Johnson, "The Heartless Lovers of Humanity" (1989)

March 30, 2006:
Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.
--Blaise Pascal

April 16, 2006:
Fundamentals of Christian tolerance and fellowship: In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Charity.
--Anonymous, as quoted by Pastor Kevin Day, Calvary Chapel South

April 28, 2006:
All I ever have to be is what You've made me. Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan. As You daily recreate me help me always keep in mind: that I only have to do what I can find. And all I have to be -- all I ever have to be -- is what You've made me.
--Gary Chapman, "All I Have to Be"

May 15, 2006:
There's nothing so rude as a gift you don't use or a life that you choose not to live. 'Cause you're blessed to bless and the best of possessions is having something to give.
--Carolyn Arends, "Something to Give," from Pollyanna's Attic, 2006

June 12, 2006:

Be Like the BirdBe like the bird who,
Resting in his flight
On a twig too slight,
Feels it bend beneath him
Yet sings,
Knowing he has wings.
--Victor Hugo

June 29, 2006:
Picture to yourself, O fair young reader, a worldly, selfish, graceless, thankless, religionless old woman, writhing in pain and fear, and without her wig. Picture her to yourself, and ere you be old, learn to love and pray.
--William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, "Miss Crawley at Home"

July 17, 2006:
The only people I truly envy are those who can play a musical instrument and those who can eat anything they want without gaining weight.
--Thomas Sowell

August 3, 2006:
You need to learn humility so that you can be awesome like me.
--My Humble Husband, Jason

September 5, 2006:
You can tell how good a kid's summer has been by counting up all their bruises and scrapes and cuts at the end of it.
--Mark Arends

September 15, 2006:
[I]n the long run the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.
--John Cowperthwaite, British colonial officer, former governor of Hong Kong

October 12, 2006:
The therapeutic ethos of recent years has encouraged each of us to get every thought off our chest, lest we suffer from the ordeal of civility.
--Wall Street Journal Editorial, "Survivor Strategy," September 1, 2006

November 1, 2006:
[A]sk yourself whether you think God ought to have been content with the cruelty of cruel ages because they excelled in courgage or chastity. . . . From considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get an inkling of how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how both must look to God.
--C.S. Lewis, from The Problem of Pain
December 27, 2006:
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.
--G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy

January 8, 2007:
From "A Brief for the Defense"If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,we lessen the importance of their deprivation.We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must havethe stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthlessfurnace of this world. To make injustice the onlymeasure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
--Jack Gilbert, The New Yorker, November 15, 2004

February 12, 2007:
"Taking joy in life is a woman's best cosmetic."
--Rosalind Russell

March 30, 2007:"We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one's life. But anyone who shrinks from that is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being."
--G.K. Chesterton

June 4, 2007:"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized."
--Daniel H. Burnham, Chief Architect of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

August 2007:"All the world is my Jordan, someday I'm gonna cross. Ain't nobody gonna look and say my soul is lost. So I'll do my best; try to tell all the rest. And when the lion roars I'm gonna hide behind the cross. 'Cause it's the peace that passes all understanding in a world crazed with fear. They say that I am much too demanding to want a better place than here. "
--Jennifer Knapp, "Visions," from Kansas (1997)
November 19, 2007:"No matter if you're young or old, no matter if your story's told or if nobody knows your name, to Him it's all the same. He sold Himself to buy your life, and He wants to make it right. He sold Himself to buy your life, and He wants to make it right."
--"Say Once More," by Brian Carr and Gwen Moore, from Amy Grant's Never Alone (1980)
"Give thanks to the LORD; for He is good; His love endures forever."
--1 Chronicles 16:34

January 1, 2008:"For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology . . . Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and as open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart. But out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone."
--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Romance of Orthodoxy"

March 27, 2008:"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
--Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5

May 19, 2008:"Let mercy lead; let love be the strength in your legs. And in every footprint that you leave there'll be a drop of grace. If we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age into the foolishness of God, that foolishness will save those who believe. Although their foolish hearts may break they will find peace. And I'll meet you in that place where mercy leads."
--Rich Mullins and Beaker, "Let Mercy Lead," Brother's Keeper (1995)
June 5, 2008:"You are not long for this world; So do not long for this world. Have a good look around, Take joy where it's found, But you are not long for this world."
--Chris Jonat (The Clumsy Lovers), "Not Long for This World," Smart Kid (2005)
September 16, 2008:"Of a sane man there is only one safe definition. He is the man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head."
--G.K. Chesterton, "The Travelers in State," Tremendous Trifles
December 12, 2008:"If the shepherds were not wrong/If there was an angel song/If God planned this all along/Then everything changes at Christmas.
'Cause if that was the Savior's birth/That means God thought we were worth/Whatever it took to bring love down to earth/And everything changes at Christmas."
--Carolyn Arends, "Everything Changes at Christmas"

