Excellent Dumb Discourse

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Great Author Mad Libs

As I flatter myself that you have noticed, I've taken quite an extended break from An Excellent Dumb Discourse. In brief, this is because my best buddy (aside from The Spouse), The Cat, became very ill and finally died, after an extended illness. While he was alive, I was busy looking after him. Once he died, I frankly haven't had the heart to sit at the computer and write. I am home alone most of the day, and The Cat was my constant companion, just as he was all through my adolescence and early adulthood. Working on my blog, he would always sit on my lap and purr away, for quite literally many hours at a time. I'd always end up getting leg cramps in my attempt to both type and provide him with a level sleeping surface, but I didn't mind. When an animal loves you that much and is that demonstrably affectionate, you hardly notice the leg cramps. Anyway, I realize that I have to get back to writing again, so I've just thrown together something brief and hopefully amusing to start. Sort of like the stretches you're supposed to do before vigorous exercise. Before I close the blogging chapter on The Cat, however, I'd like to send a special Thank You to the Spouse, who was great dealing with me and The Cat during The Cat's illness, and even held him as he breathed his last. So long, Nero. You were the best.

The Cat. Aka "Nero". 1990-2004. Requiescat in pace, Buddy. Posted by Hello
Now I present my little amuse-tete for your consumption. But first, two caveats: I'm afraid my limited knowledge of html coding is on display, since what I've done requires a lot of formatting, and, while I've tried to make it format properly for all monitor resolutions, it ain't perfect. I will continue to try and get better. Second, my premise relies on the fact that the reader is familiar with the pen-and-paper party game "Mad-Libs". If you have heretofore managed to exist without knowledge of this parlor game delight, click here to learn about it.

As for the amuse-tete, I've been revisitng a lot of the classics we were all forced at red-pen-point to read in High School, and I'm afraid I'm still left with the same opinion of an awful lot of these Great Dead Men. Geniuses; total assholes. Find one person who would like to be best friends with Ernest Hemmingway, and you've found some pathetic sap of a man pining for the good old misogynistic days. In terms of respect for the sexes, Shakespeare was many centuries ahead of Papa Hemmingway. I'm not a genius, but I'm not an asshole, either. So I've used this sliver of superiority to take a bit of a smack at Ernest. Here it is:

Great Author Mad Libs

_______________ like _________ ___________
(Sexually Suggestive Noun) (Depressing Adjective/Noun Combination)

by ____________ Hemingway
(Paternal nickname)

I led the girl to the _____________. She looked up at me. The light
(highly symbolic type
of waterway)

______________ through the _____________, casting shadows.
(short, significant verb)(flora)

“Oh _________,” she said. “Will you always love me like this?"
(Macho, WASP male name)

I kissed her. The _____________ bowed in the breeze. I lifted her into

the ___________________. “Why not?” I said. The girl sighed and cut
(small water-going vessel)

off her __________. “Why not?” she answered. We _______________
(body part)(irresolute verb,
past tense)
out towards the West.

Hemingway - Genius. Me - Hack. But a nice hack.

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hath Not Old Custom Made this Life More Sweet?

~As You Like It, act 2, scene 1

***WARNING: This entry is long. Over 2000 entire words are used. I know that's longer than the average Joe's average blog entry, but I have faith that you can do it. You don't have to read it all at once, you know. You can take breaks. Go for a walk. Do some crunches. Enjoy a frosty beverage. Or two. And then come back and finish up. Think of it as a really short book, without the risk of papercuts.***

A great cleaning convenience? Or a sucker purchase for tidy-challenged types? Posted by Hello

The Spouse is a funny sort of bird. I'm not complaining, mind you. I can think of no worse purgatory than a lifetime shared with an average, unimaginative and completely normal sort of mate. Not that imagination is particularly The Spouse's strong suit, of course. The Spouse does not come home from work bursting with ideas about how to make a crazy Rube Goldberg device that will turn on the shower, toast the bread, make the bed and start the MINI when the alarm goes off. Nor is The Spouse the sort to come up with outrageous surprises that leave me gob-smacked and speechless when my birthday rolls around. But The Spouse is anything but average, and, I suspect, scores well above the mean even when it comes to creativity, if television sitcoms and grocery checkout magazines have any truth in them. (Admittedly a big if...)

The reason I mention The Spouse's oddness this week is because I'm the sort of person who likes to find patterns. Recognizing patterns is a way to order and understand the universe; and analyzing patterns (and deciding how to change, if necessary) is a way to improve the universe. "Know thy traditions, but be not wedded to them." If some profound sage of the Ancient World didn't say that, they should have.

Anyhoo, The Spouse's special oddness has been defying patterns lately, and so I write this in the hopes that the creative process will help me sort it out a bit better. The oddness surrounds household tasks in general, and cleaning in particular.

For your consideration I present you with the following scenarios:

#1 Tooltime Triage
This first scenario is not particularly noteworthy, except in combination with the others bellow. The Spouse and I own a house - at least, as long as the four outer walls and roof stay up I'm going to continue to call it so. Suffice it to say that our house requires a wee bit o' repair work before we make the House Beautiful centerfold. But the neighborhood and the location are great, and damn it, not only do we boast a sizable back yard (by DC standards), but we have a DRIVEWAY! Sure, our kitchen lights only go on after about 30 tries (and they're those long rectangular fluorescent ceiling numbers with pull strings that lend the kitchen all the warmth and cheer of a fish-gutting facility), but not having to grapple with the meter maids - that, my Mastercard-toting friends, really is priceless.

I'm afraid I digress, but the point is that many a DIY opportunity presents itself in our current abode. The Spouse and I work together on most of these opportunities, and lately I've noticed a disturbing trend. I'll usually go down to the basement and get all the tools we think we need. Inevitably, The Spouse will look at the tools, look at the project, look at the tools again and sigh. "This probably isn't going to work," The Spouse will declare. "We need a --- to do this properly." Now, what we need is generally right back down in the basement - I picked the wrong sized wrench, the not-quite-right bit for the power drill, etc. "Would you like me to go down and get it?" I'll ask, as I start to move towards the basement door. "Naw. We can probably make this work okay," The Spouse will shrug. "Don't bother. Let's make this work."

I am all for being flexible and 'making it work.' But some things can not be improvised all that well. Needless to say, about 75% of the time, it would have been much easier, cheaper, and more effective for me to go get the appropriate tool.

Why does this happen over and over? Why does The Spouse refuse to approve the second basement trip? Is it the challenge? The overwhelming ennui of always failing to anticipate the right tool requirements? The displeasure at one of us having to make an extra trip? And why the hell don't I just go down again anyway despite Spousely disapproval? Do I dislike the walk down to the basement that much? Am I overwhelmed by the likelihood that the second round at the toolbench will be no more successful that the first? Have I resigned myself to this ritual as part of The Spouse's and my 'together time'? Man, I hope not.

