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Archive for the ‘Shakespeare’ Category

Redeeming the Debauched Falstaff

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Britain, British Literature, Creativity, Fiction, Humanities, liberal arts, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Shakespeare, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on November 15, 2017 at 6:45 am

This review originally appeared here in The American Conservative. 

In The Daemon Knows, published in 2015, the heroic, boundless Harold Bloom claimed to have one more book left in him. If his contract with Simon & Schuster is any indication, he has more work than that to complete. The effusive 86-year-old has agreed to produce a sequence of five books on Shakespearean personalities, presumably those with whom he’s most enamored.

The first, recently released, is Falstaff: Give Me Life, which has been called an “extended essay” but reads more like 21 ponderous essay-fragments, as though Bloom has compiled his notes and reflections over the years.

The result is a solemn, exhilarating meditation on Sir John Falstaff, the cheerful, slovenly, degenerate knight whose unwavering and ultimately self-destructive loyalty to Henry of Monmouth, or Prince Hal, his companion in William Shakespeare’s Henry trilogy (“the Henriad”), redeems his otherwise debauched character.

Except Bloom doesn’t see the punning, name-calling Falstaff that way. He exalts this portly, subversive figure as the charming master of deception and rogue scheming, and more importantly as a courageous vitalist “unmatched in all of Western imaginative literature.” Bloom’s astounding reverence for this clever, corrupting, calculating, mischievous Bacchanalian—whose life-affirming zest is as delightful as it is disconcerting—reveals he’s capable of the same kind of strategic indulgence that animates his transgressive subject.

His opening lines establish an affectionate, worshipful tone: “I fell in love with Sir John Falstaff when I was a boy of twelve, almost seventy-five years ago. A rather plump and melancholy youth, I turned to him out of need, because I was lonely. Finding myself in him liberated me from a debilitating self-consciousness.”

This isn’t academic prose. Bloom doesn’t write scholarship in the sense in which English professors, who chase tenure and peer approval, understand that term. Could you imagine a graduate student in literature showing up at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention and pronouncing from behind a podium that “Falstaff wants us to love him”? Or that Falstaff “is the mortal god of our vitalism and of our capacity for joyous play of every kind”? That would end a career before it began.

To hold Bloom to professional academic standards is fundamentally to misunderstand the man. His criticism is art unto itself; it’s genre-defying literature: part memoir, part fiction, part psychoanalysis. He’s a character of his own creation, as imaginary as Falstaff, and yet real and alive. In his psyche, the mysteries of which he plumbs with Freudian apprehension, Falstaff, too, is alive—and more than that, he’s a deified “embassy of life.” Bloom calls him the “greatest wit in literature,” whose vices “are perfectly open and cheerfully self-acknowledged.”

Immediately objections spring to mind: Didn’t Falstaff take bribes from competent soldiers who wished to avoid battle, thereby dooming his innocent, rag-tag band of unready troops? Doesn’t this bawdy gambler fake his own death to avoid injury and then seek credit for Hal’s slaying of Hotspur? Isn’t he a compulsive liar and self-serving fabricator? Rather than earn his keep, doesn’t he mooch off borrowed and stolen money while fraternizing with lowly criminals in disreputable taverns? Doesn’t he find stealing entertaining? Doesn’t he fail miserably in his attempt to seduce married women? Doesn’t he thrive in the seedy underbelly of impolite society?

No matter. The venerating and visionary Bloom sees Falstaff’s flaws as part of his appeal. Falstaff, prefiguring Nietzsche and Sartre, stands outside ethical jurisdiction as the lovable übermensch, the seductive sum of his own deliberate actions and unbridled agency in a world without God. Falstaffianism can be reduced to an abrupt imperative: “do not moralize.” These are Bloom’s italics, emphasizing, perhaps, the enthusiasm with which Falstaff rebuffs normative codes and basic standards of decency, vivaciously embracing the self—the subjective, knowing, self-aware “I” that wills a future into being—with laughter and existential rapture.

Kate Havard argues in Commentary that “Bloom must actually reckon with the sorts of things Falstaff does that would seem monstrous in real life.” I’m not sure about this mandate. Everyone is susceptible to wickedness. We’re fallible. Yet the magnitude of our evil acts is proportionate only to our capacity and will for achieving them. Greater power over others has the potential to increase the enormity of our chosen wrongs. Two hearts, equally blameworthy, can enact varying degrees of harm. With our meanness and malevolence, depravity and double-dealing, we’re all like Falstaff at some instant, even if we “cannot say that we are Falstaff’’ (my italics this time) because Falstaff cannot be universal—he’s too shrewd, raucous, and riotously convivial to be an archetype.

