Athenaeum Meeting Minutes – June 8, 2002 – Dog & Duck Pub
|Attending:||Joel Aud, Steve Britt, Pete Hansen, Alan Hunt, John Mays, Steve Pickens, Eli Pickering, Matt Thomas|
|Books for Discussion:||Julius Caesar & Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare, with analysis from Brightest Heaven of Invention, Peter Leithart|
John: May we open the discussion with general thoughts on Leithart’s commentary?
Pete: Leithart’s commentary is Biblio-centric. It assumes the Bible is a meta-story around which all other narratives are modeled, whether intentional or unintentional. God is the First Author, and everyone since is simply retelling His story in one way or another.
Matt: This is the view by which Leithart interprets Shakespeare’s work.
John: Redemption is a cosmic theme. Happy endings work because of this resonance.
Joel: Shakespeare crafts Caesar as an honorable man.
Alan: Not totally. His speech betrays his own self interest. He is almost narcissistic, describing himself as "The North Star" (meaning, the star, or man around which all others revolve).
Pete: Caesar has an amazing ability to see men for who they are; to penetrate their psyche. He recognizes Cassias has a "lean and hungry look" (Act 1, Scene 2). Shakespeare himself is not dissimilar. He has this same gift for recognizing the motives and nature of people, and it is apparent in his character’s depth.
Matt: No doubt our affinity for his plays lies partly in the familiarity we find in their characters. They are real, dynamic, and multifaceted.
Alan: Shakespeare was certainly aware of Christian themes, and he weaves these into the play. Any astute commentator would have to see, for example, Brutus' temptation by lean Cassias in a garden as transparently Biblical.
John:But Leithart shows constraint in his Christian interpretation, not going so far as to propose the "Bob Jones" version of Shakespeare’s work.
Joel: There is a practical aspect to his writing; the man had to make money. Shakespeare wrote in a period of English history wrought with political instability. He draws from Biblical themes because his audience, the rank and file of English society who paid to see his plays, could relate to Biblical themes. They may not know the history of Julius Caesar, but they knew the Bible.
Eli/Steve B: Shakespeare was not so much trying to evangelize through his plays as he was borrowing from Biblical themes to lend weight to his stories.
Pete: The political aspect of Julius Caesar was colored by 16th Century English history.
Joel: Absolutely. The general populace could identify with the question of stable government.
Steve B: It was dangerous for Shakespeare to be too politically clever in Julius Caesar. Caesar is a type of Queen Elizabeth, and as such, he is not portrayed as all bad. He denies the crown three times, and Antony’s apologetic in his eulogy rings true in many respects. He speaks some truth when refuting Brutus’ claim that Caesar was power hungry.
Matt: Shakespeare is a master of the human condition. All leaders have a tendency to evil, simply because they posses so much power, and thus can lapse into corruption.
Steve B: As we have discussed, Julius Caesar is a shrewd judge of character, and quite insightful. It is implausible then that he failed to recognize the conspiracy against him. Caesar allows his enemies to kill him.
All: What?! All of us, Leithart included, could not disagree more. Let us break for beer while Steve prepares to defend this provocative claim!
Steve B: It was too easy to assassinate the most powerful man in the world. Plus think about the juxtaposition of Brutus and Caesar. In Plutarch’s Lives it was postulated that Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son. Most in the audience would be familiar with that claim. Caesar’s death does not mean his defeat. Instead it solidifies his place as the greatest Roman…as Rome itself. Even in death, his spirit directs the action in the story through to the destruction of the conspiracy. Through martyrdom, his legacy could not have been stronger.
Eli: There are so many warnings, omens, and signs that Caesar fails to heed. That seems inconsistent with a man possessed of keen insight.
Pete: Caesar’s death marks the end of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. In essence his blood is the seed of the Roman Empire just as Christ’s blood is the seed of the church.
Steve B: The Biblical comparison strengthens the argument. Christ also knowing went to his death.
Matt:But why, then, would he not just step aside if he knew he was the target of assassination?
Steve B: Caesar is in decline. He is deaf in one ear, plagued by headaches, and his wife is barren. He actually encourages Antony to give her a whack so she will start barking out puppies!