February 15, 2009:There are some refusals which, though they may be done what is called conscientiously, yet carry so much of their whole horror in the very act of them, that a man must in doing them not only harden but slightly corrupt his heart. One of them was the refusal of milk to young mothers when their husbands were in the field against us. Another is the refusal of fairy tales to children.
--G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, "The Dragon's Grandmother"

January 2010:If . . . you are ever tempted to think that we modern Western Europeans cannot really be so very bad because we are, comparatively speaking, humane--if, in other words, you think God might be content with us on that ground--ask yourself whether you think God ought to have been content with the cruelty of past ages because they excelled in courage or chastity. You will see at once that this is an impossibility. From considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get some inkling of how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how both must look to God.
--C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter 4, "Human Wickedness"

April 2010:
She was not in the least afraid of loneliness, because she was not afraid of devils.  I think they were afraid of her.
--G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, Chapter XI, "A Scandal in the Village"

Thoughts on Richard III and Macbeth

Here are two discussion papers I've written for my on-line Shakespeare class. I'd be interested in hearing what any of you think about these two plays.

Sympathy for the Devil – Shakespeare’s Seductive Villain, Richard III

It would only take a very few changes in dialogue to change Shakespeare’s Richard III from a tragedy to a comedy. Never before – and so rarely since – have treachery, betrayal, hypocrisy and plain, old villainy been so fun. When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, first steps, as one imagines, far down to the front of the stage, dead in the center, and looks unflinchingly into the audience, there is an electric authority in his words. He begins with a sardonically mocking tribute to his elder brother, who has – offstage – just been crowned Edward IV of England. He then mocks his own bitterness at his physical inferiority. Then, without warning, he declares that he will “prove the villain and hate the idle pleasure [of these ‘summer’] days [of York’s ascension]” (I.i.30-31). All of a sudden, the audience itself is in too deep – an unwitting group of conspirators who are the only ones privy to his dastardly plans. As Phyllis Rackin wrote in her essay, “A Modern Perspective,” that was included with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s edition of Richard III, “Confiding in the audience, flaunting his witty wickedness, and gloating at the weakness and ignorance of the other characters, [Richard] draws the playgoers into complicity with his wicked schemes” (p.343). Why does Shakespeare take a historical figure thought utterly reprehensible in Tudor England, and give him such a commanding presence on the stage – making him charismatic, seductive and, even, lovable?

First of all, it makes for good theater. For a title character to carry a play, he must be captivating. Otherwise, the groundlings will start chucking their oranges at him. Shakespeare had so many areas of genius, but one of his greatest surely must have been in establishing character. Right from the first soliloquy, the audience is clued in that Richard is no good, rather vain about his conniving capabilities, and will take them on a wild ride to the throne of England, whether they are willing or no. With a wink and a nod, he betrays his brother (I.iii.365-376), makes an inexplicable play for Anne Neville (I.ii.72-244), condemns Rivers, Grey and Vaughn (II.i.184-188), frames Hastings (III.iv.75-80), and commits many more foul deeds with a self-possessed air. Playgoers in Tudor England would not have been surprised that Richard was such a vile character (after all, the Tudors had had their historians hard at work to paint him that way), but they may have been surprised by how much they liked him despite his myriad depravities.

Secondly, Shakespeare may have been “over plumming the pudding” for a merrily subversive take on the end of the War of the Roses. He certainly does not “over egg” his concoction, for the outcome is never ruinous, but he throws plum after juicy plum into it, until the onlooker is left in euphoric disbelief. “Oh no,” the viewer or reader might say in his mind, “He is not really going to go there, is he? Oh goodness, yes, yes! He went there!” Whether it is the highly comedic accusation against Hastings’s mistress of witchcraft (III.iv.77), or the unconscionable callousness with which he kills off his beleaguered wife Anne (IV.ii.53-62), or the mock religious humility with which he rebuffs the offer of the crown (III.vii.96-249), Richard always gives his complicit audience a reason to intake their breath sharply. With every soliloquy given after each heinous rung in his climb to power, Richard gives more and more evidence that he is the most calculating of fiends. Actions this evil are usually, in the real world, clouded by blinders of idealism – the perpetrator truly believes that his deeds serve some greater good. Such self-delusion is never practiced by Shakespeare’s Richard, who never mentions the good of England or the wrongs of his enemies with anything other than hypocrisy.

