Thursday, October 20, 2005

Too Sensitive!

According to an October 16, 2005 article in the Washington Post:
"In preparation for a guest appearance at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the marching band at C.D. Hylton High School had a logical and seemingly innocuous idea: play a Georgia-themed song. They decided on 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia,' by the Charlie Daniels Band....

"Daniels's song, which won a Grammy Award in 1979, is a tongue-in-cheek, tale about a devil heading down to Georgia and challenging a young man named Johnny to a fiddling duel. The stakes are high: If the devil plays a better tune, then he gets to keep Johnny's soul. But Johnny is too talented and beats the devil, winning a golden fiddle, and making Daniels's song a metaphor for the triumph of good over evil."
I'm not a big fan of country-and-western music, but I remember "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," a crossover hit. In the late 1970's and on into the 1980's, I heard the piece on various radio stations and even in the New Year's Day Pasadena Rose Parade. Furthermore, the piece is a certain crowd pleaser in Georgia and a good choice for perfomance at the Peach Bowl.

But one letter to a small local newspaper, intended merely to provoke a philosophical debate resulted in the following:
"But early this month, a local newspaper, the Potomac News, published a letter by a Woodbridge resident who, after having seen the C.D. Hylton Bulldawg Marching Band perform the country-western hit at a football game, wondered how a song about the devil could be played at school events, because of the separation of church and state.

"Fearing bad public reaction, Hylton's longtime band director, Dennis Brown, pulled the song from the playlist. 'I was just being protective of my students. I didn't want any negative publicity for C.D. Hylton High School,' he said.

"But Brown's strategy backfired. The decision has created a furor, and even Charlie Daniels has weighed in.

"'I am a Christian, and I don't write pro-devil songs. Most people seem to get it. It's a fun little song,' Daniels said Friday in a telephone interview from Mokena, Ill., where he was scheduled to perform a concert. 'I think it's a shame that the [marching band director] would yield to one piece of mail. If people find out that he can be manipulated that easily, he's going to have a hard way to go.'"
Emotions about the band director's decision are running high as various people type their reactions in to the web site:

"'God have mercy. How did we become a country full of weenies who give into the cranky nonsense of 1 voice?' one person tapped out on a computer. 'I guess I need to go back to school. I thought the idea behind our country was that the majority ruled? You know, like the majority of people voted for the President's re-election and now the ruling party is knuckling under to every left wing nut out there? I give up!'

"A person identified as Ticked Off Parent chimed in: 'What's next? School Book Burnings because someone finds To Kill a Mockingbird offensive? Whoever started this should be banned from the school, NOT THE SONG!'"
Apparently the writer of the letter to the editor never intended to spark the withdrawal of "The Devil Went down to Georgia" from the band's list of pieces:

"As for that nettlesome letter writer, Robert McLean? The defense contractor, whose children are home-schooled, said he went to Hylton's football game just because he enjoys the sport. His letter, he said, was meant to start a philosophical debate, not to wreck any student's marching band experience. Besides, he said, he loves 'Devil.'

"'It was one of the first 45s I had as a kid,' he said."
If a band piece performed without words can provoke such a reaction, I hate to think what including Faust, Dante's Inferno, or Dracula--all literary works which focus on the battle between good and evil--could result in.

We have indeed become "a country full of weenies" and inoffensive, politically-correct fools when a marching band's choice of music can result in purging a mainstream selection from a performing group's repertoire!

64 Comments:

At 10/20/2005 10:15 AM, Blogger David Schantz said...

There was a time when I couldn't stand country music. I think Charlies The Devil Went Down To Georgia was one of the songs that changed my mind. Charlie is a great musician and a true American patriot.If the band director was afraid to play the Devil I don't suppose there is a chance the band will ever play anything by Steve Vaus (another country singer song writer/patriot)or Poker Face (protest rock band/patriots). Maybe they should all get together and write a song about censorship and bowing down to the ACLU.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

 
At 10/20/2005 12:18 PM, Blogger American Crusader said...

Ronald Reagan was president and I was an underclassmen at the University of Kansas when Charlie Daniels came to Hoch Auditorium. Thank God there was none of this extreme "political correctness" at that time. It was a great concert not long after 66 American hostages were repatriated. Come to think of it though....it wasn't long after that lightning burned down the auditorium. Hmmm.

 
At 10/20/2005 12:28 PM, Blogger Gindy said...

"How did we become a country full of weenies "

A question I have been asking my self for a long time now. It is a shame.

