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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Et tu, Steve? The Satanic Shakespearean Caesarean misbegetting of Bannon’s Baby, Donald Trump

The following news tidbit caught my eye the other day:  “Speaking to Vanity Fair’s Krista Smith, [George] Clooney called Bannon ‘a schmuck who literally tried everything he could to sell scripts in Hollywood.’ Bannon famously wrote a screenplay for a rap musical update of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, titled The Thing I Am. ‘It’s like a rap Shakespearean thing about the LA riots. It’s the worst script you’ve ever read,’ Clooney said of Bannon’s creation. ‘But he was trying to get it made in Hollywood. And had he, he would still be in Hollywood making movies and kissing my ass to make one of his films. That’s who he is.’ “

That prompted me to revisit the rough draft of a post I had started, but then put aside, a few months ago, after seeing, for a second time, the excellent 2017 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar   While watching the exchange in the first act among the conspirators Cassius, Casca, and Brutus, about Caesar’s seizure after  refusing Mark Antony’s offer of an emperor’s crown, the scene suddenly took on a startlingly modern, ominous new meaning for me. Before explaining myself, I’ll try to assist you in hearing and seeing it yourselves first, by directing your special attention to the verbiage I’ve put in ALL CAPS):

CASCA I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it: it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown;--yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets;--and, as I told you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it to him again; then he put it by again: but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it. And then he offered it the third time; he put it the third time by: and still as he refused it,  THE RABBLEMENT HOOTED AND CLAPPED THEIR CHAPPED HANDS AND THREW UP THEIR SWEATY NIGHT-CAPS AND UTTERED SUCH A DEAL OF STINKING BREATH because Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.

CASSIUS   But, soft, I pray you: what, did Caesar swound?


BRUTUS   'Tis very like: he hath the failing sickness.


CASCA  I know not what you mean by that; but, I am sure, Caesar fell down. If the tag-rag people did not clap him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to do the players in
the theatre, I am no true man.

BRUTUS   What said he when he came unto himself?

Remind you of anything? Do you now hear the same chilling new meaning that I first heard in July? It’s not just that Casca’s cynical observation (“If Caesar had stabbed their mothers”, the Roman mob would “forgive him with all their hearts”) is eerily echoed by Trump’s notorious boast at the start of his campaign (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”)

That would be chilling enough. But it’s also that Casca’s sneering description of Caesar’s epileptic seizure is horribly echoed by Trump’s equally notorious, cruel pantomime of a disabled reporter’s awkward “infirmity”. And finally, it’s also that Casca’s elitist description of the Roman mob with such revolting (so to speak) disgust, constitutes an uncannily apt description of the deplorable, bloodthirsty audiences we all saw repeatedly at the Trump rallies, where he delivered those awful lines, and all too many more.

In July in Ashland, as I listened to Casca’s speeches in that scene, the nauseating, appalling thought first occurred to me, that what Trump’s political rivals (first the other Republican candidates, then Hillary Clinton), the media, as well as sane decent people in America and around the world all thought – and, I believe, still think to this day – heard and saw as the spontaneous, uncontrollable outbursts of a demented, cruel, powerful, toxic narcissist, were actually lines delivered by an actor playing the role that he would seem to have been born and raised to play --- lines “written” as it were, by a “playwright”, Steve Bannon, who apparently took to heart Shakespeare’s revelation that “all the world’s a stage” -- especially a 21st century world in which news about the governing of the greatest empire of our world is heard not by a handful of plebeians in a Roman mob, but by an entire globe, in a world where news travels instantly to the eyes and ears of billions.

The only question I cannot answer with confidence is whether:

ONE: Trump was a conscious actor who, like the pros in the OSF troupe members who have trained all their lives to simulate authenticity in expression of emotion and thought,  knew exactly what he was doing, and for what dark purpose; or,
TWO Steve Bannon was the one and only Svengali in possession of the Shakespearean “script” for manipulation of a national mob; and Bannon, by Iago-like insinuation and flattery, fed Trump these horrible lines, while concealing from Trump that Trump was actually a puppet on Bannon’s Shakespearean string, dancing to his white supremacist tune.
And frankly, I can’t decide which would be worse.

So, as I read George Clooney’s sharp, dismissive sarcasm of Steven Bannon, the humor I might ordinarily have enjoyed in his derision took on a very sour taste indeed. Instead of mortification, I suspect that Bannon got a great kick out of Clooney’s comments when (not if) he read them. After all, or rather, after November 8, 2016, Bannon must know that it is he who has had the last laugh. Not only did his “show” go on, it is one we all will be forced to watch for what could be another three-plus years---a very long run in a kind of house-of-horrors “Playhouse California”: one which we can try to walk out of, but, as the usher (Sarah Huckabee Sanders?) would inform us, we can never leave.