In a time without any ability to record history objectively, and where a theater could be shut down by censorship, Shakespeare found a way to make received ideas about the Tudors’ claims to the monarchy a sly joke. Truly a tyrant like King Richard III, as portrayed on the Globe’s stage, deserved to be dethroned. But, can such devilry really have existed? By making a character so over-the-top, Shakespeare seems to question the accepted doctrine of the last Plantagenet’s fall. From his constant cries of “Off with his head” (III.ii.196, III.iv.77, V.iv.366), to his seduction of both Anne Neville and Queen Elizabeth (to woo her daughter on his behalf) in spite of their entirely justified reasons for hating him, to his staged reluctance to accept the crown, Richard oozes with cartoonish rage, smarminess and affectation. Is this possibly how a historic king might have behaved? Shakespeare leaves that question open for the audience to decide. Though he is vanquished in the end, the wicked Richard outshines the valiant Henry (Earl of Richmond) to the last, and Richmond’s speech at the end is a dull conclusion to an exciting romp in an amoral universe. In creating the prototype of the lovable, despicable rogue, Shakespeare, perhaps, poked a little fun at how history can be twisted by the victors and how implausible many historical perceptions can seem when taken to their logical extremes in a dramatic presentation. It is easy to become quite fond of that homicidal megalomaniac. Maybe the greatest tragedy of Richard III is that its anti-hero meets his death in the end and lives on in no future plays.

“Vaulting Ambition:” The Reluctant Rise and Dark Descent of Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth share some striking features. Both are highly prejudicial dramatizations of historical figures and events. Both are almost bewilderingly bloody, as the body count rises with each scene played out. Both culminate in the eponymous characters’ defeats in battles against rebel forces. Both are called tragedies in their complete titles. And both are about over-arching ambition.

There the similarities stop. The characterizations of Richard and Macbeth could not be more different. In Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester swaggers (despite a proclaimed deformity) onto the stage and takes command of all the action proceeding thence. He charms and beguiles his friends and enemies alike; and, perhaps most importantly, he completely seduces the audience and makes them complicit in his evil schemes. His ambition is, to his captivated conspirators, a flagrant and flamboyant triumph of cunning over dullness and sheer guts over banal morality. Prophecies and curses abound, and Richard heeds them not. He carries off his power grab with panache; and he loses neither heart nor spirit, even unto the last battle scene.

Macbeth, on the other hand, opens not with a charismatic soliloquy from the title character drawing the audience into his plans and gaining their sympathies, but with the dark, mysterious powers of prophecy, witchcraft, and fate in the form of three unnerving hags. They converse briefly and end the scene with the telling phrase, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and the filthy air” (I.i.12-13). The fog and the filth never seem to lift throughout the play, putting 11th Century Scotland in a perpetual mist of turmoil, blood, and betrayal, and the character of Macbeth himself in a downward spiral of ambition satisfied, but at the cost of his soul and, eventually, his life.

In her essay, “Macbeth: A Modern Perspective,” Susan Snyder writes helpfully of the history upon which this play was based. It appears that Shakespeare used as a reference Holinshed’s Chronicles of Scotland[i]. In preparing the dramatization, though, Shakespeare trimmed away some of the moral ambiguities to leave a clearer cut sense of black and white. This editing led to a greater illustration of ambition’s corrupting influence. With Duncan’s goodness and Macbeth’s complete acknowledgement of that goodness, Macbeth can think of no other reason to commit regicide than his own “vaulting ambition” (I.vii.27). But, unlike the amoral Richard, Macbeth seems to possess an ambition not wholly his own.

Not only do the three witches accost him and burden him with predictions of future sovereignty, when Macbeth mentions their eerie proclamations in a letter to his wife, Lady Macbeth immediately seizes the prophecy and begins to concoct a means of bringing it to fruition (I.v.1-33). She, too, calls upon dark powers to steel her resolve and “unsex” (I.v.48) her so that she may compel her husband to his fated position. Moments later, when Macbeth enters the room, his wife begins at once to coax him to regicide. In Macbeth’s demure, there is little of ambition and much discomfort. This man, despite the choices he will soon make, is no sociopath. He has a moral compass.