 
At 10/20/2005 1:07 PM, Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Sounds like our president when it comes down to him telling the American public that Islam is a "religion of peace."

Weenies, all of them.

Good blog, I am sending this one out on my email list.

David Schantz: great idea about a song about the ACLU!

 
At 10/20/2005 1:37 PM, Blogger G_in_AL said...

AOW... how ironic (or was it?) that you post this, just after my spat with that little special who flipped out over criticism.

(btw, we have made up nice now I think... we'll see).

What has happened, in my estimation, is we have allowed ourselves to become entirely too focused on ourselves. The "Me-sim" that infests our society has set our collective mind to the perpsective that the world really does revolve around "ME".

Look at the self-help books and plans out there. They all say "search your heart" or "follow your dreams", or "find some 'me time"

All this leads us to think that our own personal feelings and opinions actually matter. So if something offends me, I must then have the right to not only complain, but change it!

If we could get back to a world where everyone remembers they are a very small piece in a very big puzzle... things might get back to normal again.

 
At 10/20/2005 2:45 PM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Tommy Jarrell is rolling in his grave listening to the crap no talent goofs like Daniels play but the song should have been pulled because it sucks and not because of some letter to the editor.

Fire the band director for over reacting and for picking the song in the first place.

 
At 10/20/2005 5:07 PM, Blogger G_in_AL said...

Duck would much rather some good Joan Baez or other "liberating" music would have been selected.

heheh, sorry, couldnt resist.

 
At 10/20/2005 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard a rumour that the band director in question is now going to play "When the Saints go Marching in" in honor of Katrina victims.

-FJ

 
At 10/20/2005 7:35 PM, Anonymous Mustang said...

We should endeavor to prevent idiots from reproducing, 'lest they ultimately surround us and take over what was once a sane country.

 
At 10/20/2005 9:29 PM, Blogger American Crusader said...

If we can't prevent idiots from reproducing...maybe abortion isn't a bad idea.

 
At 10/21/2005 6:47 AM, Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Any type of zero-tolerance zealotry begets this type of knee-jerk un-thinking silliness. That someone might be become a Satanist by hearing a wordless performance by a marching band of a well-known tune – is truly laughable.

I’ve been away from school for decades but I remember singing wonderful songs in “assembly” in my public school including Christmas songs, Hanukah songs, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic (here in New York City.) Don’t tell me a marching band can’t play the Battle Hymn of the Republic because it begins “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord …”

 
At 10/21/2005 7:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say "ban the song". If they can ban prayer, let them ban the Devil. If they ban the Devil, let them then ban secular humanism. And once they've banned secular humanism, let them ban all discourse altogether as "idealogically bent" based upon a false belief system. And once they've banned ALL discourse, perhaps the schools will be open to a little prayer now and again.

-FJ

 
At 10/21/2005 9:02 AM, Anonymous Bozwell said...

"How did we become a country full of weenies "

A fair question I suppose, but it seems to me those "weenies" are in the minority.

...Oh and I have to say that i like the song a lot, and I am definately NOT acountry fan. Ironically enough one of my favourite bands is "Godsmack".

...maybe the band could learn a few of their tunes?

 
At 10/21/2005 9:55 AM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Someone should tell all these whiny leftist shit-eating cock-bobbin' faggots that no one in this god-forsaken world has the right to not be offended.

 
At 10/21/2005 10:24 AM, Anonymous Felis said...

"Kill a Mockingbird offensive!!!"
Oh yeah!
You bet.
It may encourage young people to kill innocent mocking birds.
Not to mention that it teaches disregard for the environment.
Oh BTW I loved that and the fiddle part.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:01 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

David,
I can hear that song extolling the ACLU right now. LOL.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:02 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Crusader,
Oh, for the good ol' days when we didn't have to worry about political correctness!

 
At 10/21/2005 2:04 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Gindy,
It's worse than a shame.

Polical correctness = cultural suicide.

I work with Christian homeschoolers, and they were appalled that a letter from a homeschool parent resulted in the song's being pulled from the repertoire. Many called him a traitor. Of course, such was not the man's intent.

The song was performed in 2003 without any such fracas.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:05 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

G,
I had the story lined up before the incident you had this week. But I'll admit that the fracas at your blog led me to get the story up a few days earlier than I had originally intended.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:06 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Duck,
Really? Pulled because of one letter? I think G has it right as to your possible choices for repertoire.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:07 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

G,
Don't apologize. Your pointed comment as to Duck's preferences was probably accurate.

Or maybe he objects to all forms of music?

 
At 10/21/2005 2:08 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Mustang,
Watch out! Next thing you know, somebody will accuse you of promoting eugenics.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:09 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jason,
Today one of my friends informed me that "Battle Hymn" was indeed banned in Pennsylvania exactly for the reason you mentioned.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:11 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
If a band shouldn't play a song with "Devil" in the title, then "When the Saints Go Marching In" is also objectionable. And I'm almost willing to bet that somebody will indeed object.

I loved your logic in the second comment. Still smiling.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:12 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Bozwell,
Maybe the "weenies" are in the minority, but it's a very vocal minority sometimes.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:14 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beamish,
Well, you certainly know how to express anger. LOL.

Maybe the right to not be offended is included in the Preamble. I think not, of course.

 
At 10/21/2005 2:16 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Felis,
And that fiddle passage, akin to a cadenza, is a hard passage to execute. Such a complex passage takes a fiddle virtuoso to pull it off. I'd say it's a sort of "Flight of the Bumblebee" for country music.

Thanks for stopping by!

 
At 10/21/2005 4:49 PM, Blogger LASunsett said...

AOW,

I read this in the AJC, while in Atlanta. Pretty sad isn't it?. One kid even purchased an expensive violin to use as a fiddle.

 
At 10/21/2005 6:49 PM, Blogger John Sobieski said...

When I was in band, we did 'Backstabber', another big hit in the 70s/80s. That probably wouldn't be politically correct now.

I am a non-weiner. Please please believe me and accept it.

 
At 10/21/2005 9:45 PM, Blogger beakerkin said...

We had this question on my blog over if the left or right censors freedom of speech more. Yet I do not remember a single Jewish student complaining about the Canterbury tales or Shakespeare despite anti semitic references in both.

People need to grow up.

 
At 10/21/2005 10:05 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beak,
Good point about The Canterbury Tales and The Merchant of Venice (I'm guessing you're referring to that particular Shakespearean work). We discuss both of these works in my literature classes and talk about the meaning and implications of the anti-Semitic references therein. These classes are predominantly right-wing.

Over my 30+ years of teaching, I've noticed more "censorship" from the left than from the right, though I have seen some censorship from the right.

I agree with you: People need to grow up. Reasoned discussion is part of growing up.

 
At 10/21/2005 10:06 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

LA,
The article I used for this blog article mentioned that fiddle. What a shame for that kid!

 
At 10/21/2005 10:08 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Axis,
Considering all the recent stabbings in the school systems around here, I expect that "Backstabber" is no longer acceptable. But it might be the perfect song for the political climate.

I am a non-weiner. Please please believe me and accept it.
Glad to hear it!

 
At 10/22/2005 4:08 AM, Blogger Shah Alexander said...

Political correctness? Beautiful idea, but dangerous in practice. What happened in the UK? Nurturing Islamic terrorism. What happened in Japan? Helping abduction by North Koreans.

 
At 10/22/2005 6:34 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Shah,
Your point is well taken. Political correctness sounds good, particularly when pc interactions are limited to person-to-person ones. But on a national and international level as well as within a cultural society as whole, the application becomes dangerous and has, in fact, nurture terrorism and other destructive trends.

Thank you for stopping by. I always enjoy reading your comments.

 
At 10/22/2005 12:36 PM, Blogger Toni said...

I think the most ironic aspect of this whole song is this is a "marching band"! Do "marching bands" sing or voice the words to the song? I don't think so. So this is all about the title of a song since the music instrumental only. Asinity.

 
At 10/22/2005 1:39 PM, Blogger samwich said...

Wait until the "Boomer's" rockin and jammin is pirated for the upcoming election season.

The Baby Boom generation is the demographic group to beat (win over to get Hillary in).

There will be computer rehashes of whatever spent the most time highest on the charts for back ground music.

S.........$1200

 
At 10/23/2005 8:24 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Toni,
Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you can do so more often.

Like you, I was struck by the fact that a hoopla erupted over a song performed without words. Typically, titles of songs performed by marching bands are not announced, though the title of this one when it was performed at a local football game might've been announced in a brief introduction.

The entire controversy is so asinine!

 
At 10/23/2005 8:36 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Samwich,
You're right about music's power to influence. "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"--Fleetwood Mac's hit--was used in the Clinton campaign. And "Born in the USA" was used by Reagan's campaign, to Springsteen's chagrin.

Yes, the Baby Boomer vote will be sought. The bands will strut their stuff. Because of some of your previous comments, I had already thought of that aspect when I read the cited Washington Post story.

Aside here: I hear interesting music in certain TV commercials, and I've been noticing that for years. What amazes me is that many of my friends have never understood how music can promote a purchase. Maybe I'm attuned to the music because I'm a musician myself and know the power of music, particularly at funerals.

BTW, I heard some talking heads discussing the TV show Commander in Chief as a promotion of Hillary. The end of the discussion was that the show doesn't do so. I've watched the show a few times and disagree, but the message is subtle.

I believe the $1200 you mentioned. Will investigate further. So busy right now--students are entering a national writing competition.

 
At 10/23/2005 9:06 AM, Blogger beakerkin said...

Always

Shakespeare always puts in a small word or two about Jews in passing. The antisemitic jokes were a product of his time.

I read the Canturbury tales in a Yeshiva and nobody said a word. The same illogic could be applied to Eugene ONiel in the Emperor Jones played by traitor extraordinaire Paul Robeson. I get it Communist and Leftists can use the N word 30 times and it is no big deal. Orwell couldn't figure this one.

 
At 10/23/2005 11:22 AM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

Unfreakinbelievable! (it's in the dictionary, trust me)

 
At 10/23/2005 2:31 PM, Anonymous GM Roper said...

I have a tie with a reproduction of "The Birth of Venus" on it. One woman at a statewide workshop I attended said that she was "offended" by the "naked woman." I told her that her PC was interfering with her intellect. The same holds here also. We absolutely MUST stop this cockamamie PC stuff, it is anti-intellectual.

 
At 10/23/2005 5:09 PM, Blogger Smoke Eater said...

I wonder, could the letter writer be asked/made to pay the student for the cost of the (now useless) violin?

PS--I'm not a weenie either, but I like to roast them!

 
At 10/23/2005 10:11 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beak,
Anti-Semitism was in vogue during Shakespeare's time, but I also think that he himself had reservations about that kind of thinking. Merchant has provoked discussions of that possibility in my classes.

Your reference to the double standard is well taken.

 
At 10/23/2005 10:12 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Elmer's Brother,
Thank you for stopping by. Not in my dictionary, but should be!

 
At 10/23/2005 10:14 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

GM,
Pretty soon we won't be able to read or even look at anything other than that which is Marxist doctrinaire. We are being reduced to a cockamamie culture which will be dull, dull, dull.

 
At 10/23/2005 10:15 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Smoke Eater,
I like your idea of compensation for that student. Keep roasting those weenies. LOL.

 
At 10/24/2005 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never really thought of Merchant of Venice being anti-semitic so much as serving as a foil for an exploration into the darkest depths of our universal inner human nature and values, with Shylock expressing the natural and uncivilized human instinct towards destruction and "pleasure" that is part and parcel of a repressed will to power (an effect of living in the diaspora), and Antonio expressing modern Christian sentimentality and aristocratic secular values, whereas Portia represents ancient classical (non-Christian/ platonic) values.

And so in many ways, Antonio presents a charicature of Christian values, the court proceedings expose the moral deficiencies and limitations of secular humanism, which Portia ultimatly bends to her will so as to spare Antonio paying the "pound of flesh" penalty of his ill-advised and designed secular contract.

In the process, Christianity too is found "lacking". Which leads me to believe that Shakespeare's intent was not specifically anti-semitic, but designed to contrast and expose some of the deficiencies inherent in Judaic, Christian, and secular values and compare them to the ancient platonic virtues, which IMO, Shakespeare found "superior".

-FJ

 
At 10/24/2005 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from Nietzsche, "Genealogy of Morals" (Part II)...

"It's true that recalling this contractual relationship arouses, as we might expect from what I have observed above, all sorts of suspicion of and opposition to primitive humanity which established or allowed it. It's precisely at this point that people make promises. Here the pertinent issue is that the person who makes a promise has to have a memory created for him, so that precisely at this point, we can surmise, there exists a site for what is hard, cruel, and painful. In order to inspire trust in his promise to pay back, in order to give his promise a guarantee of its seriousness and sanctity, in order to impress on his own conscience the idea of paying back as a duty, an obligation, the debtor, by virtue of the contract, pledges to the creditor, in the event that he does not pay, something that he still "owns," something over which he still exercises power, for example, his body or his wife or his freedom or even his life (or, under certain religious conditions, even his blessedness, the salvation of his soul, or finally his peace in the grave, as was the case in Egypt, where the dead body of the debtor even in the grave found no peace from the creditor—and it's certain that with the Egyptians such peace was particularly important). That means that the creditor could inflict all kinds of ignominy and torture on the body of the debtor—for instance, slicing off the body as much as seemed appropriate for the size of the debt. And this point of view early on and everywhere gave rise to precise, horrific estimates going into finer and finer details, legally established estimates, about individual limbs and body parts. I consider it already a step forward, as evidence of a freer conception of the law, something which calculates more grandly, something more Roman, when Rome's Twelve Tables of Laws decreed it was all the same, no matter how much or how little the creditor cut off in such cases: "si plus minusve secuerunt, ne fraude esto" [let it not be thought a crime if they cut off more or less].

Let's clarify the logic of this whole method of compensation—it is weird enough. The equivalency is given in this way: instead of an advantage making up directly for the harm (hence, instead of compensation in gold, land, possessions of some sort or another), the creditor is given a kind of pleasure as repayment and compensation—the pleasure of being allowed to discharge his power on a powerless person without having to think about it, the delight in "de fair le mal pour le plaisir de le faire" [doing wrong for the pleasure of doing it], the enjoyment of violation. This enjoyment is more highly prized the lower and baser the debtor stands in the social order, and it can easily seem to the creditor a delicious mouthful, even a foretaste of a higher rank. By means of the "punishment" of the debtor, the creditor participates in a right belonging to the masters. Finally he himself for once comes to the lofty feeling of despising a being as someone "below himself," as someone he is entitled to mistreat—or at least, in the event that the real force of punishment, of inflicting punishment, has already been transferred to the "authorities," the feeling of seeing the debtor despised and mistreated. The compensation thus consist of a permission for and right to cruelty.

6

In this area, that is, in the laws of obligation, the world of moral concepts "guilt," "conscience," and "sanctity of obligations" was conceived. Its beginnings, just like the beginnings of everything great on earth, were watered thoroughly and for a long time with blood. And can we not add that this world deep down has never again been completely free of a certain smell of blood and torture—(not even with old Kant whose categorical imperative stinks of cruelty . . . ). In addition, here the weird knot linking the ideas of "guilt and suffering," which perhaps has become impossible to undo, was first knit together.

Let me pose the question once more: to what extent can suffering be a compensation for "debts"? To the extent that making someone suffer provides the highest degree of pleasure, to the extent that the person hurt by the debt, in exchange for the injury and for the distress caused by the injury, got an offsetting pleasure—making someone suffer—a real feast, something that, as I've said, was valued all the more, the greater the difference between him and the rank and social position of the creditor. I have been speculating here, for it's difficult to see such subterranean things from the surface, quite apart from the fact that it's an embarrassing subject.

Anyone who crudely throws into the middle of all this the idea of "revenge" has merely buried and dimmed his insights rather than illuminated them (revenge itself takes us back to the very same problem "How can making someone suffer give us a feeling of satisfaction?"). It seems to me that the delicacy and even more the hypocrisy of tame house pets (I mean modern man, I mean us) resist a really powerful understanding of just how much cruelty contributes to the great celebratory joy of primitive humanity, as an ingredient mixed into almost all their enjoyments and, from another perspective, how naïve and innocent their need for cruelty appears, how they basically accept "disinterested malice" (or to use Spinoza's words, the sympathia malevolens [malevolent sympathy]) as a normal human characteristic, and hence as something to which their conscience says a heartfelt Yes!"

-FJ

 
At 10/24/2005 7:20 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
From Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Shakespeare:

"The Merchant of Venice extols the Christian virtues of mercy and charity over the harsh legalism of Old Testament justice. Such was the standard interpretation of the play through the nineteenth century.
"Today we tend to view it differently. The Christians, Bassanio, Gratiano, and Salerio, fashionable men of the Venetian Rialto, are callow and spoiled, while Antonio is a rich merchant who keeps them all in pocket money in exchange for social cachet. Recent Shylocks have been portrayed as Jewish Leers...
"The play is not pro-Jewish, as some would have it, but it's not pro-Christian, either...
"Shakespeare gave his audience the cartoon Jew they loved to ridicule and to hate. In Elizabethan Englsnd, a Jewish character was a major draw, promising diabolical deeds and bizarre cruelties. Yet embedded within this caricature there's a real human being...
"The Christian likes money as much as the Jew; he just doesn't care to earn it, preferring instead to borrow or marry into it....
"The Merchant of Venice is about power--being without it and wanting it. The ideal is to be wealthy, male, and Christian. Portia can successfully argue Antonio's case, but only when she's strengthened by male attire. Jessica begins the play poor, Jewish, and single and ends it rich, Christian, and married. In the interim, during her flight to Belmost, she inexplicably adopts masculine clothing. Through this gesture, Shakespeare seems to be saying that Jessica can acquire power, but only if she first "becomes" a man and a Christian...
"Shakespeare offers at least two views of every character and situation, confronting us with a variety of possible interpretations. The play supports almost any reading you care to give it..."

 
At 10/24/2005 7:30 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
About Antonio...
Is he a homosexual? A latent homosexual?

From the same source as above:
"[Bassanio's] warm relationship with Antonio embodies the prototype of male friendship, which was almost a cult in Shakespeare's time....
"We never learn the source of Antonio's melancholia...
"As a character he's so passive that his personality is eclipsed by everyone else around him. Early audiences would have assiciated Antonio's willingness to be martyred--particularly at the hands of a Jew--with the Crucivixion. In our post-Freudian age, his apathy suggests a yearning for death....

I believe that current Cliff's Notes, not exactly a supreme source of erudition, make a lot of Antonio's possible latent homosexuality.

IMO, one reason that Merchant is such a fascinating play is its multiple levels of interpretation. Shakespeare was more ambiguous in this play than in any other. Again, from the same source:

"At the end, you may not know whether you've seen a tragedy or a comedy, a love story or a tale of hate. In its infinite ambiguity, it is quintessential Shakespeare. No sooner have you reached one conclusion about the play that it's immiediately contradicted in the next scene--or line."

The most recent of my classes which studied Merchant decided that the theme was religious hypocrisy.

So glad you stopped by, FJ!

 
At 10/24/2005 7:40 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
Antonio expressing modern Christian sentimentality and aristocratic secular values, whereas Portia represents ancient classical (non-Christian/ platonic) values.

And so in many ways, Antonio presents a charicature of Christian values, the court proceedings expose the moral deficiencies and limitations of secular humanism, which Portia ultimatly bends to her will so as to spare Antonio paying the "pound of flesh" penalty of his ill-advised and designed secular contract.


I happen to agree! But I also think that Portia is a deeper character. What do you think that Queen Elizabeth I thought of Portia as a character? The strong, sensible, and brilliant woman who doesn't need a man to be complete but who bows to societal demands? Elizabeth didn't bow to the demands which a queen should accede to--marry a king and reproduce in order to preserve the dynasty.

Notice that Portia had to dress as a man to accomplish justice, which the men were unable to mete out.

Also from the same source:
"In 1943, the celebrated actor Werner Krauss was ordered by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, to play Shylock in a manner that would incite hatred against the Jews....
"Jewish adults recall feelng ashamed when they had to read the play in high school. Since World War II, the play has been banned in more classrooms than any other Shakespearean work....The Merchant of Venice is the most popular play in Israel."

 
At 10/24/2005 7:42 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
I'm still studying the Nietzsche quotation you provided.

 
At 10/25/2005 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny always, I agree that Portia is a deeper character and attributed Portia's "active" nature to her education and classical upbringing... as a "daughter of Cato" she demonstrates the classical virtues which include manly "courage" and the character traits that accompany it. She actively "creates" her fate... and leaves "nothing" to Fortune/ chance or passivity.

Even in the marriage ritual she subtlely "cues" her preferred mate into selecting the correct box, just as she gently guides Shylock through her legal reasoning and the ultimate "crushing" conclusion (that no "blood" was mentioned in the contract...and the need for philosophical "precision... exactly 1 pound of flesh only).

Whereas Antonio is almost completely "passive" (ergo womanly) throughout the whole ordeal. And I attribute his state of melancholy to his Christian values (leaving the power to change things/Forunes to G_d's Will as opposed to his own). His opening remarks foreshadow that the events that follow are a consequence of his character deficiency... he doesn't "know himself".

From the opening monologue of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice":

"Anthonio - In sooth I know not why I am so sad, It wearies me: you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuffe 'tis made of, whereof it is borne, I am to learne: and such a Want-wit sadnesse makes of mee, That I haue much ado to know my selfe."

And I disagree with those who think Antonio is "gay". I believe that his love for his fellow man, his willingness to risk his fortune, his very life, for his fellow man to be aspects oft considered "Christian virtues". He has a need to be seen as "patron" to his family and friends. He is merely playing his "role" on the stage of life (the opening monlogue also foreshadows this aspect of Antonio's nature)

"Ant. - I hold the world but as the world Gratiano, A stage, where euery man must play a part, And mine a sad one."

-FJ

 
At 10/25/2005 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I could claim credit for the literary analysis. I'm merely parrotting Bloom.

Allan Bloom (that INFAMOUS pupil of Leo Strauss) wrote a book analysing Shakespearean characters, from Othello, Merchant of Venice, etc.. Part of his analysis of Merchant of Venice characters shows up in a collection of Bloom essays entitled "Giants and Dwarfs".

I read his collection of essays a few years ago, and they are what inspired me to re-read Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" and to see Swift as a major player in the battle between the Ancients and Moderns, for it contained an excellent literary analysis of that work as well.

-FJ

 
At 10/25/2005 6:18 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
Before I brought up that interpretation of Antonio, had you heard such a thesis before?

Asking for your opinions:

1. Do you think that the title of the play has significance? Antonio doesn't have as many lines as other characters, yet the play is titled after him. Or is it?

2. Is Merchant a comedy or a tragedy? How one views that particular interpretation as to the classification of the play makes a difference in how characters are interpreted, I think.

BTW, I agree completely with your view of Portia.

 
At 10/25/2005 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had "heard" the thesis that Antonio was "gay" in reviews of the recent remake of Merchant w/Al Pacino. I thought it was not very subtlely "hinted" at in the opening scene. Feminists claim the western civilization is a "patriarchy". I believe it to really more "feminine" that most would care to admit, and that Antonio's character simply reflects those more "feminine", Christianity inspired, virtues

I never thought much about the title other than to associate the "pound of flesh" forfeiture penalty to commercial transactions (as Nietzsche's essay intimates) and thoughts that perhaps these transactions were more "typical" of the day than we care to admit???(since the prosciption against Christians lending money at "interest" (usury) has a long history.

I see Merchant as a Comedy. In fact, I have a hard time labelling even some of Euripides "late" tragedies as such. For the only one to really suffer "tragedy" is Shylock, and one might be hard pressed to believe that he didn't "deserve" the fate of abandonment by his daughter.

And of course "Portia" was also Brutus' loyal wife (as well as John Adams pet name for Abigail), which takes me back to the "classic" virtues again.

-FJ

 
At 10/25/2005 8:33 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Antonio's character simply reflects those more "feminine", Christianity inspired, virtues
And are those virtues nearly trumped? If not for Portia...

I see Merchant as a Comedy.
If so, then Antonio has no character flaw, per se. As a comedy, we are looking at a play which playfully presents the missteps on the way to finding love. However, Shylock does have a flaw (which can have several interpretations), which is an essential element of Shakespearean and Greek tragedy. Aside here: Homosexuality was a frequent comedic element in Shakespeare's time, and I think that Pacino's portrayal plays on that factor--though the movie is quite "dark."

Again, you inform me! I didn't know that John Adams's nickname for Abigail was "Portia." I agree that Portia symbolizes the loyal wife--and also loyalty to the classics, which redeem love. Love is a feminine virtue, so both Portia and Antonio personify that classic virtue.

As I see Merchant, both commercial transactions and the legal system are satirized.

IMO, the play would be a tragedy were it to be titled Shylock.

Just to clarify, I see Merchant as a comedy, but a more complex and a darker comedy.

 
At 10/26/2005 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with many of your analyses and conclusions, but I do think we see things slightly differently. I see Shylock and Antonio's "flaws" to be representative of the flaws in the value systems they represent, and not simply singular character flaws in a particular individual. I see almost ALL of the characters in this play being deliberately represented as readily identifyable character "types" who have been "shaped" and somewhat "disfigured" by circumstances their social roles create for them in Venetian society.

And perhaps I see comedies "in general" a little "differently" than you as well. I see them as instruments for accomplishing "popular" social "change" in much the same manner that Aritophanes used them (Whereas "tragedies" were used to explain "why" things were the way they were and meant to "support" the current status quo social arrangements, even in the face of "hard" or "adverse" outcomes). I see them as tools for "educating" the public and shaping cultural norms... and of course descry the advent of shows like "Ellen" or "Will and Grace" or "modern/dark" "Merchant's of Venice". I much prefer, despite it's vulgarity, "Southpark".

Comedy was once "banned" from Roman Theater (except for Mime). I don't think "tragedy" ever was.

-FJ

 
At 10/26/2005 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On John and Abigail... the Brutus and Portia of the American Revolution...

Shakespeare "Julius Caesar"...

PORTIA
If this were true, then should I know this secret. I grant I am a woman; but withal A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife: I grant I am a woman; but withal A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father'd and so husbanded? Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose 'em: I have made strong proof of my constancy, Giving myself a voluntary wound Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience. And not my husband's secrets?

BRUTUS
O ye gods, Render me worthy of this noble wife!

Knocking within

Hark, hark! one knocks: Portia, go in awhile; And by and by thy bosom shall partake The secrets of my heart. All my engagements I will construe to thee, All the charactery of my sad brows: Leave me with haste.

Exit PORTIA

Letter 1

Letter 2

-FJ

 
At 10/26/2005 9:09 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

FJ,
First, let me thank you for the links to the letters of Abigail Adams. I wonder if she in any way tempered her husband's Federalist position. I understand that John Adams was a man of strong opinions and, as such, had a way of alienating others.

As to our interpretations of Merchant, I'm not sure that you and I differ so much in our own interpretations because I can be persuaded to your point of view. As a Christian, I fully understand the concept of "types." You make a good case, although I must say that your classical interpretation is colored by your vast knowledge of the ancients. Can I get a class of high-school students to follow what you are saying? Certainly not it entirety. The beauty of Shakespeare--every era sees somthing slightly different. Will we ever fully know Shakespear's original intentions? Do we need to?

BTW, I happen to agree about your point as comedy as satire. Sometimes the bawdiness overhshadows your point, though, particularly when trying to teach teenagers--as I do.

And we need to keep in mind the function of plays such as those of Shakespeare. The plays presented at theatres such as The Globe provided the popular entertainment of the day. Does that mean that plays did not also serve a higher purpose? Of course not! And of course, plays could serve multiple purposes, too. Political purpose comes to my mind.

I'm not fond of "Ellen" or "Will and Grace," though I have viewed those shows from time to time. I have never seen "Southpark," so, alas, I cannot discuss that particular show.

Yes, the Romans banned comedy. As a culture, Rome tended to be pragmatic. Did the Romans understand the subtlety of satire?

 
At 10/27/2005 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, Plato and the ancients had a completely different idea as to what "youth" should be taught. In "Republic", Plato advocated limiting their education primarily to music (under which he included "good" literature) and gymnastic.

And of course, I believe that the Romans DID understand the subtlety of satire all too well. "The Satyricon" is an infamous example of Roman satire, written by Gaius Petronius (aka Petronius Arbiter). The author was eventually compelled/ ordered by Nero to commit suicide (~66CE) and I know of few Roman "satirists" that followed him in "ridiculing" Roman life, and therefore only one after him of any note, Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Juvenal)[who had to change the popular form from "ridicule" to simply "indignation" around ~100CE in his "Saturea"].

But preceeding Gaius Petronius were a host of reknowned satirists including the "founder" of Roman literature - Quintus Ennius (Ennius)- [written ~200BCE], Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace)- [2 satires, 1 ~30BCE and the other around ~35BCE, Marcus Terentius Varro (Varro)- [Saturae Menippeae -written ~10BCE], and finally Aulus Persius Flaccus (Saturae - ~62CE]. All were wonderful satirists, but were more closely associated with and tolerated under the Roman "Republic" than the subsequent "Principates" (post Augustus).

-FJ

 
At 10/27/2005 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I actually do think that some of us need to at least try and understand Shakespeare's original intentions for selecting the plays he wrote and the way he wrote them, even if we won't ever reach our goal of complete "knowledge" of his intentions. For I don't think you can truly appreciate Shakespeare's oeuvre unless you attempt to step out of out of our specific contemporary culture and try and understand his, and the understand the "differences".

Shakespeare challenged his reader to attempt this very feat by describing not only the history of the British monarchy, but several alternatives to it (Greek, Roman, Venetian, Dutch, Scottish). IMO, an "objection" to contemporary politics was probably the main reason "why" Shakespeare selected many of the settings and subjects for his plays and staged them in the way that he did. For in this manner, Shakespeare "set the stage" for subsequent rise of "popular" liberalism in English political life and a general "broadening" of the electorate beyond the ranks of "nobility", lending more power to knights and burough representatives, and then eventually, the "common" people themselves.

This put him many years "ahead of his time", and in many ways "ahead" of the intellectuals of the day, who buried their thoughts and writings in "Latin" and merely corresponded amongst themselves. It was Shakespeare who was able to put these thoughts into the "language of the people" and give them a basic understanding of English politics and familiarize them with some "alternatives". This, I believe, eventually lead to a "uniting" the kingdoms of Great Brtiain (following many many battles and civil wars) and a general broadening of civil rights for the common people.

-FJ

 
At 10/27/2005 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

erratum...

substitute "Danish" for "Dutch"...

-FJ

 

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