That we haven’t occasioned rank violence or mass damage is only evidence of our own powerlessness to do so in our moment of darkness. Our minds have contemplated horrors that our bodies never brought to bear. Knowing this, one begins to appreciate Bloom’s melancholy voice in such an adoring account. “Falstaff is no everyman,” he intones, “[b]ut all of us, whatever our age or gender, participate in him.” This truth, if it is one, doesn’t excuse Falstaff; rather it makes his decisions disturbingly recognizable.

Falstaff stands for absolute freedom, challenging dogmatic pieties even as he uses them to his advantage. He signals human choice and authenticity, but he’s elusive and multifaceted. “There is no single Falstaff,” Bloom submits. “In my youth and middle years I thought I knew Falstaff. That Falstaff has vanished from me. The better I know Sir John the less I know him. He has become one of the lost vehemences my midnights hold.”

This tragicomic Falstaff is so complex and ambiguous that he undermines expectations, avoids patterned behavior, and escapes simple explanation. “Falstaff is as bewildering as Hamlet, as infinitely varied as Cleopatra,” says Bloom. “He can be apprehended but never fully comprehended. There is no end to Falstaff. His matrix is freedom but he dies for love.”

Falstaff is a more cunning and charismatic version of Chaucer’s drunkenly crass miller, whose hilarious tale of casual adultery lacks the stark intentionality that makes Falstaff so treacherously in control. He’s like a flatulent Santa Claus, without the meekness or mildness of Christian self-denial. He is, in a word, exuberant, and as Bloom opines, “Exuberance in itself is a shadowy virtue and can be dangerous to the self and to others, but in Falstaff it generates more life.”

Bloom commendably acknowledges the charges leveled against him: “I am weary of being accused of sentimentalizing Falstaff.” He says he’s “been chided for sentimentality when I observe Falstaff betrays and harms no one,” and he pleads with us to enjoy Shakespeare’s rendering of the Fat Knight, adding, “Do not moralize.” The point is not to elicit agreement but to move you emotionally, although his expressive mode is less sentimental than it is spiritual or mystical. He has a jovial appetite for living, thinking, and loving that resembles Falstaff’s in its sheer capaciousness—hence his aside that he’s a “lifelong Falstaffian.”

The Book of Genesis asserts that God made man in his image. One wonders whether Bloom’s ecstatic Bardolatry—he once called Shakespeare “a mortal god”—leads to a different but related conclusion: that Shakespeare, as God, created Bloom in Falstaff’s image. Although age has thinned his once corpulent physique, Bloom is, at times, the boastful embodiment of the bombastic, iconoclastic genius (Sir John) whose chief weakness is his fondness and devotion. At other times, he’s a prophetic seer haunted by the daemon, devoid of merry wit, laughter, or redemptive charm and enthused by ineffable forces to cry out with beautiful despair and angst. His gusto seems ever-present, as does his displayed interiority.

Yet there is no single Bloom. You may think you know him, but then he vanishes as a lost vehemence.

“He has never abandoned me for three-quarters of a century,” Bloom muses of Falstaff, “and I trust will be with me until the end. The true and perfect image of life abides with him: robustly, unforgettably, forever. He exposes what is counterfeit in me and in all others.” Perhaps that’s why Falstaff is so threatening: he lays bare that manipulative, liberated part of ourselves that we don’t acknowledge or even fathom, that’s alienated and estranged from other people, accessible only to the “I myself”—the only thing we know that we know.

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The Trial Scene in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”

In Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Fiction, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Shakespeare, Theatre, Western Civilization on August 31, 2016 at 6:45 am

Allen 2

The following excerpt is adapted from my essay “A Time for Bonding: Commerce, Love, and Law in The Merchant of Venice,” which may be downloaded at this link.

Act IV, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice involves the climactic court scene in which Shylock and Antonio confront one another, in person, before Portia, who will determine Antonio’s fate.

At this point Portia has already revealed to Nerissa, her lady-in-waiting, her plan to “wear my dagger with the braver grace / And speak between the change of man and boy / With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps / Into a manly stride, and speak of frays / Like a fine bragging youth.” She and Nerissa will cross-dress, in other words, and once “accoutred like young men” will act as though Portia is a doctor of laws, or a law clerk, administering justice and adjudicating disputes in the Duke’s Venetian courtroom.

Bassanio attempts to settle the case on Antonio’s behalf by tendering Shylock double and then triple the amount of the original loan, but Shylock unmercifully insists on exacting a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Portia appears to support Shylock, saying, “[T]here is no power in Venice / Can alter a decree established: ‘Twill be recorded for a precedent, / And many an error by the same example / Will rush into the state: it cannot be.” Although she says that Shylock’s “suit” is “[o]f a strange nature,” she submits that “in such rule that the Venetian law / Cannot impugn you as you do proceed.”