So, as vile as Steve Bannon is (and anyone who watched any portion of Charlie Rose’s recent interview of Bannon can see how vile he really is), I feel compelled to give Satan his due, and credit Bannon with having fooled us all, bigtime. Of course, I don’t do this out of admiration, but because I believe one saving grace that can be salvaged from understanding the above, is that perhaps we will never again underestimate Bannon’s power and insight, as George Clooney did. 

Let us beware of thinking that now that Bannon is physically out of the White House, we can take comfort that he will not exert any more influence over Trump. Let us not kid ourselves, there is no way Trump is going to ever fire this guy. Bannon’s Manchurian candidate, whether witting or unwitting, is always within electronic reach of those puppetry strings. Bannon has shown himself to be no apprentice playwright, but one who not only understood Shakespeare, he upped the ante and produced his own modern-day Julius Caesar, using the US presidential campaign as his stage!

It has long since become customary to acknowledge the profound insight into human nature and universality of Shakespeare’s plays; and yet I suspect it is a custom honored more in unreflective praise than in actual belief. Great genius that he was, I’d imagine that most people would be surprised if one of the plays Shakespeare wrote more than four centuries ago actually turned out to be startlingly relevant to our most pressing national concerns today. And yet, now we have the nightmare I’ve outlined above, which constitutes dramatic (in both senses) proof that Shakespeare was not trafficking in fantasy when he had Casca speak those words. A demagogue’s power to energize and organize a mob behind a diabolical agenda has not changed in kind in two millennia, only in scale.

I’m sure this post of mine has also brought to mind for some of you reading it the sharp controversy raised by the recent Shakespeare in the Central Park Julius Caesar (although you might be surprised to learn that a frankly anti-fascist production of Julius Caesar was staged in the Thirties), in which Caesar bore a strong physical resemblance to Trump himself. But now I hope you see that behind that controversy about the propriety of suggesting the assassination of a modern demagogue is the deeper controversy that never happened, about how a great government was hijacked using a Shakespearean strategy. Let’s start paying attention.

Before I close, I want to get back to George Clooney’s reference to Bannon’s failed Coriolanus spinoff. Clooney being as wonky as he is hunky, I wonder whether he read the following two articles, as I did in July, about that Central Park Julius Caesar (and now I feel yet another chill, as I think about how Central Park is also identified with Trump, in his unrelenting unrepentant campaign against the innocent young men of color whom Trump demonized): 

“ 'Trump-like' 'Julius Caesar' stirs debate”  by Chris Moody  06/10/17

Moody started thusly: “The audience gathered in New York's Delacorte Theater in Central Park for a new rendition of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar gasped in delight when the title character first strode across the stage, not in a toga, but adorned in a business suit and tie that fell unfashionably below his belt and sporting a presidential yellow coif of hair atop his head. Their reaction to the Trump-like character subsided as the audience assumedly skipped ahead to the scene when they would witness (spoiler alert!) the gory assassination of this blonde, boisterous, Trumpian emperor.”

"Behold, Steve Bannon’s Hip-Hop Shakespeare Rewrite: Coriolanus" by Daniel Pollack-Pelzner

Pollack-Pelzner (which I strongly recommend you read in full) discusses that very same Bannon Coriolanus script that Clooney derided (here are some highlights):

“Soon after Bannon was appointed chief strategist for President elect Donald J. Trump, profiles noted that he was a co author of a rap musical based on Shakepeare’s Roman tragedy Coriolanus…Mr. Bannon’s Coriolanus set in LA during the 1992 riots, is deadly serious….his adaptation of Shakespeare offers an unexpected clue….[it] draws its title from one of Coriolanus’s lines, “The Thing I Am”. It suggests the chilling conflict that Mr. Bannon would like to play out on a national stage…His Coriolanus script, written in the late 1990s with Julia Jones, a screenwriter, offers a vision of his Shakespeare-fueled fantasy: a violent macho conflict to purge corrupt leaders and pave the way for a new strongman to emerge.…Mr. Bannon’s thrill at masculine violence still resonates…In Shakespeare’s play, a Roman patrician rebukes the mob as ‘mutinous members’ of the body politic, insulting their leader as ‘the great toe of this assembly.’ In Mr. Bannon’s rewrite, the patrician called Mack-Daddy of South Central, walks over to the people’s chief, GRABS THE MAN’S CROTCH and updates the insult by replacing ‘toe’ with a vulgar word for genitals. CROTCH GRABBING isn’t just locker-room talk here; it’s the currency of power…As chief strategist to Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon could see his vision of racial aggression, driven by a hammer-headed hero who doesn’t have to pander to the craven media, gain an audience far beyond SS’s globe.”