Lady Macbeth’s manipulation of Macbeth in Act I, Scene 7, when the thane has decided against murdering Duncan (at least for that night), is terrifying to witness. She questions his manhood, his constancy, and his valor, and she speaks such a brutal metaphor of how her resolve would never waver in such a situation (I.vii.62-67), that it is astonishing to turn back and read their previous interchange (I.v.63-86), and discover anew that Macbeth promised no more to his wife than that they should discuss further this noxious plan. He is carried along on her traitorous stream, a passive vessel receding into moral ambiguity.

Duncan’s murder nearly destroys Macbeth (II.ii.47-81). Banquo’s subsequent assassination further plunges his sanity (III.iv.59-141). His troubled soul seeks reassurance that he is, indeed, in line with his fate, so he returns to the Weird Sisters (IV.i.48-151). The apparitions that the witches summon, with their seemingly impossible predictions and exhortations (other than that Macbeth should “Beware Macduff”) build up a false sense of security for the precarious king, but also serve to remove the last vestiges of fear (hence, morality) from him. He returns from that sojourn emboldened, bloodthirsty, and dehumanized.

In the end, neither Richard nor Macbeth can escape his fate. Richard, who was told by a “bard of Ireland” that “[he] would not live long after [he] saw Richmond” (Richard III: IV.ii.109-110), who was plagued the night before battle with visitations of his vengeful victims (Richard III: V.iii.124-183), and who lastly notes that the sun, despite the calendar, refuses to shine on his battle to retain the throne, blithely notes that “the selfsame heaven that frowns on me looks sadly upon [Richmond]” (Richard III:V.iii.303-304), and cheerfully charges off toward his death. Macbeth, who was told to “beware Macduff” ((IV.i.82), was assured that “none of a woman born shall harm [him]” (IV.i.91-92), and had been promised that he would not be vanquished until the Great Birnam Wood would march up Dunsinane Hill – a fanciful, improbable, and, therefore, highly reassuring pronouncement (IV.i.105-110), still stands to meet Macduff and the rebel forces when they come up Dunsinane Hill under the guise of Birnam Wood’s branches. Even, when Macduff declares that, instead of being born, he was “from [his] mother’s womb untimely ripped,” (V.viii.19-20) Macbeth overcomes his initial reluctance to run from the fight, and submits to fate and his destruction. Ambition so over-reaching that it blinds and deafens the conscience seems always to end, at least in Shakespeare’s plays, in devastation.

These two plays present a fascinating study in human nature of what all-consuming ambition can do to two very different men. Whether flowing from the wellspring of an amoral perspective, as was Richard’s, or bursting through the dam of morality by chiseled cracks of persuasion, manipulation, and fatalistic machinations, as was the unfortunate Macbeth’s, the outcome is drowning. And, while Richard’s ambition is presented in such a way as to make it almost a parody of the corrupting nature of power and a comedy of sorts, Macbeth’s is real enough to keep it firmly ensconced in the genre of tragedy. Not even the Porter of Act 2, Scene 3 can alleviate the gravity surrounding the Thane of Glamis’s decision, and even Nature herself turns black with despair (II.iv.8-12) as the winds howl their pity (I.vii.21-22) and the invisible steeds of heaven blow the horrid deed in every eye (I.vii.24).

[i] “Macbeth: A Modern Perspective,” Susan Snyder, in Folger Shakespeare Library: The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (New York: Washington Square Press, 1992), p. 198.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Him Your Plans."

I barely caught that little throw-away line from the end of the trailer for Bella. Please visit their website.

We all need to go and see this movie when it hits our markets. From what I've read and heard, it could be one of the most important movies ever to have been made.

I have long thought that what we need to wipe out abortion in America is a work of art so culturally relevant and unexpectedly persuasive that it changes hearts and then minds that had had no intention of being changed. We need an Uncle Tom's Cabin for the pro-life movement. Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't even that great of a book, but it gave a voice to the abolition movement that was cloaked in entertainment and storytelling. Tell a good story, and people will listen. There was a book released in 2005 called Emily's Hope by Ellen Gable that was about, among other things, abortion, but it lacked something in wide-spread appeal -- it was, in my opinion, too Catholic to meet with a broad readership -- and too artless in its approach to the subject. I really appreciated the author's effort, but knew that it would not reach much further than Catholic readers and those who, like me, read reviews in Gilbert Magazine.