Praising Portia as a “Daniel come to judgment,” Shylock demands that a judgment be entered against Antonio immediately: “When [the bond] is paid according to the tenour. / It doth appear you are a worthy judge; / You know the law, your exposition / Hath been most sound: I charge you by the law, / Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar, / Proceed to judgment: by my soul I swear / There is no power in the tongue of man / To alter me: I stay here on my bond.” Antonio himself conveys a preference for swift judgment: “Make no more offers, use no farther means, / But with all brief and plain conveniency / Let me have judgment and the Jew his will.”

Portia readies the others for the judgment by telling Antonio to “prepare your bosom for [Shylock’s] knife.” That the bond calls for the pound of flesh to be exacted “nearest [Antonio’s] heart” draws attention to the metaphorical implications of the judgment and the plural meaning of the bond: it is not just the contractual relationship but the potential for friendship that is about to be carved apart.

Just before the judgment is to be perfected, Bassanio and Antonio profess their love for one another. Portia then explains to Shylock—turning his literalism against him—that the judgment calls for the removal of a pound of flesh but “no jot of blood.” If any blood should be drawn, then Shylock must forfeit his lands and goods to Venice. There being no way to cut a pound of flesh without drawing blood, Shylock finds himself in a precarious situation. Portia tells him that

The law hath yet another hold on you.

It is enacted in the laws of Venice,

If it be proved against an alien

That by direct or indirect attempts

He seek the life of any citizen,

The party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive

Shall seize one half his goods; the other half

Comes to the privy coffer of the state;

And the offender’s life lies in the mercy

Of the duke only, ‘gainst all other voice.

In which predicament, I say, though stand’st;

For it appears, by manifest proceeding,

That indirectly and directly too

Thou hast contrived against the very life

Of the defendant; and thou hast incurr’d

The danger formerly by me rehearsed.

With these words, Shylock is defeated. The Duke pronounces that, as a consequence of the legal proceeding, Shylock shall render half his wealth to Antonio and half to Venice, but Antonio pleads that he will forego his share if Shylock converts to Christianity. The Duke concedes; Shylock acquiesces. The litigation comes to a close.

 

Bond and Bonding in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Books, British Literature, Economics, Essays, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Law, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Scholarship, Shakespeare, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on April 6, 2016 at 6:45 am

Allen 2

A bond is an agreement, the unification of individuals or groups under mutual terms. Parents may bond affectionately with their children just as friends may bond affectionately with one another. Marital bonds join spouses in a sacred contract that confers conjugal rights and duties.

A bond is also a security for a debt. Banks may issue and underwrite bonds with fixed interest rates or correlative maturity dates in exchange for the promise of repayment. Bonds may be defeasible, high-yield, low-yield, covered, subordinated, or perpetual. They may be backed by liens or mortgages. There are government bonds, municipal bonds, fiduciary bonds, war bonds. A bond may be an instrument or the name for a type of covenant between persons. Love is not just a bond but something within a bond, if we believe the Countess in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

In light of this rich multiplicity of meaning, the referent for the isolated term bond is not immediately clear but, instead, contextual. Serviceable explanations for bond depend upon the situation in which it is employed and the circumstances with which it is surrounded. The diverse meanings for bond have in common a reciprocal obligation or indebtedness that is voluntarily undertaken: a bond, whatever else it does, secures a promise or duty.

Sometimes that promise or duty is implicit, as with romantic bonds between monogamous lovers. The term bond is thus pregnant with possibility, yielding manifold associations. “The word itself,” submits Frederick Turner, “contains a fascinating amalgam of positive and negative connotations.”

My essay “A Time for Bonding: Commerce, Love, and Law in The Merchant of Venice,” which may be downloaded at this link, considers the role of bonds and bonding in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to undermine the notion that Shakespeare was, to employ a term by Ian Ward, “anti-market” in the play. The Merchant of Venice is instead as multifaceted and polysemous as the term bond and open to an array of interpretations favorable to commerce and business. This essay is part of this collection of essays edited by Edward W. Younkins titled Capitalism and Commerce in Imaginative Literature (2016).

Paul H. Fry on the Political Unconscious

In Arts & Letters, Books, Historicism, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Shakespeare, The Academy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on December 16, 2015 at 8:45 am

Below is the next installment in the lecture series on literary theory and criticism by Paul H. Fry.  The previous lectures are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Scene from “A Trial of Recognition,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, Britain, British Literature, Creative Writing, Fiction, History, Humanities, Law, Literature, Shakespeare on September 16, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

The Earls of Essex and Southampton are tried together for High Treason before a jury of the noblest peers. Pleading not guilty, they strive in angry and arrant disputation with Attorney General Edward Coke and Francis Bacon. This drama is the third part of an Aeschylean trilogy and maintains the classical form of tragedy in English with seven scenes of dialogue and seven choral performances.