Is it possible that Trump was under Bannon’s influence even as early as 2005 when the Access Hollywood video was shot? Might Steve Bannon have leaked the tape himself? The mind reels at the prospect of such a daredevil political highwire act, but the fact remains, Donald Trump is the one sitting in the Oval Office today, so I don’t rule out even such a preposterous possibility.

To conclude, if my above claim that Bannon deliberately generated modern political theater from the lines of Julius Caesar was in doubt for you, I hope that the above analysis by Moody makes clear to you that Bannon knew Shakespeare’s Roman plays really, really well, and recognized their modern relevance and usefulness. So, dear friends, Americans, and countrypeeps, the fault will not be in the stars in the sky, but in our na├»ve acceptance of the “stars” on our screens, if we fail to recognize what is real in Donald Trump’s “act”, and what is fake (i.e., scripted by Steve Bannon).

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The common Shakespearean source for the dreams of Milton's Eve and Austen's Frank Churchill

I ended my immediately preceding post (on August 28) about the word games at Hartfield as follows:

“And finally, we can add the Strange Case of the Swept-Away Third Word to the numerous other plays on the number 3 in Emma (which points to the allusive presence of Mozart’s The Magic Flute):
the 3 come-at-able ladies, the 3 teachers at Mrs. Goddard’s school, the 3 turns that Mr. Woodhouse takes during his constitutional, the apples baked 3 times at Hartfield, Mrs. Smallridge’s 3 girls, and the “three things very dull indeed” that Frank solicits at Box Hill – to that we can now add, the 3 words at the Hartfield game table!
And that brings me to the end of Part One. In Part Two, which, as I promised, will be forthcoming in the next few days, I will demonstrate that there’s a whole lot more to the word “pardon” at the Hartfield game table than I have discussed above. There’s a Shakespearean meaning which points the finger ten times more pointedly at Jane Fairfax’s concealed pregnancy!”

Now, on to Part Two, and my promise to reveal a Shakespearean meaning pointed to by the word "pardon" in that Hartfield puzzle table scene, that I say substantiates my longstanding claim about Jane Fairfax's concealed pregnancy.  I've now been able to connect the allusive dots to a famous work by a third immortal English author besides Shakespeare and Jane Austen – as my Subject Line has already revealed, I’m referring to John Milton and his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, in which, of course, the female protagonist is Eve, who, like Austen's Frank Churchill, dreams.

While the textual evidence I’ve now collected has grown far too voluminous and complex for a single blog post, I do want at least to present the highlights of my overall conclusions. But first, for those who enjoy literary quizzes, here are two questions, which I will answer, immediately thereafter, below, about that Shakespearean source:


1. What famous passage in one of Shakespeare's most famous plays is the common, significant source winked at by the following two, seemingly unrelated, passages about dreams written by Milton and Austen?
2. What are the deepest meanings of the connection among those three Shakespeare, Milton & Austen passages?

ONE: Eve’s eloquent speech just before she and Adam walk out of paradise into the cold, hard world at the very end of Paradise Lost:

Descended, Adam to the Bowre where Eve
  Lay SLEEPING ran before, but found her WAK'T;
  And thus with words not sad she him receav'd.
    Whence thou returnst, whither wentst, I know;
  For God is also in SLEEP, and DREAMS advise,
  Which he hath sent propitious, some great good
  Presaging, since with sorrow and hearts distress
  Wearied I fell ASLEEP: but now lead on;
  In mee is no delay; with thee to goe,
  Is to stay here; without thee here to stay,
  Is to go hence unwilling; thou to mee
  Art all things under Heav'n, all places thou,
  Who for my wilful crime art banisht hence.
  This further consolation yet secure
  I CARRY hence; though all by mee is lost,
  Such favour I unworthie am voutsaft,
  By mee THE PROMIS'D SEED shall all restore.
    So spake our Mother EVE, and ADAM heard
  Well pleas'd, but answer'd not…

TWO: Frank Churchill’s dream about Mr. Perry’s carriage, right before the three puzzle words:

 As they were turning into the grounds, Mr. Perry passed by on horseback. The gentlemen spoke of his horse.
“By the bye,” said Frank Churchill to Mrs. Weston presently, “what became of Mr. Perry’s plan of setting up his CARRIAGE?”
Mrs. Weston looked surprized, and said, “I did not know that he ever had any such plan.”
“Nay, I had it from you. You wrote me word of it three months ago.”
“Me! impossible!”
“Indeed you did. I remember it perfectly. You mentioned it as what was certainly to be very soon. Mrs. Perry had told somebody, and was extremely happy about it. It was owing to her persuasion, as she thought his being out in bad weather did him a great deal of harm. You must remember it now?”
“Upon my word I never heard of it till this moment.”
“Never! really, never!—Bless me! how could it be?—Then I must have DREAMT it—but I was completely persuaded—Miss Smith, you walk as if you were tired. You will not be sorry to find yourself at home.”
“What is this?—What is this?” cried Mr. Weston, “about Perry and a carriage? Is Perry going to set up his CARRIAGE, Frank? I am glad he can afford it. You had it from himself, had you?”
“No, sir,” replied his son, laughing, “I seem to have had it from nobody.—Very odd!—I really was persuaded of Mrs. Weston’s having mentioned it in one of her letters to Enscombe, many weeks ago, with all these particulars—but as she declares she never heard a syllable of it before, of course it must have been a DREAM. I am a great DREAMER. I DREAM of every body at Highbury when I am away—and when I have gone through my particular friends, then I begin DREAMING of Mr. and Mrs. Perry.”
“It is odd though,” observed his father, “that you should have had such a regular connected DREAM about people whom it was not very likely you should be thinking of at Enscombe. Perry’s setting up his CARRIAGE! and his wife’s persuading him to it, out of care for his health—just what will happen, I have no doubt, some time or other; only a little premature. What an air of probability sometimes runs through a dream! And at others, what a heap of absurdities it is! Well, Frank, your DREAM certainly shews that Highbury is in your thoughts when you are absent. Emma, you are a great DREAMER, I think?”
Emma was out of hearing. She had hurried on before her guests to prepare her father for their appearance, and was beyond the reach of Mr. Weston’s hint.
“Why, to own the truth,” cried Miss Bates, who had been trying in vain to be heard the last two minutes, “if I must speak on this subject, there is no denying that Mr. Frank Churchill might have—I do not mean to say that he did not DREAM it—I am sure I have sometimes the oddest DREAMS in the world—but if I am questioned about it, I must acknowledge that there was such an idea last spring; for Mrs. Perry herself mentioned it to my mother, and the Coles knew of it as well as ourselves—but it was quite a secret, known to nobody else, and only thought of about three days. Mrs. Perry was very anxious that he  should have a CARRIAGE, and came to my mother in great spirits one morning because she thought she had prevailed. Jane, don’t you remember grandmama’s telling us of it when we got home? I forget where we had been walking to—very likely to Randalls; yes, I think it was to Randalls. Mrs. Perry was always particularly fond of my mother—indeed I do not know who is not—and she had mentioned it to her in confidence; she had no objection to her telling us, of course, but it was not to go beyond: and, from that day to this, I never mentioned it to a soul that I know of. At the same time, I will not positively answer for my having never dropt a hint, because I know I do sometimes POP OUT A THING before I am aware. I am a talker, you know; I am rather a talker; and now and then I have LET A THING ESCAPE ME which I should not. I am not like Jane; I wish I were. I will answer for it she never betrayed the least thing in the world. Where is she?—Oh! just behind. Perfectly remember Mrs. Perry’s coming.—Extraordinary DREAM, indeed!”
They were entering the hall. Mr. Knightley’s eyes had preceded Miss Bates’s in a glance at Jane. From Frank Churchill’s face, where he thought he saw confusion suppressed or laughed away, he had involuntarily turned to hers; but she was indeed behind, and too busy with her shawl. Mr. Weston had walked in. The two other gentlemen waited at the door to let her pass. Mr. Knightley suspected in Frank Churchill the determination of catching her eye—he seemed watching her intently—in vain, however, if it were so—Jane passed between them into the hall, and looked at neither.
There was no time for farther remark or explanation. THE DREAM MUST BE BORNE with…

The Shakespeare passage, and the play it appears in, which is the common source for both the above-quoted Austen and the Milton passages, is one which.... strongly hinted at by puns on the words I've put in ALL CAPS in the above two passages; parodically alluded to in A Midsummer Night's Dream; explicitly quoted by Emma while speaking about Jane Fairfax; AND connected to Paradise Lost via yet another Shakespearean word puzzle which Jane Austen recognized. 