Matt: Shakespeare provides us no evidence of Caesar’s acquiescence to his assassination, and so we are compelled to remain skeptical.
Pete: The conspirators’ call for freedom and liberty is ironic.
Eli: Leithart’s commentary on the conspirators at dawn underpins that irony. Here we have Casca, sword drawn, pointing to the place where the sun will come up. He is pointing to a "new dawn for Rome" that will inevitably come to fruition by the sword. But these buffoons can not even decide where the sun will rise. Shakespeare is speaking to the folly of bloody revolution, and we have the benefit of history to know he is right.
Pete: Political assassinations are sometimes warranted. Take for example Bonhoeffer’s attempt on Hitler’s life, or Ehud from the book of Judges. In that respect, we can be sympathetic of Brutus’ motives.
Steve B:Brutus is wrong in the end. Whether his motives were right or wrong, he brings disaster on himself, and throws Rome into civil war. Brutus acts decisively and his decision is wrong.
Pete: He sees himself as a traditional Roman. He appeals to the Roman ideal that rebelled against the Etruscan king after the Rape of Lucretia. The fact that the Roman people would follow Caesar is proof in Brutus’ eyes that Rome needs him.
Matt: Perhaps it is proof that the Roman ideal is already lost.
Steve: Act 4, Scene 3 foreshadows doom for the conspirators. Brutus and Cassius, fresh from the murder of Caesar are arguing among themselves. Brutus accuses Cassius of taking bribes from the Sardians. Their solidarity has already dissolved into bickering. Brutus also accuses Cassius of not sending him money from peoples he himself is too proud to approach.
Matt: Lines from Act 2, Scene 1 illustrate Shakespeare’s brilliance with the language, Brutus asks the conspirators, "what watchful cares do interpose themselves betwixt your eyes and night?"
Pete: The exchange in Act 2, Scene 2 between Portia and Brutus is well done. Portia laments her estrangement from her husband’s woes, "I should not need if you were gentle Brutus. Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus, is it expected I should know no secrets that appertain to you? Am I yourself but as it were in sort or limitation,- To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed, and talk to you sometimes? Dwell but I in the suburbs of your good pleasure? If it be no more, Portia is but Brutus’ harlot, not his wife."
Steve: Antony is masterful in his manipulation of the crowd during Caesar’s eulogy. He especially keeps them engrossed in his argument by teasing them with Caesar’s will. To the very end he offers to divulge it, but never does. The people hang on his every word.
Eli: One of my favorite lines is also spoken by Antony, as he stands over the slain body of his Lord, "And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war; That this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial."
Matt:Brutus speaks of opportunity in Act 4, Scene 3, when encouraging the conspirators to face Antony and Octavius. It is among the most famous lines in the play, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in the shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures."
Eli: This is yet another example of advice not taken. Caesar and Brutus both fail to take advice when prudent, or read the signs when fortuitous.
Steve: This sentiment is best summarized by Titinius in Act 5, Scene 3, "Alas, thou has misconstru’d everything."
Joel: Shakespeare is the best bathroom book! What could be finer than to awake in the morning, adjourn to the bathroom, enjoy a good scratch and a little Shakespearean verse!
(And how could we ask for a finer segue into Much Ado About Nothing?)
John: The Leithart commentary was better for Much Ado About Nothing than for Julius Caesar. His explanation that ‘Nothing" is pronounced "Noting’ in Elizabethan England, and that so much of the deception occurs when characters secretly "Note" or eavesdrop on other characters illustrates the irony (and the comedy) in the play.
Eli: With all due respect to Matt’s reading selection, Taming of the Shrew was a better play. It is raunchier, funnier, and Kate is a wonderful character. She stands as a testimony to Shakespeare’s talent that a character as distasteful as her could engender so much sympathy from the reader.
Matt/Steve:Beatrice is a redeeming character. She is so rude! Listen to her first exchange with Benedick in Act 1, Scene 2:
Beatrice: I wonder that you would still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear lady Disdain? Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she has such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
Benedick: Then is courtesy a turn-coat. –But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart: for truly I love none.