This trial was conducted in Westminster Hall, February 19th, 1601.

Yelverton: Now the Attorney General will speak.

Coke: My lords of courtly justice, chief pronouncers
And primest fathers of preceptive law,
Treason unsettles what is set by God.
Thrones of established exaltation it
Would overthrow. The firmest Tudor fundament
Upon immediate evanescence fades
To nothing should betrayal triumph, come
Upon premeditated compassments
Of power. Therefore to think projected thoughts
Of treason, all in violent mindfulness
For power, is death. And he that strides against
The realm, with royalty striving, must be judged
By the intent transgression of his thought.
Whoever is at arms in his array
Of might amid a kingdomed commonwealth
Founded on authentic ancestry,
Cannot be suffered by the law, perceived
As lawless as usurpers are.

Essex: But sir,
No duke would a defenseless dukedom in
This realm maintain. No helpless earldom would
An earl endure. Their settlements are set
Apart from central pertinence in Whitehall.
By vassalled mightiness they serve the main.
And undefended danger I would not
Support, assured that Lord Grey or Sir Walter Raleigh
Were raising homicides against me. Thus
I am no traitor, here a man traduced
For his defensive force.

Coke: You say, my lord,
In a protective insurrection you
Arose, forfending murder by revolt,
Who would insurgently secure yourself.
But all rebels would dissemble their revolt
Or revocation of regimes. Lord Darcy,
That traitor in the Pilgrimage of Grace,
By wrongful reprobation Thomas Cromwell
Blamed for his rebellion, that he feared
The King’s chief minister would murder him.
And like yourself Sir Thomas Wyatt to check
The Spanish from an English crown presumed
At arms his Protestant resolve, who drew
A proditory rise upon the realm.
But as a culpable defendant he
Was put to death. A guiltier prisoner
Than Wyatt you are who by her Majesty
The loftiest rooms of favor were allowed,
Made Master of the Horse at twenty two,
Admitted to the Privy Council then.
Soon as Earl Marshal of the realm you were
Preferred, and for Cadiz were given high
Command, and by her Majesty’s regard
The Azores’ were your charge. And higher yet
For Lord Lieutenant and Governor of Ireland
Her Majesty’s commission you received.
Beyond this, you had bounteous delectation
In her gifts to you, deemed more than thirty
Thousand pounds in favor. But you for pride
And inconsiderate presumption thanklessly
Repressed your memories of wealth. No man
A more ungrateful appetite, when fed
With grace, could manifest than you, who’d by
The kingliest insatiety consume
Yourself, your loyalty, and your liege. All this
Concerns her Majesty, against whose throne
Your rising throbbed. And though no Britishman
Without applause can of her Majesty’s
Protective justice speak, I must remark
That overmeasured mercy by the Queen
Will bring unmerciful exorbitance
On her. For though inhuman disobedience
Would have disabled England, yet no man
Howso wayward ever, violent ever,
Was crossly racked or tortured overthwart
For his confession. Most of them would make
Their conscientious peace with God. The truth
Came forth with faithful certitude in God,
As true religion can relinquish enmity.
Accordant attestations they conveyed,
Though sifted severally.

Essex: Now your unsifted speech
I’ve suffered, Master Coke, at culpable
Traducements kept before you, by confined
Civility not answering forthwith
The guiltiest allegations laid on me.
With insurrectional salvation might
The realm be saved from priestly sinfulness
Of blameful priests who’d stupefaction stress.

Excerpts from “Westminster Hall,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, British Literature, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare on August 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook  and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Westminster Hall. James Burbage and Shakespeare are seated.

Burbage: The Privy Council can on riddances
Pronounce. It governs the legalities
Outside the city’s scope or what the Crown
Would touch.

WS:             As a patrician council how
Should they abide your common plea?

Burbage:                                               Why, Will,
Assure yourself, the Council favors quality.
Opinionated oligarchs prefer
Their kind. Ignoble verities will be
Unnoted. Evidential knowledge is
Not high enough in rank to weigh against
Renown. Her name ennobles her complaint.
She is too glorious for a loss in court,
Where reputation has more proof than real
Disproof. Her reputable rank is heard
More readily than ours of trade. She has
Momentous notability while ours
Is mean.

WS:    Thus for a coat of arms I have
In proper requisition been precise;
For with a gentleman’s esteem I’d stand
Protected from the contumelies of power.

Burbage: Yes, yes. Armorial fortitude avails
In litigation where one’s stature is
Observed.

WS:          Incarcerated debtors have
No rank while lordly borrowers are left
At large.
Burbage:     I think the giddy nobleness
Of Oxford fit for jail.

WS:                           He is too high
To see himself deluded.

Burbage:                        And your friend,
Southampton, in excess of easiness
Expends himself.