Bella, though, may be the turning of the tide. I pray that it will be. Again, I have not seen it, and it has not even opened in the Seattle market yet, but it looks like in all aspects it will reflect its name: Beautiful. It reads on paper as a simple story that is deceptively deep and touches those most veiled places in the conscience that know -- as I believe everyone knows in their hearts -- that life at all stages is something to respect and celebrate. This is film making with a purpose, and, yet, without any sacrifice of vision or integrity. And who would not want to read an interview like this with the star of every motion picture released?

Art can reach people who are unmoved by rhetoric, theology, or science. Art goes someplace within people that is the mysterious center that remembers the Creator. The more we learn to love the Creator, the larger the space within us that can be filled by art; but, no matter how small or how denied, that place is there. I do not care how much of an atheist you think you are, when you have been touched by a work of art, your soul has just acknowledged its Creator.

I was at a Chesterton Society meeting this past spring at Seattle Pacific University, and Jeffrey Overstreet from Christianity Today's movie site was the guest speaker. He has written an excellent book about finding spiritual relevance and reflections of holiness in even the most purportedly secular or even atheistic movies called Through a Screen Darkly. He spoke most entertainingly about the latest push by studios to capture the newly-discovered "Christian market," and then lamented that most of the offerings from these studios so far have been steeped in banality and oozing with saccharine sensibilities. He said that he "longed for the day when a movie with Christian themes would be made in which everything didn't turn out peachy keen for believers in the end,"* and yet would still be redemptive. I wonder what he will think of Bella. Above all, this movie simply looks real -- gritty, messy, tense, glowing, raw, beautiful, unexpected, brilliantly alive.

I can hardly wait to see this film -- a labor of love and a work of art.

*This is not an exact quote, but I think you get the gist.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are You Being Summoned?

You've seen those grim pictures from the Great Depression of people waiting in bread lines. The air of tight-lipped suffering, the shuffle of resignation caught even in photographic stillness, the downcast visages ashamed to show the eyes of human dignity to a world of indifference . . . you know them well, right? In every text book read in middle and high school you have seen them -- overwhelmingly men -- in their shabby coats and dipped-down fedoras, steeling themselves for an activity they despised in a setting they had disparaged.

I have seen the modern day bread line, and it is jury duty.

In our stylish, but not too stylish*, Pacific Northwest autumn garb we stood, men and women in disgruntled solidarity, to serve a function for which we did not care and claim a privilege we would rather have forsaken. Our bleary eyes distant, our faces blank, we shuffled forward through security into both the King County Superior Courthouse and the Great Unknown. How long would our tenure last? How many dull hours of waste would we contribute to the grinding wheels? Would we ever breathe the sweet, sharp air of an October afternoon again this year?

At least, that is what I hoped I was projecting, and that was certainly what I read on the impassive faces surrounding me. It was Monday morning at 8:00 AM, and I was in Seattle. Normally, Seattle is a beautiful and exciting city -- one of my favorite places on earth -- but not at 8:00 AM . . . oh no, not then. Smarter jurors than I (or at least ones that did not need an hour to commute that morning) were coddling lattes in their chilly hands, and I looked hopefully, but in vain, up and down the street for a Starbucks. The KC Superior Courthouse must be on the only city block in Seattle not to have one.

As I looked from face to face, my eye noted another observer of the human scene. She stood, tall and alert, her eyes darting around, a small smile of inward amusement on her face. She, too, had several books clasped in her hands to help her while away the day. Our gazes locked for a brief second, and her small grin widened and my caffeine-deprived frown disappeared into smile of spiritual recognition. Just seeing her there helped me immediately understand that this was, in fact, a very hilarious situation, and one that I ought to be drinking in and enjoying fully. I lost sight of this young lady in the sea of the Juror Assembly Room -- and, I'll confess that, hunkered down in my book, I did not look too hard for her -- but she gave me strength to turn this civil burden and unpleasant inconvenience of jury duty on its head. At least, she did for a little while.

When I was not a mom and a nanny with the needs and nurturing of two little girls foremost in my mind, and I had a job that paid me full salary while I served on a jury, I longed to be summoned for jury duty. My innate sense of curiosity was itching to see the inner workings of our fine judicial system. For years and years (and I did not have Sadie until I was 28 -- ten years after becoming eligible to serve on a jury), I waited without fulfillment for that calling to come. Then, last year, it came. I have no idea now why I did not serve last year. I was not nannying Little Pumpkin then, and Jason was working his same old job, and life was pretty even-keeled. For some reason I cannot remember, I requested the "one time only" delay, and postponed my service for a year. Then, I blithely forgot all about it.