Now, consider if you please,
#2 The Clorox Wipe Imbroglio
The Spouse and I are at Costco; this is another one of the things we like to do together. People will say we are a boring old married couple, but I can proudly assert that we enjoyed our grocery store 'dates' well before we were married. Thus making us simply boring. But those of you who have not accompanied us, in an observational capacity of course (actively shopping with a third person throws us off our groove), don't know what you are missing. We generally have fun grocery shopping together, and at Costco, especially if we're not in a hurry, we frequently have a ball. I don't know why; that's just the way it is. So work with me here and go with it for a moment.

So, as I was saying, The Spouse and I are at Costco, having our usual thrill a minute, perusing the aisles. We try to contemplate a world where anyone needs that much nail polish remover, and how long it would take a determined person to work through the entire super-duper jumbo-sized box of fish-sticks (and what the doctors would be thinking as they worked the stomach pump). I move on while The Spouse stops to do a series of calculations aimed at determining how the bulk discount on really big packs of fresh meat compares to the unit cost of weekly specials on similar fresh meat at our local, unSuper-Sized supermarket. (This is one of The Spouse's favorite grocery shopping sports, and one I find incredibly tedious. The end result is generally a lot of pork chops and boneless chicken breasts in the freezer, just in case you're thinking of stopping by for a bite to eat.) While The Spouse is still muttering something about 80%-lean ground beef versus 90%, I arrive in the cleaning supplies aisle. Here I find Clorox pre-moistened disinfecting wipes ("Why just wipe when you can Clean and Disinfect!"). The price seems good; and they are sold in a three pack instead of one He-man sized box (our house isn't particularly tiny, but it's no Castle Greyskull). I think to myself, this is great. We can keep one in the car, one in the kitchen, and one in the upstairs bathroom. How convenient!

But when The Spouse catches up with the mandatory HUGE pack of pork chops, I get nothing but scoffs. "That" The Spouse proclaims, pointing an accusatory finger at my disinfecting wipes, "is a sucker's purchase!" Seems The Spouse thinks these new-fangled pre-moistened cleaning implements are just designed to make you lazy and drain the exchequer. "Just get a sponge and some cleaning fluid!" I am so taken aback I can barely defend my selection. "But... sometimes you have a germ emergency! We can keep some in the car! Don't you get it - they clean AND disinfect! Are you some kind of Communist?" My retorts fall on deaf ears. I invoke the handiness of the post-BBQ dinner moistened towlette packs in restaurants. I refer to the delights of instant gratification. I mention the incredible clutter under the kitchen sink, where our 'cleaning fluids' are kept. Since anyone being serious and saying the word 'fluids' always reminds me of General Jack "Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water" Ripper, I make a few Dr. Strangelove jokes. The Spouse continues to mutter "sucker purchase".

Now, in the Tooltime Triage scenario, The Spouse seemed to prefer us not wasting time with a second trip to the basement for the proper tools. Yet in The Clorox Wipe Imbroglio, The Spouse clearly puts a higher price on money than time, demanding trips to the cleaning supply area whenever a need for disinfecting arises. As for the whole "sucker purchase" thing, I'm not even going to bother to directly deal with that. Hello! "Why just wipe?!?" 'Nuff said.

Which brings us to item #3, The Incident of the Bathroom that Cried Out in the Night. In the Bathroom incident, The Spouse and I have gotten into bed. It is 1am. The Spouse decides some allergy medication is in order, gets out of bed and goes to the adjoining bathroom. I hear the medicine cabinet open, a pause. "Wow. It's really dirty behind the tub," The Spouse calls out. I agree - it is really dirty - the tub is an old claw foot model that doesn't fit into the corners precisely, and it is almost impossible to reach back there easily. Furthermore, the bathroom has no vent, and so the window is frequently left open, which lets in more dust and dirt. I am about to comment how odd it is that The Spouse chose 1am when we are both in bedtime mode to look behind the tub, when something even odder happens. The Spouse goes downstairs and comes back with the Swiffer Wet. (Yes, you are right - the Swiffer Wet is the mop version of the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes of the previous tale, but I've been taking the moral high ground and not pointing it out. The only likely outcome is a rejection of the ways of the Swiffer, and a return to the mop and bucket as the un-sucker-like thing to do.) The Spouse then proceeds to Swiffer the bathroom at 1 in the morning; I have no idea how The Spouse manages to get in the corners behind the claw foot tub (I suspect by taking off the premoistened Swiffer cloth and using it by hand - thus creating an EXACT equivalent to my much-maligned Clorox wipes!), but the fact is, when I get up the next day, it is clean.

I just don't know what to make of this. We were tired; The Spouse had to get up early in the morning. And while it was dirty behind the tub, it was just dirt. There was no mold, or dust bunnies or mildew or anything all that unsanitary. And the dirt wasn't in piles like an overflowing sugar bowl. It was just really dirty in the normal sort of way. And the person who won't bother to invest the time to get the right tools, who feels that Clorox Wipes are a thing of decadence, decides not just to clean, but to Swiffer-Wet at 1 am in the morning. Kinda weird, am I right? Not a complete refutation of The Spouse's belief system heretofore expressed, just kinda weird.

Finally, we have #4, The Service Contract-covered Dryer of Despair. The Spouse broke the dryer. Many months ago - June, I think. The dryer came with the house, and is a delightful bit of nostalgia from the 1960s. The previous owner left us the original operating manual, which included sketches of apron and high-heel-wearing housewives puzzling over the dryer controls. The manual included such sparkling gems as, "We women don't want to worry ourselves over complicated mechanics and such, but there are a few basics we should understand about our new dryer to make the wash-day easier," and "If [these incredibly basic troubleshooting tips] don't work, thank goodness the [dryer-vendor] Man is just a telephone call away!" Clearly, we own a piece of pre-sexual revolution history, in addition to an appliance. So it was with some sadness that I learned that The Spouse - for the second time, no less - had broken our vintage electronic by taking the barrel thingy of its track, so the dryer no longer works its tumble drying magic. (I'd be more technical about it, but I don't want to worry anyone over complicated mechanics and such.) The previous time this had happened, I called the dryer company, because, believe it or not, the previous owner had been paying for a service contract on the dryer since the Kennedy administration. The night the dryer died again, we were tossing our laundry into the hamper, basketball-style. I told The Spouse I bet the next shot - a particularly difficult one The Spouse was lining up for from behind the imaginary 3-point line, wouldn't go in. If it did, I'd be the one to call the dryer repair guy. "Agreed," said The Spouse, and promptly missed the shot.

Now, I'm not trying to be petty here; The Spouse handles the laundry duties, more or less, and so it isn't a Costco-sized deal to me. But that was over a fiscal quarter ago, and The Spouse never called anyone about the dryer. It remains broken in our basement, along with all the proper tools I never manage to bring up, and copious clotheslines. And now our service contract - our last direct link to Jack and Jackie's Camelot - has expired. And I just don't get it. The dryer guy came for free. Could The Spouse just not bear the thought of dialing a 1-800 number? Too busy to spend 3 mintues on the phone? Is The Spouse just a no-good welcher, who decided to wait me out until I was fed up with the lack of tumble-dried fluffy towels and called myself? The Spouse never mentioned it directly. Now we've started looking at new dryers, which is nobody's idea of a fun way to blow at least a few hundred dollars.

So there you have it. Around the house, where's the pattern? Not convenience all the time, nor economy, nor efficiency. It's not that I've been thrown a loop after only one-and-a-half years of marriage and must suddenly question whom it is I've married. I've known The Spouse over 10 years: The Spouse is the picture of reliability in most other aspects of our lives. Maybe The Spouse is just getting weird as age 30 creeps closer. Maybe this is just something I'll never find a pattern for, and I'll have to grow to be content with the wacko habits of that crazy Spouse of mine, sans explanation. Not that I should really complain. Usually, it's pretty easy being the spouse of The Spouse. If I can just find a way to consider these little quirks endearing, I'll be in the clear. Until I can, I'll be puzzling over things, Clorox Wipe in hand. Because really, when your Spouse is acting like a weirdo, why just wipe when you can Clean and Disinfect?

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It Ain't Over 'til the BardBlogger Sings

Fa la la la la!
Hey - who called me fat?!?

Summer is officially over. This may come as news to you; you look at the calendar and note the autumnal equinox does not occur until September 23rd. You also see that Labor Day, the holiday that used to celebrate the hard work, unity and integrity of blue-collar working people but has been somehow co-opted by The Man into simply representing the final day of summer and its affiliated Big Box Sales Events, does not occur for five more days yet. You glance at the thermometer and, if you live somewhere climatically similar to Washington, DC, you observe the pseudo-mercury nuzzling up to the 83 degrees Fahrenheit mark. If, like me, you actually live in Washington, DC (poor soul) you know summer can't be over yet because the politicians are still on something called "Summer Recess" and surely the politicians wouldn't engage in any sort of lie, obfuscation or misleading behavior, right? So I am wrong, you think. Summer's still on, kids!

And yet, no. Summer is officially over, and I can prove it to you. In one particular fantasy I have, I download this nifty software from Google, and the BardBlogger controls the seasons. The Spouse is deeply impressed with my prowess over Mother Nature and information technology, and the forecast is decidedly steamy...[Insert your own obnoxious whistles and catcalls]

But sadly, this is not the reason why summer is over. (However, I've sent an email to Google about developing some Excellent Dumb Weather Algorithems for me, and I'm sure they'll get back to me soon. They are always so responsive.) Rather than living the BardBlogger Climate Code fantasy, I am instead facing the reality that all my summer vacations, trips and influx of guests are over. And thus it is time to resume my regular bardblog publishing schedule. And thus Summer is ended. QED. Bring on the foliage, the cider, and Henry VI, Part II!

As I wrap up the summer, I of course feel the need to share my final thoughts on Henry VI, Part I. Is it worthy of hoopla? Does it have a Point? And is it any fun to read/see for modern twenty-first century folk such as your chic, bardblog-reading selves?

If you dimly recall what I have written on HVIPI up to this point, you realize that I consider it to be a pretty flawed piece of drama. The characters are completely static. Take Uncle Winchester - Currently portrayed as a haughty, over-ambitious cleric with greedy eyes on the crown, from his scheming aside to the audience in Act I, next to the corpse of Henry V, to his pompous, corrupt promotion to Cardinal in Act V. Anybody out there think he's going to turn it around and become the great defender and humble servant of our Young King in the next two plays? Me neither.

The verse is frequently cheap and undermines the dramatic quality of the scenes. This is particularly true when Sir Talbot and Young Talbot are preparing to face the enemy and die together. This should be touching. It makes me want to roll my eyes instead. The simple, rhyming couplets are ridiculous to my ear, distracting from and diffusing all the dramatic tension. I don't think Will would have done this later in his career. But I don't blame him that much; he was only an apprentice playwright at this point, and almost certainly working with a group of other, more experienced and less brilliant writers.

But genius tends to be difficult to stifle, and I feel it certainly puts in an appearance for poor Henry VI. To little old me, the enduring greatness of Henry VI, Part I, is that in this play Will Boldly Goes where Very Few had Gone Before.

"Boldly going where Very Few had Gone Before." Cheap dialogue. Thin characters. An innovative idea. Never underestimate the power of an idea. (And sequels - that's where the real money is.) Posted by Hello

Henry VI is a chronicle play, laying out history for the masses. This had definitely been done plenty of times before, from the Greeks through to the Elizabethans. But Shakespeare does it differently. If you think about all those Greek and Renaissance plays you had to read in high school, you will recall a lot of guff throughout about the Fates, the Goddess Fortune, the will of the God(s) and the like. Things happen as foreseen by Oracles, or because it is God's will. Usually, the individuals have some sort of romance or melodrama or moral quandary while we all wait for the playwright to tell us whether or not the good old Goddess Fortune is ever going to turn that frown upside down.

Not so with this chronicle. Our boy the bard steps up and makes some big time changes to how these plays are written, and the message they convey. Henry VI Part I lays the individual right out there and points to his/her role in the making of history and the fortunes of the country. Nobody wins or loses because the Fortuna smiles. They win and lose because Talbot is the ideal chivalrous badass, because Joan is in League with the Devil, because Henry VI lacks the age, gravitas and force of character to whip his subjects into shape, because the eternal order of things is all balled up, ever since Henry IV dethroned the York king, mucking up the line to the throne (respecting the line to the throne is also know as respecting 'degree,' and the Elizabethans were obsessed with preserving it the way Americans talk about preserving the Constitution). And because in this vacuum of leadership (Henry VI is a wet noodle) and order (Yorks, Lancasters, and the degree stuff) all the sniveling servants who should put King and Country first feel free to be corrupt, ambitious and self-aggrandizing.

The Bard is taking a stand, and putting the focus on the people and their role in their own destiny. Try to imagine a society in which we had no concept of the individual's ability to make a impact on the larger world. I'm not saying that Shakespeare actually came up with the idea, of course, but in choosing to focus Henry VI, Part I the way he did, and since he continued this idea throughout this chronicles, more or less, he popularized this way of thinking to an entire nation; once his work became popular, all classes had access to these concepts, and by weaving these themes into what was thought of as an account of history, Shakespeare's point of view is all the more readily accepted and inculcated into our psyche. How many of us would know diddly squat about Henry V, for example, if not for the "Band of Brothers" St. Crispin's Day speech that Shakespeare popularized? The general public knows a lot of British history through the lens of Shakespeare's words. Absorbing his ideas is implicit in learning the history

Of course, as previously mentioned, we're stuck in Henry VI, Part I with unchanging, static characters of so-so eloquence. So the only way Will can get his point across is a rather heavy-handed one; through formal plot structure. England's descent - through the failure of individuals - to the corrupt anarchy similar to the one suffered in France is demonstrated through rather monotonous parrallelism. For example, we have essentially the same battle refought three time, and each time one of the three Good Chivalrous Knights (Salisbury, Bedford, and Talbot) fall. Each time their death is precipitated more and more directly by the shortcomings of the British. Each time the failure of the English in France and at home becomes more inescapable.

The parallels extend further, of course. To name just a few: we have the 3 British ideal knights. We have the 3 inappropriately ambitious dudes, Uncle Winchester, the Duke of Somerset and Plantagenant/York. We have three French females out to doom the English. The Countess of Auvergne, is bested by the virtuous and masculine Talbot and then treated with honor. Joan's demons abandon her, and York burns her at the stake. Then Margaret of Anjou rises out of Joan's ashes (in the very same scene, no less) and is taken on by the sleazeball Suffolk, who sets her on course to wreak le havoc francais on England and her males .

The French will never be the bold British ideal of chivalry, masculinity and respect for order (that degree thing again). But as the French become progressively more unified, the English foibles and dissention weaken the British camp. Thus we have in one scene the Duke of Burgundy coming over to unite the French, and Charles hearing that the Parisians are calling for him to be king. In the next, Henry is a weak nonentity being crowned in Paris. His coronation ceremony is rapidly followed by 1) the de-knighting of Sir John Fastolfe (he who runs away in battle) by Talbot 2) news of Burgundy's defection 3) the demand that the king allow the York/Somerset battle to fight itself out. Hey! Is that three things hammering home a theme (disunity/lack of order and degree) again? Anyone sensing a pattern?

So, while Henry VI, Part I doesn't exactly sparkle with brilliant lines and other signs of luminous genius, it does give some hint that Apprentice Will might someday blossom into The Bard. As for whether or not the casual twenty-first century playgoer should spend hard-earned lucre to see the Bard's maiden effort in drama, I would hesitatingly suggest the play doesn't really pass the test. If you are more than a casual student of plays, history or Shakespeare, then it offers quite a bit of interest. But as a stand alone production, Will's focus on the individual in history is of a bit less interest in a society such as ours that has so thoroughly absorbed this message that we take it for granted. Such is the fate of many great innovations - the electric typewriter, the audio cassette, and Max Headroom to name just a few. And while the play does have merit as a historical chronicle, Shakespeare distorts the accurate course of events tremendously in order to set up all his parallelism and other plot constructions that allow him to make his broader point. If one pays attention, one comes away from this 'history' believing in a great many factual errors.

So from that perspective I guess it's about the same as watching Fox News or CNN.

And with that parting cheap shot at an even cheaper Big Media (basis of economic valuation: they have a price; I don't), I bring my thoughts on Henry VI, Part I to a close. Hope everyone had a great summer! Time to get back to school, work and obsessively checking your humble servant's web log.

La la la la!

(Okay, maybe I could lose a little weight...)

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Hiatus Interruptus

Washington Monument. Courtesy of Rachel at Posted by Hello

My goodness! Where has all the blogging gone? Mea culpa for such a long break in my entries. Events sort of got ahead of me. You see, this is the Spouse and my first summer as homeowners in Washington, DC. I realized DC was a popular summer destination with tourists; I just didn't realize that they'd all be staying at my house. And for some reason which escapes me in hindsight, I felt the need to try and redo our ancient, cabinet-free 1920s kitchen before everybody arrived. Sadly, writing, reading and blogging were forced down my list of priorities. Like somewhere well below lead-paint abatement, somewhat below sleeping and only slightly ahead of grooming (the Spouse says the smell is not too bad if the wind is blowing right).

Lest you think I exaggerate, allow me to enumerate for you my visits to the more popular cultural, historical, and altogether significant venues since I last wrote (or thereabouts) in this here excellent dumb bardblog:

  • World War II Memorial: Five times
  • Lincoln Memorial: Four times
  • Washington Memorial: Zero (they are renovating it so you can't get very close, and getting inside and up it is complicated)
  • Jefferson Memorial: Two times
  • FDR Memorial: Three times
  • Vietnam Memorial: Two times
  • Vietnam Women's Memorial: One time
  • Korean War Memorial: Three times
  • Educational IMAX films: Five times
  • The Smithsonian Natural History Museum: Five times
  • The Smithsonian American History Museum: Three times
  • The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: One time
  • The Smithsonian National Zoo: Three times
  • The National Archives: One time
  • The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Sculpture Gallery: Two times
  • The National Gallery of Art: One time
  • The International Spy Museum: One time
  • The Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Asian Art: Three times
  • The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building: One time
  • The United States Holocaust Museum: One time
  • The Library of Congress (temporary exhibit on Winston Churchill): Two times
  • The Smithsonian American Indian Museum: Not open yet, but I have timed-entry tickets for myself and nine of my closest friends come September...
  • Total - 49!!! (This may possibly be over one visit for everyday so far of summer. I don't feel like doing the math at the moment, but please feel free to calculate on my behalf and let me know.)

Something happens to you when you visit that many memorials, museums and attractions that many times. You begin to see things differently. Things aren't distorted, exactly. More magnified. Or skewed. Or you begin to see things like Rachel, who took the photograph I include at the top of this entry. The above photo is the post-card representation of how I feel now walking amongst the tourist destinations of DC. They are big and grand. And I know their shades and contours by heart without feeling emotionally close to them, somehow.

I have developed my own little tour, replete with witticisms, sly allusions, broad humor and fascinating DC-insider anecdotes. Next year I might publish brochures, and loiter about Reagan National Airport's baggage claim to pick up fresh-looking, befuddled tourist families from the heartland. Probably one of my favorite stops this summer was with 3 of the Spouse's 7 year old cousins and their aunt (aka, my mother-in-law). I took them to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden on the National Mall, and told them to find the sculpture that most reminded them (physically or spiritually) of my mother-in-law. The cousins ran themselves ragged while we sat on a bench in the central courtyard. I'm not sure what Rodin would have to say, but I found the whole thing pretty darned amusing. (see photos in "Is that You, Auntie?" below.) And by the end the kids were so tired they had almost no energy for a good hour and a half afterwards. This is the tour-guide's definition of "respite".

Anyway, I'm back. Refreshed, revitalized, and intimately familiar with the tourist destinations in Washington, DC. With a renewed appreciation for the free-entry to the Smithsonian venues. And ready to kick some Shakespearean butt!!!

I have one more essay to write about King Henry VI, Part I, and then it is on to Part II. Today, I leave for Detroit for visits with the same cousins and many more relatives of the Spouse. So this is not a sure end to the bardblog hiatus; it might just be a brief pause before the DC interruptions are replaced with Michigan ones. But you never know. I'll take the laptop and the Bard-tome with me, and we'll see what happens between all the carousing and cousins. Needless to say, I am scouring the web to find a sculpture garden in metro Detroit. Wish me luck!

Comments-[ comments.]

Is that you, Auntie?

This is Action in Chains: Monument to Louis-Auguste Blanqui, by Aristide Maillol, done in 1905 or so, found in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Gallery on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Thus, since it is Louise-August Blanqui, this is NOT my mother-in-law. But one of The Spouse's 7 year-old cousins thought the hair bore a passing resemblance. (See Hiatus Interruptus, for an explanation of why I asked The Spouse's 7-year old cousins to find a sculpture that looked like their aunt (my mother-in-law).) Posted by Hello This is Nymph done in 1937, and also by Aristide Maillol. Again, this is NOT my mother-in-law. However, The Spouse's young cousins all thought it looked like her, for one reason or another. One said it was like her because the statue evoked peace, and he thinks my mother-in-law is peaceful. Another thought Nymph looked like my mother-in-law because "[My mother-in-law] holds her hands like that sometimes."

Nymph doesn't really remind me of The Spouse's mom, but I am beginning to think she might have been famed sculptor Aristide Maillol in a previous life. Posted by Hello

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, July 09, 2004

The great thing about Henry VI, Part I

Will have to wait!

Okay. I was going to write today about the brilliant thing in Henry VI, Part I. It was going to be incredibly insightful, and everyone who read it would say something along the lines of, "Wow! I never realized that!" I was planning on exploring the grand theme of unity and disunity, and maybe throw is a few mindblowing thoughts about leadership.

However, I am instead going to a viewing (or whatever the hoity-toity call it) at the National Gallery of Art. I've been invited to see a visiting exhibit about the Hudson River School, which is nice, only I plan to sneak out while everyone is studying the vastness of an Albert Bierstat landscape, or whatever, and go in search of my favorite painter, Eugene Delecroix, who is French and never went anywhere near the Hudson or even the United States as far as I know. The Spouse and I are taking this non-credit course at our alma mater called "The Romantic Age in Art, Literature and Music". The Hudson River School is generally considered part of the Romantic movement, if you like to categorize things, but for me this period is all about the Europeans, and Delecroix is my fave. I bet he could have licked all the Hudson River artists with both hands tied behind his back. I am particularly fond of his The Spirit of War and The Spirit of Peace. I know they have War here in DC at the National Gallery, but I think Peace is located elsewhere. Go ahead and insert your own joke.

After the Gallery gala, we're going to see a performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony at Wolftrap, the National Symphony Orchestra's summer home. Of course, Beethoven was a big inspiration to those artist like Chopin who would go on to be labeled "Romantics". So all in all, a very Romantic day, which of course is nothing like a romantic day. A Romantic day involves the tortured, dreamlike introspection of the creative soul. Sturm und Drang and all that. A romantic day involves introspective lazying about with breakfast in bed and soulful, moonlit drives up the coast. (Hello Spouse! Are you reading this?!?) If you don't know anything about the Romantics and are one of the few slubberdegullions left on this planet with an ounce of curiosity in you, here are a few links I dug up in under 50 seconds: An introduction to Romanticism from Brooklyn College is a pretty uninspiring overview, and Art History:Romanticism is so-so. The good old Wikipedia comes through with a pretty good bit on the music, though.

Anyway, if you like Wordsworth or Goethe or Impressionist painters, or Lord Byron, or Rousseau, or Victor Hugo, or Flaubert, or Chopin or Liszt or Bizet or Schumann or crazy kids like that, then you might really dig learning more about the Romantic Movement. If you don't like any of those things even a little bit, you are a Philistine, and should pay more attention to how much cool stuff there is out in the world, and how much of it you are missing while you pick lint from your belly button, waiting around for the day you die.

It is worth mentioning, given the gist of this here blog, that it was the "Romantic" artists who rediscovered Shakespeare. He had quite fallen out of fashion, when folks like Coleridge started championing him. If you hear about a performance of an opera based on a Shakespearean play, chances are a Romantic (or a later composer influenced by the Romantics) wrote it. I could tell you why the Romantic artists thought Shakespeare was positively the caterpillar's boots, but I'm saving that for a time when I can't thing of anything else to say about the Bard.

I could have, of course, written this entry earlier in the week, but I was busy doing things, many of which were only slightly more productive than picking link from my belly button. I visited with my mom who just had Tommy John reconstructive knee surgery. I made her lots of cookies and played with her giant black dog, Monk. Then I planned a week-long vacation for some friends, The Spouse, and me. This was an incredibly complicated procedure, although a pleasant one, due to a variety of competing desires, constraints and interests. That effort, as one of my friends put it, was "more like constructing a Logic Puzzle than an itinerary". Little do they know how much more complicated I plan on making it! My secret plan right now is to strap a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare to everyone's camping packs, and force them to read and analyze plays by the campfire every night. They will, of course, comply, as I intend to keep all the maps to myself. Through hiking is all about who controls the maps and the water, a fact I don't plan to forget... Naturally, only the friends who are loyal readers of this blog will know enough to check their pack for tomes before heading out, and thus receive a special dispensation, as well as 10 pounds less to trudge over hill and under dale.

But no, that little devious plan of mine is not all I accomplished whilst not writing this blog. I mustn't forget my recent epic painting sessions with the furniture we inherited from The Senator For Whom The Spouse Works. ("For whom doth The Spouse work? He works for Thee..." This has been a Public Service Annoucement brought to you by the United States Congress. God Bless.) My quest to make the wooden office furniture look like it was designed to live in a kitchen has only just begun. And I also whiled away the hours sanding the walls of the lead-paint-encrusted kitchen that will eventually receive the painted office furniture. Life is short, and we all need to seize the opportunity to inhale toxic chemicals while we can.

Also, it has been intolerably hot, in my opinion. Many people who, Godforbid, grew up in DC might disagree, because I suspect the heat will be getting Much Worse. However, The Cat confirms my assessment, insofar as he has begun laying NEXT TO his heating pad, instead of DIRECTLY ON it. This is a major concession from The Cat, aka the Perpetual Endothermic Machine. He deigns his heating pad unpleasantly warm, which means my brain is on fire and the only time I can think straight is in a tub full of cool water.

But The Spouse and I did manage to attend our Romantic Age class this week, even if I didn't manage to hammer out a respectable blog entry. One interesting item from our class: our professor is from Lorraine, in France, and she mentioned how silly it is that people come to Lorraine to see the place where Joan of Arc was burned. Why silly, you ask? Because she was never burned at all! She was a relation to the Dauphin, not a shepherd, and she survived the war and married some rich dude. Both Pucelle and hubby died pretty young of disease, with no surviving children, and are buried in the church in the town in which she was supposedly burnt. It seems everybody in the village knows this, but the burnt-up-martyr routine is good for business, so no one bothers fussing over historical accuracy. In the 19th century when the French and the Church* needed a heroine, someone tried to break up her gravestone so no one could read it, but you can still see "Joan 'La Pucelle'" if you look closely or make a careful rubbing. I have not, of course, been able to verify these facts, but can offer that our professor seems a trustworthy sort. If anyone would like to underwrite my trip to Alsace-Lorraine, I'd be happy to personally investigate further.

So Joan of Arc was not a martyr at all. I can almost hear you now: "Wow! I never realized that!"

*Note - The Church didn't canonize Joan for being burnt; It canonized her for coming to French nuns in visions during the 19th and/or 20th centuries and curing them of terrible diseases, like cancer and such, so It doesn't have to worry about the whole myth or martyr issue. The local tourism business however - that's another story.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

How to Avoid Tedium

Eschew Politics, the Affiliated Yahoos, and any associated Html Coding

Most informed people in the United States agree things could be going a whole lot better in Iraq. If you are not one of these people, you may want to lay off the Fox News Kool Aid, 'cause your brain is clearly being washed by Murdoch MindControl Inc.

In the 1400s, Merry Old England had not yet got around to peopling Australia with their criminal and multi-media megalomaniac elements, so there was no Fox News to make people think the Hundred Years' War was going well for Henry VI and company. And just in case folks did see some glimmer of good news in the offing, the trusty Duke of Exeter always seemed to show up just in time to share a gloomy little prophesy, sufficiently dashing hope once again. Some in my hometown of Washington, DC would probably view National Public Radio as the modern Exeter.

Given this train of thought in this intellectual train wreck of a town, it seemed natural to look for some Insightful Parallels between Henry VI, Part One, and The Current War in Iraq. Which just goes to show you that what seems natural isn't always a good idea. Like unprotected teenage sex or American "cheese". The former is natural and very rarely a good idea. The latter seems natural only to those who haven't thought about it, and is only a good idea on Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

It's not that I haven't thought of a few amusing links between the two situations. It is just that I can't write them without being very political. And damnitall! I'm the last remaining non-political blog in DC! It is a point of pride for me, a badge of honor in a city that is generally pretty indifferent to honor, if not badges.

It isn't as if I couldn't be political if I wanted. But, you see, I'm an all-or-nothing sort of person, and if I went political, I'd have to go all the way. I'd have to write about the Politics of Shakespeare, and make sly allusions to Halliburton, Al Sharpton's hair and Senate Pages all the time. The very thought of it makes me incredibly weary, like a too-sleek sophisticate bored with gay Paree. I'd have to cultivate bon mots like Noel Coward and start drinking gin and tonics and champagne cocktails (possibly at the same time). My liver would suffer.

Plus, my personal politics are not particularly mainstream (insofar as they are not captured by the planks of either major party's political platform). This means all my regular readers would be replaced by insane yahoos who agreed or disagreed violently with me. They would leave long, tedious comments replete with spelling errors and naïveté. I probably couldn't tolerate the spelling errors, and would want to correct the more egregious ones. But that in turn would require a radical revamping of the comment system, which would in turn require many, many hours of studying html coding, which would be almost as tedious as the comments themselves.

And forget what they tell you about mean people. Tedium - now that sucks. What's more, I'm pretty sure tediousness is contagious. You can't just be tedious in one aspect of your life and expect it not to spread, weed-like, choking out the interesting bits of your personality. Take Ralph Nader. When he had that Unsafe at Any Speed thing going, he was not a 100% tedious individual. We were interested in him; perhaps even intrigued. But now, just look at him: a self-righteous megalomaniac with all the dynamism of a Soviet bean-counter.*

But enough about our great Green Party-reject presidential self-nominee. As I was saying, tediousness is the great infectious disease of the early twenty-first century. I just can't give in to it. If I do, next thing you know I'll be IRONING (gasp), the world's most tedious household act. I'll start off just pressing shirts, but slowly gravitate to underwear and sheets and The Spouse's prolific collection of hankies. Then it will get worse; my mind will rot and I'll start watching - worse, actually listening to - the talking head windbags on Sunday political gab shows. And my life will be composed purely of the boring and the pointless. The Spouse (who relies on me to keep the household lively) will forget what carefree joy is, and resort to reckless, daredevil driving in our MINI Cooper in an attempt to recapture any sense of exuberance. The Cat will be disappointed, and look at me accusingly from his perch on the heating pad.

Besides, what good can possibly come of pointing out similarities between the 1400s debacle in France and the US's current travails in Iraq? What good for me, that is. I am no Michael Moore; I am not full of that indignant, self-righteous sort of ardor that requires a noisy public outlet. More importantly, my blog entry won't rake in $21 million dollars in its opening weekend. My blog entries don't even get opening weekends. Maybe if I could create some red carpet buzz for each new essay, the Bardblog might become a wee bit more profitable. Frankly, my ping email feature isn't getting it done, from an income-generation point of view. And poverty is almost as tedious as ironing.

Shakespeare seemed to get by pretty well with his kiss-up-to-the-monarch routine. Maybe I should try a spot of mindless Bush Administration sycophancy in my blog, since I can't compete with Moore on self-promoting outrage. Then, if I can just get W's attention, I'll receive used manila envelopes full of unmarked $100 bills, dropped off by mysterious messengers.

Naturally these messengers will arrive in threes, and distract all onlookers from our little exchange with proclamations containing really bad news, thus generating an insightful parallel between Henry VI, Part I and the current war in Iraq without any sort of creative intervention from me. I can almost hear them now: "Vice President Cheney called Senator Leahy a 'Base Walloon' on the floor of the Senate!" "Karl Rove's fiends aren't talking to him any more, and he's afraid the quality of his political advice is starting to suffer." "Dude, were we looking for some guy named Bin Laden? Cause if we're not looking for him anymore, I guess you don't need me coming to tell you we still haven't found him".

Yeah. I could be a sycophant. I hear there's nothing like a little dirty money to take the tedium out of ass-kissing. I could tell you who told me that, but then I would be getting political.

*(Note the subtle political balance I strike in my blog, making fun of a megalomaniac from the right AND the left in the same entry. What objectivity! I bet I could singlehandedly write those 'Point and Counterpoint' opinion pieces. Just like they do it in The Washington Times.)

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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Care to Juggle?

Henry VI, Part I, part four

Living in the swirl of power and incompetence that is Washington, DC gearing up for a Presidential Election, it is understandable that I fixated on the following thought while reviewing the last two acts of King Henry VI, Part I:

We need Better-than-mediocre People doing Important Jobs.
(And it would be great if we had NO Worse-than-corrupt-and-incompetent Buffoons doing Anything. But let's not get carried away, dreaming big dreams.)

Why doesn't this happen more often? My days as a Management Consultant taught me few things, but one was this: Need Exceptional People? Give them perks, pay, and prestige. In a word: incentives. Now, even having brought you through only the first three acts of Henry VI, part I, it should be clear that 1400s England may not have had the Greatest of the Great staffing the national interest's most important executive functions. Bickering, scheming and manipulation abound, as you might have noticed. For every great badass knight/general and well-intended counselor, there are many self-serving fools, cowards and, yes, evil-doers. Not to mention the king himself, who is only a lad and can't really be expected to preside with much wisdom, given he's still working on mastering his multiplication tables.

HOWEVER, this is not to say some mighty fine incentives didn't exist to attract people to public service. English politicians enjoyed SOME great perks back in The Day; and I believe if these perks still existed, it would create a much larger incentive to dedicate one's life to public service and the great weal. One of these perks is enjoyed in Act IV, scene i of King Henry VI, Part I. During a pow-wow with the King in Paris right after the incredibly anti-climactic coronation, Sir John Fastolfe arrives to inform everyone of Burgundy's defection. Naturally everybody is chagrined. However, Lord Talbot, who has been twice abandoned in battle by the cowardly Fastolfe, is not distracted enough to forget about revenge. And so, begging the indulgence of the court, Talbot reaches over and plucks Sir John's garter from his leg. De-knighting him. Given the code of chivalry, I suppose this is a sort of a paradoxical cross between castration and de-flowering. Fastolfe is then exiled by the king and retires the only way he knows how - in shame.

Now that's a great perk. If I could have done the modern equivalent of plucking a lousy knight's garter off every time a boss, co-worker, or client proved their dishonorableness, unworthiness or just assholic-ness, my career would have gained a whole new level of satisfaction. I would have slept much sounder at night. Obviously, practical challenges existed. For example, people don't really wear garters any more. At least, none that co-workers know about in an ideal skank-free world. But I'm sure we could come up with something. Cutting a male's tie off, for example. This doesn't address the women or business casual wearers, but it's a start. Smashing their Palm Pilots to a million bits with a tiny hammer is another option. And as long as things ended in exile (at my old company, this would have meant being sent to the Providence, RI office), you could consider me incentivized. (Ugh. I just wrote 'incentivized' - We had to make up and use lots of stupid works like that as management consultants.) But the garter thing - there's a real opportunity for pure, visceral satisfaction that Human Resources departments should look into. The ultimate non-financial reward for much-tried employees.

Sadly, I never got to pluck garter, cut tie, or smash PDA while suffering in Corporate America. Ah well. What's past is past. No need for the hair of the dog that bit me when the hangover has already gone away. I'm much happier now making nothing and doing something I love instead of making the vaunted six-figure salary everybody gets so worked up about and doing something that constantly made me want to take a shower. Worrying about the mortgage is a small price to pay, especially when that price compounds at record-low interest rates.

After the inspirational garter-plucking incident, scene i of Act IV wraps up with Henry sending Talbot to win back Burgundy or punish him appropriately. Then a Toady of York and a Toady of Somerset ask Henry for permission to beat each other to a pulp (re: plot #4, The War of the Roses). Henry rattles off another "why can't we all just get along" speech, forbidding them to fight. The king says it makes no difference which rose anyone wears, they should love both aristocrats equally. As a demonstration, Henry picks a red rose and puts it on, while expressing devotion to both Somerset and York. This upsets York, the White Rose guy, a bit. Finally, Great-Uncle Exeter dooms, glooms and prophesizes us out of the scene.

In scene ii, we have Talbot at Bordeaux, demanding the French open the city gates. Unsurprisingly, they opt to keep the gates shut. In fact, the French general goes so far as to call Talbot "a fearful owl of death," which, to my mind, is a pretty lame insult. It is, for example, preferable to being called "a tedious duck of futility," or "a noxious sparrow of venereal disease," in my opinion. Guess that's the twenty-first century for you. Owls of death just don't hold much potency anymore.

The general makes up for his less-than-Shakespeare-worthy insult by letting Talbot know he is surrounded in one big way. The Dauphin is moving in behind him with all the rest of the French troops. Talbot realizes he is very, very, VERY outnumbered. He manages to give a brief, blustering speech of the inspirational variety. However he is clearly inspiring his troops to die with him, not to eek out an improbable victory with him. Uh-oh.

In scene iii, we find York in charge of forces in Gascony. There he learns of Talbot's troubles through his scouts. However he can't rush to Talbot's rescue because that red-rose-wearing weasel, Somerset, hasn't delivered York's requisite horsemen yet.

York and we also learn, (tug at the old heart strings) that Talbot's young son John is arriving at Talbot's army shortly, marching straight into the slaughter. The father and son haven't seen each other in 7 years. To his credit (I suppose} York is very upset about all this, and curses Somerset thoroughly. To the modern audience who has seen one-too-many cheesy formulaic action movie, all this is the clear signal that the English are going to lose the battle at Bordeaux, and both Talbot and son and going to take a dirt nap.

Therefore, most of scene iv is not particularly necessary these days, except to confirm what a dickweed Somerset is. (I know that phrase is crude, but this weasel definitely earns it.) Talbot has sent a man, Sir William Lucy, to seek aid from Somerset's forces in another part of Gascony. Somerset tells Talbot's man that he can't send anything. He mentions that the Talbot/York plan was "too rashly plotted," and there is no point in sending his troops. Lucy mentions that Talbot REALLY needs Somerset to dispatch his horsemen. Somerset says he'll get around to it in six hours, and vaguely calls York a liar. Lucy suggests that horses arriving in six hours will be too late. Their final exchange is a good summing up of Talbot and Somerset's characters:

Lucy: Too late comes rescue; he is ta'en or slain:
For fly he could not, if he would have fled;
And fly would Talbot never, though he might.
Somerset: If he be dead, brave Talbot, then, adieu!
Lucy: His fame lives in the world, his shame in you.
Me: Take that rhyme, you callous cad!
Scene v and vi concern the touching reunion and mutual slaughter of Talbot and his son, young John Talbot. John arrives just in time for the massacre. Before the fight begins, Old and Young Talbot have an Honor Duel, where they try to out Chivalrous each other. Talbot tells him to escape, so that the name of Talbot might be revived. Only son, I take it. (Cue violins.) John replies that leaving would dishonor same name ("The world will say, he is not Talbot's blood/That basely fled when noble Talbot stood"). They argue about it a while, all in rhyme, which to me dilutes some of the drama and tragedy of the thing. Finally, John sways Talbot. Talbot observes:
Then here I take my leave of thee, fair son,
Born to eclipse thy life this afternoon.
Come, side by side together live and die;
And soul with soul from France to heaven fly.
Again, I'm touched, but the rhyming (which I realize was a required part of plays of the day) ruins the sentiment to these twenty-first century ears.

The rhyming continues in scene vi, as Talbot save John's life in battle. John rhymes in gratitude. Talbot tries to get John to leave again. No dice. They decide to fight side by side, and... die in pride. (I hope this whole rhyming thing isn't contagious. The Spouse might find it quite outrageous.)

In scene vii, Talbot, wounded, reflects on how proud he is of his son. Naturally, his son is killed immediately. Talbot says nice words, and dies too. And a Talbot lived to rhyme a rhyme no more. This is ill shit indeed, when your country's only badass knight/general dies rhyming, and the Dukes are too busy sniveling at each other to send reinforcements.

And so the French win the battle, and tumble upon the bodies of the Talbot clan. Bastard wants to hack them up, but the Dauphin prevents him. Maybe that's why they call him Bastard.

Talbot's aide Lucy arrive to collect bodies and prisoners from the French. Worried as to the fate of his boss, he talks for a really long time about Talbot's names and accolades. La Pucelle is a bit less than lady-like about the whole thing, I'm afraid. This is how she interrupts Lucy to tell him that Talbot is dead:
The Turk, that two-and-fifty kingdoms hath,
Writes not so tedious a style as this. -
Him that thou magnifies with all these titles,
Stinking and fly-blown, lies here at our feet.
Classy. Very classy.

Thus ends Act IV.

Act V is the final act. Hooray! But since it is only the first of three plays in a cycle, Will feels at liberty to throw in a few more plots and whatnot at the end. Scene i finds us back in London, where Gloster tells Henry of a proposal from the French Earl of Armagnac. The Earl, who is a close relation of Charles, offers his daughter in matrimony to Henry, with a large dowry. Henry thinks he is too young to marry, and would rather study, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. He agrees to close his eyes and think of England.

Uncle Winchester appears, promoted to Cardinal, to make sure his plot (#2, Gloster versus Winchester) gets its fair share of stage time this act. Exeter serves his usual dismal function, telling the audience of Henry V's prophesy, "If once he comes to be a cardinal/ He'll make his cap co-equal with the crown".

Henry sends Winchester to France, with a peace treaty for Charles and a big honkin' jewel for the future Mrs. VI. After the king and Gloster leave, Winchester has another evil aside with the audience. He tells the Ambassador to wait a moment while he gets the gold he promised the Pope for making him a Cardinal. Then he says,
Now Winchester will not submit, I trow,
Or be inferior to the proudest peer.
Humphrey of Gloster, thou shalt well perceive
That neither in birth or from authority
The bishop will be overborne by thee:
I'll either make thee stoop and bend thy knee,
Or sack this country with a mutiny.
Man. Another downer. With all these horrendous oracles and divisive backstabs cropping up, it's a miracle England managed to survive this period at all. You practically expect it to sink into the sea, drowned under the weight of the tons of bad karma.

Meanwhile, on another good note for the British, in scene ii Paris is revolting, and calling for the Dauphin. However, the divided English army is now united too late to save the family Talbot, but coming to battle Charles' forces.

Joan of Arc appears in scene iii and calls forth her fiends from hell to give her signs about the future. They show up and are silent. She offers blood sacrifices, her body and soul, but still they seem uninterested in helping her anymore. Joan assumes this is bad news for France, not just her:
See! They forsake me. Now the time is come
That France must vail her lofty-plumed crest
And let her head fall into England's lap.
My ancient incantations are too weak,
And hell too strong for me to buckle with:
Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust.
This seems like a rather egotistical interpretation. But then again, Will isn't writing this thing to sell "I LUV LA PUCELLE" T-shirts.

York captures Joan in the battle and the French run away as quickly as possible. She curses him and everybody else, including Charles. Frankly, she seems quite pissed about being captured, and not in the least saint, virgin or maid-like.

Just as we are settling in to resolve at least a few of the plots (the peace treaty has been sent to Charles, Joan and Talbot's sparring is at an end), Suffolk, an Earl who has existed to this point for no particular reason whatsoever, (banal rhyming back-chat and the like), enters, leading a hostage, one Lady Margaret, daughter of Reignier (the King of Naples and member of Charles's entourage). During some clever repartee, Suffolk falls madly in love with Margaret, remembering too late that he is already married. Troubled by this inconvenience, he decides to win her for Henry instead, whom he assumes, being a young 'un, can be easily manipulated. The only problem is that Reignier is poor, so kiss the big dowry to replenish the old English war chest good-bye. Suffolk is nice enough to check how Margaret feels about the whole arrangement. Happily for him and Plot # 5, Suffolk and Margaret, Margaret is cool with the deal, as long as Daddy is, too. So off to see Daddy!

The apple-of-Suffolk's eye doesn't fall far from l'arbre. Daddy is cool with it, too, although he is acting under the impression that Henry already a) knows about and b)desires his precious pumpkin (pardon the mixed fruit salad of a metaphor). Margaret seems to be of the puritanical school; when asked by Suffolk if she has a token to send to his majesty, she offers "a pure unspotted heart, never yet taint with love". Oh - I hope it doesn't clash with the royal robes.

Then Suffolk sneaks a kiss from her. Margaret responds: "That for thyself - I will not so presume to send such peevish tokens to a king."

Ahh, flirtations. This bodes well for the royal-couple-to-be. But don't worry. I'm sure the young kids are gonna be just fine, with a long happy marriage in front of them. What else could the next two plays possibly be about?

Scene iv is a more good clean fun, if you don't mind a little witch burning. York and co. are in Anjou, proceeding with the Joan condemnation. A shepherd appears, claiming Joan is his daughter and swearing he'll die with her; he's been looking for her for a while, and is beside himself to find her like this.

Could Shakespeare be stirring pangs of sympathy for Joan in his audience at last? Nah - Joan denies the shepherd is her father, claiming she came from noble parentage, and calls her dad a peasant. Dad offers her a blessing before her death, but she won't kneel down to receive it. Dad is incredibly ticked off, and suggests that they burn her, as hanging is too good. Exit Shepherd, and the last shred of hope for some love for Joan.

York is eager to get on with the witch burning. The English are about to light Joan's fire, but first,...
1) Joan insists she's been guided by Christ, not the devil, and as an immaculate virgin warns she'll "cry for vengeance at the gates of heaven"
Warwick: Well, since she's a maid, add more faggots to the fire to shorten the torture.

2)Has Joan mentioned she's pregnant? They wouldn't kill an innocent child-to-be, now would they?
York: "She and the Dauphin have been juggling...."
(I include this line verbatim only because it is my new favorite euphemism for sexual intercourse, and I wanted to share it with everyone.)
Warwick: We don't need any bastards, anyway, especially the Dauphin's. Burn her!

3) No, no. Not by Charles, but by Alencon!
York: "That notorious machiavel!" (Aka: no dice. Burn her.)

4) Did Joan say Alencon? She meant Reignier, King of Naples.
Warwick/York: A married man! You should be ashamed of yourself. This lady sure sleeps around, especially for a virgin. Strumpet, with or without child, to the fires with you.

5)Fine. But Joan is SO cursing ALL of you!

Well then, I guess you know what happens next.

Do I even need to tell you?

That's right.

French Toast.

(Sorry; that line is for The Spouse; The Spouse loves puns).

After the Feu d'Arc, the un-burnt French contingent arrives at York's camp to listen to the peace deal Henry has sent through Winchester. The offer is that the English will stop fighting if Charles swears to submit to him and pay tribute. Then Henry will make Charles a viceroy under the English crown, to enjoy 'regal dignity'.

Since the French control half of France, this is insulting, and Charles says so. Reignier (aka, Margaret's dad) tells him the opportunity for peace may not come again soon, and Alencon points out the deal will at least save the French subjects from being pillaged, massacred and the like, until it is convenient to attack Henry again. Thus fortified, Charles agrees to the deal.

Wrapping it all up in London in scene v, Suffolk has successfully hissed into the young ear of the king, and convinced him that Margaret is The One. Gloster is not happy, since word has already been sent that Henry accepted a previous offer. Gloster and Suffolk argue. Henry says to fetch Margaret and stop the quibbling. Everybody leaves the stage in a huff but Suffolk, who gets the last word:
Thus Suffolk hath prevail'd; and thus he goes;
...[to get Margaret]...
Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the king;
But I will rule both her, the king, and realm.
And it's Suffolk out of nowhere, from way back in the pack! He moves ahead of Somerset, passing the ashes of La Pucelle on the rails! He's neck and neck with Uncle Winchester down the stretch! Oh! And Suffolk is pulling away! It's Suffolk by a nose at the finish line! Suffolk wins, and it looks like we have a new bad guy to crown in this play!!!

And so ends King Henry VI, Part I. Nothing is resolved, and it all looks to be a doomed, miserable ride to the finish of Part III, with no joy, much evil and few surprises.

Living in the swirl of power and incompetence that is Washington, DC gearing up for a Presidential Election, it is understandable that I fixated on the following thought while reviewing the last two acts of King Henry VI, Part I: Competent villains are never in short supply.

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