WS:                     I fear he is far gone
In impecunious vacancies. His goings
Of gold are lightly gamed away.

Burbage:                                     There is
The bloated bonnet of the dowager. Enter Lady Russell.

WS: It swells herself conceitedly to suit
Her rank.

Burbage: The bailiff comes. Enter bailiff.

Bailiff:                                      All present rise
In subject salutation to the lords
Of state. Enter four members of the Privy Council, Sir Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley, Lord Cobham, and Sir Edward Coke, who sit down about a table.
All sit.

Burghley:       What matter, bailiff, is
Before us?

Bailiff:     The petitioners in Blackfriars,
My lord, beseech the Privy Council now
To let no playhouse in their midst be wrought.

Burghley: How many have petitioned with their names?
And who are chief among them?

Bailiff:                                            Twenty nine
Are named thereon. The chief of them are Lady
Elizabeth Russell, Dowager; George Lord Hunsdon; Sir Thomas Browne, knight, Stephen Egerton of Saint Anne’s church, and Richard Field, printer to the Crown.

Burghley: Who would defend the playhouse from this plea?

Burbage: My lord, I am James Burbage, bound
In ownership to build this theatre for
My company, the Lord Hunsdon’s Men, of which
A sharer, William Shakespeare, would with me
Defend it.

Burghley: How then guard your venture when
Your patron is averse thereto?

Burbage:                                   He weighed
His spirit with my lady’s spite and could
Not desperate inspiration brook.

Burghley:                                      That may
Be so. Now Lady Russell, as the prime
Complainant on this parchment, read it out.
Bailiff, to Lady Russell bring the writ.

Lady R: In chambered transformation of the Friars’
Refectory beside Lord Hunsdon’s house
And near Lord Cobham’s, now James Burbage would
By framework a theatrical resort
Complete. An arduous nuisance, cynosurally
Not sane, seductively seditious, would
With brigand congregations Blackfriars crowd.
Amassed in molestation, Londoners
Like jouncers, vagrant japers, changefully
Conjoined, our gentle precinct would deject.
And should diffusive pestilence come down
From God, these crowds will aggravate the course
Of death. And fanfaron profaners would
With throbbing respiration trumpet forth
The entrance for a play, so near the church
In blazing perturbation as to throw
The rightful services of ministers
And pews into distraction. Thus, my lords,
In sensed consideration of this shame
And for that never hitherto there was
In Blackfriars such a playhouse, nor should be
While the Lord Mayor has from London barred
Such faults, which try in unprotected liberties
Their trials of plays, you should this troop displace
And have the rooms reframed for trades of use.

Burghley: What little replication would you players
Pursue?

WS:      My lord, the grandest comprehension was
Required in Rome, where presses ten times broader than
Would come in Blackfriars filled the lanes for plays,
As public delectation laudative
Of Plautus proved. In flowed conventions Romans,
Encompassing convergent wholeness, would
By theatres magnify themselves, immense
Assertions gathering, where Caesar was
Revered. To legion generalities
Extending, throngers without prejudice
To Rome would in the Circus Maximus
Comprise one hundred thousand for the cheer
Of rival favorites on the road. Convened
Contentiousness appeased the populace,
Not their insurgent fluency provoking.
Municipal atonements, unified
Amassments, would be found in theatres, where
The vices are depicted for distaste,
And nothing virtuous is deformed.

“Excerpt from the last scene of the Mortal Lopez, part two,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Shakespeare on March 11, 2015 at 8:45 am

F L Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Excerpt from the last scene of the Mortal Lopez, part two.

Hampton Court. The Queen, Essex and Francis Bacon.

Essex: On matrimonial fortune he’s composed
An essay, which your Majesty may wish
To hear.

The Queen:     How married happenings could mar
My house in horror I have known. O what
A procreant consequence my sire pursued!
Now your unmarried rumination I
Will hear, comparing what I’ve learned so long.

Bacon: In costly hostage, captive usage, are
One’s wife and children all by fortune held,
Being clogs to our contentions for success.
The vigor of attainment is avowed
Without them, and the manliest hunt for fame
Is found in childless hunters for the chance
Of quests. The brightest consummations, sought
With brains, and labored greatnesses, fulfilled
Protractedly with grief, have been pursued
By the unmarried. But no dim incitement,
Concerning readiness for all the cares
Of growth, constrains a house of parents, who
Of future requisites would not be short.
Yet there are some, though for expedience
All unespoused, who hold all future causes as
But futile thoughts. And in unwedded thrift
Some hold that wife and children are at length
Too chargeable. And some immodest opulence
In household ostentation manifest,
Who’d seem most rich without the charge of children.
But motive freedom is the cause for most
Unmarried, who’d for expeditiousness
Be free, remaining self-productively
Resolved, apt to accomplish thoughts of wealth
Or wit. Such fellows think their ruffs and girdles
No less than yokes and subjugative ropes.
No better friends than those unmarried will
You find. As masters, servants or advisers
I see them best, but not as subjects, being
From burdens of the crown inclined to shift
In paced escapes, incumbencies eschewing.
But single days befit a churchman, who,
To no parental charity obliged,
May play the father to his faithful pews.
Yet soldiers matrimonial loyalty
Should have, whose generals, addressing them,
Exhorting furtherance in courage, will
Adduce their wives and children as the troops
Come forth. And Turkish soldiers to extremes
Of baseness run who marriage cruelly scorn.
But to compel humanity what else
But families should be first? And single men,
Though with the means for charity unused,
Are oft unsparing in their spurns of love
Because no wife or child has ever moved
Their mercy. I’ve known women, chastely single,
Who prideful, wrathful, and pretentious were,
As if their chastity permitted them
To chastise all. And wives are likelier apt
For loyalty who know their spouses trust them.
But jealous men incite disloyal wrath.
Wives are concubines in youth, companions
For intact maturity and nurses when
Debilitated weariness declines.
No dubious protest thus a man might bring
To marry at whatever age. But one
Of philosophic name believed there was
No timeliness in marriage for the young
Or old. And all observers have averred
That kindly wives have often churlish men
Of faultiest cruelty, waiting on their spite
Either to savor patience or to raise
In long probation the true worth of kindness.
But of all husbands none was kinder than
Odysseus who preferred his homely crone
To the insatiate immortality
Provided on the island of Calypso.

The Queen: Pangs of unwedded disappointment it
Bestirs in us who’d never grief admit.

Excerpts from “The Trial of Lopez,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Law, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare, Writing on March 4, 2015 at 8:45 am

F L Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Excerpt from the trial of Lopez in the Guildhall, London. Behind Lopez and Sir Edward Coke sits a commission of fifteen jurors, including Sir Robert Cecil.

Lopez:      A tortured oneness you demand
In all your towns. This nation’s consonance
Upon tormented uniformity
Depends. Invariable ignorance,
As constant as oblivion, is coerced
Forever, as incarcerated shocks
For all dissenters you account deserved.
Whoever is untortured will be tamed
Erelong. Minacious penalties, immense
In deprivation, mean no differers
Are free. What sanctimonious calumnies
You cast at them, for blank monotony
Suppressing faces.

Coke:                    Lopez, what pertains
To this? Vociferating mutiny
Condemns you, so against the crown you seem.

Lopez: I in the Tower was a tamed attester.
The threatful rack my truthfulness repressed.
I saw my menacers decisive. What
Lord Burghley wished he meant to wrench, as did
Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex
And William Wade. To them I lied of guilt.
Not striving with their threat, no torture I’d
Endure, too haplessly exposed to speak
My mind.

Cecil:      Thou Hebrew, vilest impotence
Befall you! Liar, be hapless on the block!

Lopez: Cecil, you deceitful statuette,
What can you state but a resentful threat?

Cecil: Asseveration soulful I believe
That says thou liest, in this assemblage blurting.

Lopez: Your crooking of my cause befits a crossed
Deformity whose manliness is lost.

Cecil: Corrupted pest! As deathful as your care
A traitor is with all the tricks you bear!

Lopez: You queenish midget, whom gigantic mocks
Should judge, be found a proditory fox!

Coke: Leave insultation, losel! Who are you
To counter Robert Cecil with contempt?
Now you commissioners, your votes in sums
Of guilt or innocence discover here.
Either of treason to her Majesty
Or for acquittal in this case hold forth.

 

Excerpts from “The Mortal Lopez,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, British Literature, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare on February 25, 2015 at 8:45 am

F L Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook  and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Speech of the Inquisitor

Scene: The Tower of London. William Wade the Inquisitor comes forth. Ferreira lies on a pallet in background.

Wade: Jailers are omnipotent in England.
Imprisoned alteration of the truth
We proffer. Catholic prisoners to warped
Incarceration of their words submit,
A tortured metamorphosis enduring.
In twisted transmutations they must truth
Convey or harsher twists will set them right.
What may be realized here will suit the realm,
Where racked distortions may seem right to all.
Whatever tidings we allow may not
Be true. Incarcerated verities
Are kept from view. We are the jailers of
Particulars, the keepers of events,
Who keep them in the Tower hid from England.
Our willful falsehoods shall not be unwarped,
As factious propagations verily
Prevail, annunciated oneness on
This land annealing. Fiction is the fountainhead
Of sovereign force. As omnipresent as
Obscurity or too pervasive for
Dissent by sight the Crown’s pronouncements are.
Our words dissimulate our works. We own
The light immured in these affairs. What we
Suppress remains in prison. Keeping vision to
Ourselves and giving darkness out, we can
The foisted preference of fraud provide.

 

The Queen’s Announcement

The Earl of Essex and Francis Bacon have been conversing.
Enter Sir Robert Cecil and Sir Edward Coke.

Essex: Sirs, may my present greetings pleasure you.

Cecil: A pleasant cause, my lord, your presence carries.

Bacon: My hopeful salutation, sirs, although
Your hopes should meet no hap.

Coke: Where hope
Is meritorious rightful haps pertain.

Bacon: No hapless merits have been manifest
In you, Sir Edward.

Coke: All my haps are fit
To raise my hopes.

Bacon: Eristic jurists, as
We are, would in juristic emulation rise.

Coke: My ripened erudition is more right
For office than your own as neophyte.

Bacon: I see unequal precedents in all
The convoluted chronicles of law.

Coke: And you in my Reports and Institutes
Have learned how common law no tyranny
Allows. Enter guards, Maids of Honor and trumpeters. Fanfare for the Queen. Enter Elizabeth.

The Queen: By counted estimation of concerns
And seasoned inference from sums of thought,
Upon decisive maturation not misled,
I will the next Attorney General
Announce. For scholarly prodigiousness
No legal connoisseur is like to Coke,
A lawyer scrutinizingly discreet.
Of expert opposition, apt for trials
Of contradiction, legal excellence
In suits confirming, breathful wisdom not
Abating, Edward Coke immediate comeliness
In speech maintains. As loud as Cicero,
Tonitruous his knowledge is, expounding what
Was never reached before. He pierces far
What is perceivable by rational
Pursuits, and by experienced aptitude
Sir Edward will expose injustice to
The law. We think ingenious gratitude
In him will never pall the crown. Wilt thou
Maintain this place, Sir Edward, or forbear
Promotion?

Coke: For judicial decency
In England and the undistorted wealth
Of order in this strenuous place my strength
I’d prove.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Daniel J. Kornstein

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Communication, Essays, Humanities, Literature, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Politics, Rhetoric & Communication, Shakespeare, Writing on June 4, 2014 at 8:45 am
Dan Kornstein

Daniel J. Kornstein

Daniel J. Kornstein is a senior partner at the law firm of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP, in New York City.  He earned his law degree from Yale Law School in 1973 and has served as the president of the Law and Humanities Institute.  He has authored several books including Loose Sallies, Something Else: More Shakespeare and the Law, Unlikely Muse, Kill All the Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal, Thinking under Fire, and The Music of the Laws.  His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Boston Globe.  In 2002, Dan received the Prix du Palais Littéraire from the Law and Literature Society of France.  In 2013, King Michael of Romania awarded him the Order of the Crown of Romania.

AM: Thanks for taking the time to discuss your new book with me, Dan. The name of the book is Loose Sallies, and as you state in your introduction, it’s not about fast women named Sally. For those who haven’t read the introduction or purchased the book yet, could you begin by discussing the book generally and say something in particular about your chosen genre: the essay.

Loose SalliesDJK: Thank you, Allen, for this opportunity. Those of us who occasionally write are, as you know from your own experience, always delighted to have a chance to explain a bit about how and why we scribble. Loose Sallies is a collection of essays written over the past 25 years mostly about topics of general interest. The first 75 pages is about the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and why that remarkable process and its end result are still so important to us today. The rest of the book ranges over a wide variety of topics, from our precious civil liberties to profiles of some famous judges and lawyers to current controversies. It should, I hope, appeal to everyone.

AM: Phillip Lopate has said that the essay is a “diverting” type of literature and that its hallmark is intimacy. You call the essay “intimate, informal and reflective, as if you are sitting at home in your living room or dining room and having a pleasant, sometimes provocative, sometimes stimulating, but always, one hopes, insightful and enlightening conversation.” I agree. The essay is my favorite genre because it’s the genre of the person. You can’t know a person until you’ve met the persona he creates in his essays—and if you don’t write essays, you may not know yourself. Who are your favorite essayists, and what is it about their essays that you find compelling?

DJK: My favorite essayists are the obvious ones: Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Addison & Steele, Hazlitt, Lamb, Orwell, Mencken, Macaulay, Emerson, V.S. Pitchett, E.B. White, Lewis Thomas, George Will, Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Joseph Wood Krutch. My favorite living essayists are Lopate and Joseph Epstein, the former editor of The American Scholar magazine. All these writers make their essays compelling by their clarity of thought and uniqueness of expression and their ability to communicate original, stimulating ideas, making us see familiar things in a new light. Epstein, for example, can write on literary personalities as well as personal topics we all think we know about but do not really. Everyone in my pantheon of great essayists is a superb writer with a distinctive and memorable style.

AM: I recently interviewed James Elkins, a law professor at West Virginia University, here on this site, and he talked about lawyer poets and said that “our iconic images of lawyer and of poet are put to the test when we think about one person writing poems and practicing law.” You have something to say about this seeming double life. “Writing,” you say, is “part of my double life. I have a life other than the lawyer’s life I lead on the surface. The two sides—law and writing—reinforce and complement each other.” I’ve heard the phrase “the two worlds” problem used to describe the lawyer who is also a writer. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem for you, does it?

DJK: A lawyer IS a writer. Writing is most of what a lawyer does. To be a good lawyer, one needs to be a good writer. Verbal facility, sensibility to language, and lucid thinking are prerequisites for both. A legal brief and a piece of expository writing have much in common. Both have a point to make to persuade the reader. Both rely on effectively marshaling evidence to demonstrate the correctness of a particular perspective. The topics may differ, but the skill and technique are similar. The problem facing the lawyer-writer is more one of time and energy and desire than anything else. Law is a demanding profession, which means taking time off to do anything else cuts into one’s otherwise free moments. But if you want to write, you make the time.

AM: I’m curious, when did your love of literature begin? Did you have an “aha!” moment, or did the love evolve over time?

DJK: I cannot recall ever not loving literature. My paternal grandfather was a printer at Scribner’s and when I was a little boy he gave me four books by Robert Louis Stevenson that my grandfather had himself set in type in 1907. I gave Treasure Island to my son and Kidnapped to my daughter, and still have the other precious two volumes on my shelves.

I remember my father taking me as a youngster to the Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street to get my first library card. In those days, the main building had a circulation department, and my father’s choice for my first library book was, of course, Tom Sawyer, a good choice for a ten-year old boy.

I remember as a teenager reading as much as I could in addition to books assigned in school. There were nights spent, in classic fashion, with a flashlight under the covers after bed time.

Inspiring teachers helped too.

AM: You’ve written a lot on Shakespeare. How did your fascination with him come about?

DJK: Like most people, I first met Shakespeare in high school English classes. Luckily for me, around the same time New York had a summer program of free Shakespeare in Central Park, which continues to this day. Starting in the summer of my junior year in high school — 1963 — I began to see two of Shakespeare’s plays every summer. It was at one of those performances — Measure for Measure in 1985 — that the passion grabbed me. I was 37 years old and had been practicing law for 12 years. As I sat watching Measure for Measure, I realized for the first time how much the play was about law, and that recognition — the “fascination” you refer to — set me off on a project that would last years. First, I wrote a short essay about Measure for Measure for the New York Law Journal, our daily legal newspaper. Then, months later, I saw a production of The Merchant of Venice and wrote another essay. From there, one thing led to another, and before long, I had the makings of a book.

I reread the plays I had read as a student and read many others for the first time. Then I read as much as I could find about Shakespeare and the law. The result was my 1994 book called Kill All The Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal.

I am still fascinated by Shakespeare. Each time I read or see one of his great plays, I get something new out of it.

AM: Many essays in Loose Sallies concern politics, law, government, and current events. You discuss the Founders, Holmes, Bill Clinton, Hugo Black, Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand—all sorts of people and even some decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. You manage to do so without coming across as overtly political, polemical, or tendentious. How and why?

DJK: It is a question of style and goal. Every one of the essays has a thesis, some of which may even be controversial. The idea is to persuade your reader to accept your thesis, and that requires care and sensitivity, logic and demonstration, not name-calling or verbal table-pounding. If I am “overtly political, polemical or tendentious,” I will probably not convince anyone who does not already agree with me. A writer has to be smoother and subtler. We live in a country right now riven by political and cultural partisanship. Public controversy today between “red” and “blue” is almost always shrill. A reader tires of it; it becomes almost an assault on our sensibilities. To reach people’s hearts and minds, you have to credit both sides of an issue but explain patiently and show convincingly why you think one side is more correct than another. I am not running for public office so I have no “base” to appeal to. But I can at least try to keep the tone of the debates I engage in civil and pleasant.

AM: Do you consider the essays on these topics literary essays?

DJK:Most of the essays in Loose Sallies are not about so-called “literary” topics. True, one is about the literary style of Supreme Court opinions, and two discuss Justice Holmes’s opinion-writing style. But they are exceptions. So I do not think the essays for the most part are “literary” in that narrow sense. Nor do I think they are “literary” by way of being precious or mannered. I genuinely hope, however, that they are “literary” in the sense of being clear, crisp, well-written statements on a variety of topics of interest to all Americans today.

AM: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Loose Sallies has been enjoyable for me. I keep it on my desk in the office so that, when I need a ten-minute break, I can open it and read an essay. I slowly made my way through the entire book in this manner: a break here, a break there, and then, one day, I was finished. I really appreciate all that you have done not just for the law, but for arts and literature. It’s nice to know there are lawyers out there like you.

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