Lo and behold! This year the summons came again, this time without any offer of a one-year reprieve. Now, to serve, I had not only to interrupt our family's life, I had to interrupt Little Pumpkin's family's life as well. To top it off, Jason had recently gotten a new job at work and was mired down with multiple hassles. This turned out to be the least easily accommodated point of my life to serve on a jury. And I had to drive all the way into Seattle during the morning rush to the courthouse. Like the teenager I once was, I whined to myself and Jason (lucky man) about how "unfair" this was. Like, so totally unfair (to the max). But, I went. What else could I do?

And I sat. And I sat. And I finished Henry IV, Part I. And I finished Heritage of Ireland: A History of Ireland and Its People. And I finished The Claddagh Ring: Ireland's Cherished Symbol of Friendship, Loyalty and Love. And I went to the vending machine and got some Nutter Butter Bites. And I shyly chuckled at the exasperated witticisms of my fellow jurors. And then, I got called for a jury.

I'll admit: As inconvenient as it was for me to be there; as much as Jason was at home with Sadie, gnashing his teeth at the thought of the work going undone at the office; as much as Little Pumps was disobliged by hanging out with her little-seen Aunt Diane for the day; the process of being taken by a bailiff into an actual courtroom and seeing, for the first time in my life, a real judge, was an awesome thing. I was number thirty-four out of thirty-five jurors called, so the judge waved off my protests of hardship in light of the fact that it was unlikely jury selection would even get down to where my position was. So, I rather relaxed and began to enjoy the show. And, nobody puts on a show like a weaselly trial lawyer.

It was a civil case. There was a car accident in 2002, and the plaintiff was charging that the defendant was negligent in his driving; therefore, she was looking to have him found liable for damages. Of course, this lady was very lucky that I wasn't chosen to be on the trial, because I had immediately and unreservedly decided in favor of the defendant. He was a nice-looking, old hippie guy, with long hair and a beard. The plaintiff could obviously stand up and sit down without assistance, her face and body looked fine (i.e., as good as nature intended), and she had wits about her to hire an attorney (in my jaundiced view, this was probably just before the statute of limitations was most likely set to run out), so I had little sympathy for her. Plus, I was rear-ended in a car accident back in 2000, and I chose not even to collect insurance money for damage done to my car, because I felt so sorry for the young kid who hit me. In car accidents -- unless the person is criminally liable (i.e., drunk or under the influence of drugs) -- I tend to think that forgive and forget is the best policy; and showing gratitude for yet being alive is also best done by not bringing lawsuits.

That said, I do believe that both tort laws and tort law reform are necessary. We cannot have a free society without some means of redress for wronged parties. But, we also cannot have a truly free society when everyone is running scared because of lawsuits. There must be balance.

Anyway, the questioning process of the two attorneys was fascinating. Watching them reject and approve jurors was too. I was glad that I had the chance to observe American justice in action; and I was just as glad when the jury was picked, and I was dismissed to go back the the Juror Assembly Room. I waited there a couple more hours, and then -- ah bliss -- I was dismissed again to go home. My jury duty was fulfilled for at least two more years.

I could easily see myself serving on multiple juries when Sadie is old enough to drive me into Seattle and trip around the city by herself all day while I perform my civic duty. I could see its becoming a unit in our homeschool curriculum: The American Judicial Process or What Mom Did While I Lurked for Eight Hours in Elliot Bay Bookstore. Until then, though, I'll look to avoid it whenever I can. The Bread Line/Jury Duty Shuffle is a dance best done rarely -- and, when possible, with a Pumpkin Spice Latte in one's hands.

*I include this notation because of something very funny I recently heard: My friend, Holly, who is considering moving up here from Los Angeles was talking to another L.A. transplant about life in the PNW -- somebody a little less rah-rah about Seattle than I -- somebody who had actually found some redeeming qualities in Southern California, and yet had chosen to move north. This friend of my friend was sharing her views on the cultural vibe of the city (excellent), the surrounding environment (stunning), the character of the citizenry (exemplary), the weather (well, you know), and the fashion sense of the general public (mediocre, at best). That amused me to no end. I would never have thought to look at fashion as a factor in making a move . . . but, I guess, that's why my modest, sensible, and classic clothing sensibilities fit in so well in my beloved northern home. Viva Eddie Bauer!