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women; they would have else been troubled by a pernicious suitor. I thank God, and my cold blood, I am of your humor for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear he love me.
Benedick: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestined scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse an ‘twere such a face as yours were.
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
Benedick: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way o’ God’s name. I have done.
Beatrice: You always end a jade’s trick. I know you of old.
Pete:Beatrice is a type of Kate figure, but where Kate is only a shrew, Beatrice is imbued with a more faceted character. She has more depth from the beginning.
Matt: One of the funnier scenes is Act 2, Scene 3 where Beatrice bids Benedick to dinner. How can any one fool misinterpret so clear a meaning.
Benedick: Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.
Beatrice: I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me; if it had been painful I would not have come.
Benedick: You take pleasure, then, in the message?
Beatrice: Yeah, just so much as you take on a knife’s point, and choke a daw withal.- You have no stomach, signior; fare you well.
Benedick: Ha! Against my will I am sent to bid you to dinner- there’s a double meaning in that. I took no more pains for those thanks than you took to thank me- that’s as much as to say, Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks.-If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I do not love her, I am a Jew: I will go get her picture.
Steve B: The irony is huge! Did anyone else notice the sexual connotation through out? Shakespeare repeatedly goes back to the image of "horns" associated with the cuckold.
John: The men in the play have such a cynical view of marriage, that believe to be wed is to don the horns of a cuckold. In other words, the be married is to have your wife cheat on you.
Steve B: Adam and Eve imagery are associated with Benedick and Beatrice. It is as if Shakespeare uses these two as a mirror for the first marriage that fell with mankind. In Genesis, God promises enmity between man and women as a consequence of their sin. These two epitomize that, and in the end never find a solution, but simply accept to be married without reconciling the differences between the sexes. It is truly "much ado about nothing".
John: In pre Puritan times, jokes about sex were more commonplace in literature.
Pete: We know God has a since of humor because he invented sex.
Eli: Leithart in his commentary was too rough on Claudio.
All:Booooo! Booooo! Defend yourself!
Eli: Leithart states that Claudio reacted to hearsay. That he had no proof that Hero was screwing around behind his back. That is not true! He witnessed what he thought was her infidelity with his own two eyes, and was encourage to his action by Don Pedro, who was also deceived by his brother.
John: He took the worst possible action.
Alan: Claudio, is nothing but a "Clod" for exposing Hero’s supposed infidelity at the alter.
Eli: It is true that he made her presumed sin public, and that is inexcusable in reference to the biblical example Leithart sites, that of Joseph "quietly putting aside" Mary after the immaculate conception. But consider this, if Claudio is so wrong, then so must Don Pedro be wrong, and he is responsible for the only redeeming acts in the whole play; the marriage of Beatrice and Benedick.
Steve B: He joked about her death in front of her father the next day!
Eli: Dogberry was very funny
Pete: In Act 5, Scene 1 Dogberry is conducting his ludicrous examination of Conrade and Borachio, "Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?- O that he were here to write me down an ass! but, masters, remember, that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass"
John: I wish you all a daughter who can enjoy reading Dogberry.
Women at Athenaeum:
The question was raised whether Athenaeum should admit women or maintain its men only tradition. Arguments for both sides was presented, and a vote was taken:
Should Athenaeum admit women?
Voting for August:
|(Matt) The Art of War|
|(Joel) Seven Daughters of Eve|
|(Joel)Guns, Germs and Steele|
|(John) The Trial|
|(Eli) War and Peace|
|(Pete) Theology after Wittgenstein|
|(Pete) From Dawn To Decadence|
|(Steve B.) Atlas Shrugged|
|(Alan) Book of Top 10 Lists|
|(John) The Trial|
|(Steve B.) Atlas Shrugged|
|(Alan) Book of Top 10 Lists|
Note Joel was the swing vote!Secretary's Comment: In a note of irony, may I point out that in the same month votes are cast to preserve the "men only" tradition of Athenaeum, the group selects for the first time to discuss a book by a woman author.
July 13th at the Dog and Duck Pub
|July:||Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard|
|August:||Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand<|