The Shakespearean play which is the common source for the above quoted passages in Emma and Paradise Lost is Romeo & Juliet, and the speech which contains all those same keywords, is the famous "Queen Mab" speech by Mercutio about dreams which ends as follows:

.......This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when MAIDS LIE ON THEIR BACKS,
That presses them and learns them first TO BEAR, 


Of course, the capitalized words in the last three lines of Mercutio's speech contain several puns on women having sex, getting pregnant, carrying the unborn baby, and then bearing the child. That's exactly what I claim Milton was pointing to when Eve, speaking of her final dream, says, "I CARRY hence; though all by mee is lost,  Such favour I unworthie am voutsaft, By mee THE PROMIS'D SEED shall all restore"; and what Jane Austen was pointing to when first Frank, and then Miss Bates, go on an on about Frank's supposed dream about Mr. Perry's carriage.

Eve’s last dream in Paradise Lost speaks to her acceptance of life outside Eden, and Milton lifts Mercutio’s pun on “carriage” as pregnancy, and used it to describe Eve's being given the gift of carrying babies to birth in the postlapsarian world.

And that allusion by Milton to Mercutio's speech ties in perfectly with what I first wrote about in 2014 about the "SATAN" acrostic in Friar Laurence's speech to Juliet about the sleeping potion he gives to her, which I claim Milton intentionally alluded to with his "SATAN" acrostic in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, which was my first window into how pervasively Milton alluded to Romeo & Juliet, a major allusion unnoticed by any Milton scholar prior to myself. 


The above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the multilayered allusion by Jane Austen, via the shadow heroine of Emma, Jane Fairfax, pointing to both Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, and to Eve in Paradise LostHere are some highlights of this complex allusion:

From the moment Emma was published, it has been recognized that Emma slightly misquotes Romeo's speech to the apothecary, when Mrs. Weston and Emma discuss Emma's shock at hearing about Jane's concealment of her romantic connection to Frank all along:

 "...[I] still am disposed to give her credit for, in spite of this one great deviation from the strict rule of right. And how much may be said in her situation for even that ERROR!”
“Much, indeed!” cried Emma feelingly. “If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax’s.—Of such, one may almost say, that ‘the world is not their’s, nor the world’s law.’”

However, no Austen scholar before myself has recognized that Romeo & Juliet is winked at all over the place in the text of Emma. And, at the center of that global allusion is Jane Fairfax's pregnancy -- because Juliet is also dealing being a single woman (actually a girl) with the same problem as Jane Fairfax - Juliet (like Ophelia in Hamlet) is pregnant (impregnated against her will by her monstrous, pedophilic father Lord Capulet), and so Juliet throws herself at Romeo in the hope of finding a husband who will legitimize her baby, and also to allow her to avoid having to marry Paris –which is exactly the same desperate strategy I see Jane Fairfax employing vis a vis Frank Churchill at Weymouth.

That quotation by Emma about "the world's law" is also a re-quotation from the famous Misella essays in Samuel Johnson's Rambler, which are about the misery of women forced into prostitution by the norms of a cruelly sexist English society- which is exactly the fate that Mrs. Elton threatens Jane Fairfax with, before Mrs. Weston bails Jane out by taking Jane’s baby and pretending it is her own – little Anna Weston.

In the two instances when Emma’s overheated imagination focuses on Jane’s feelings about Mr. Dixon, and on Jane's rebuff of Emma's offered gift of arrowroot, as “poison”, we hear the distinct echo of the deadly "poison" Romeo acquires from that same apothecary to whom he utters those same words about “the world’s law”.

The incestuous pedophilia of Capulet that I see in Romeo & Juliet is echoed not only by Mr. Woodhouse’s dangerous interest in his own daughters, but by the pedophilia that saturates another Shakespeare play that I’ve previously claimed on several occasions is a key source for Emma – Pericles, Prince of Tyre. And so we now have key sources for Jane Fairfax in both Juliet and in Pericles’ gifted daughter, Marina.

The apples Jane Fairfax eats not only point to Milton’s Eve, but also to the secretly pregnant, unmarried, historical Anne Boleyn, who famously hinted publicly at her own pregnancy by Henry VIII, in order to embarrass the King to marry her.

I've gather a great deal of textual evidence to back up each of the above highlighted claims, and several other lesser aspects as well, enough to write a whole book chapter unpacking it all. But for today, the above will have to do.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter