Shakespeare and Bush

For the eye sees not itself but by reflections , by some other things.                Julius Caesar Act 1 sc. 2

It amazes me, again, how the many different strands of my life at the moment right now manage to intertwine themselves.

Last Thursday we had British history day. Our 16 and 17 year old students speak in groups of 4 on one subject, 3 minutes each. We had the Norman conquest, The Tudors, Henry the eighth, Queen Victoria pass by in 12 minute slots.  Somehow the night before that I had been watching a very old BBC documentary on Henry the eighth. Before that we were talking about Richard the second in class. It is a bit like when you are pregnant and you suddenly see push prams everywhere. I now seem to be pregnant with parts of England, the language more specifically and finally it is a Shakespeare that I will have to deliver in the form of an essay.

During my MA course on affect we were discussing the speech Bush made when standing on the rubble that was left of the towers on 9/11. To me this has always seemed a rather badly improvised excuse of a speech. Apparently there is more to it than meets the eye. The way I perceived it, or more accurately did not receive it, may have a lot to do with the fact that I am not an American. Looking at and listening to this with a Dutch expectational horizon had led me to expect something far more elevated. I am not asking for much, if everything is flat already it is quite easy to rise to some height. Bush apparently seems to have the right American pitch going: from compassion – ‘we will pray for you who mourn’-  to foreign politics -‘the rest of the world hears you’-  to revenge -‘and the people who did this will hear from us very soon’- within a few sentences. Ending with: “the nation sends its love” If the nation sends its love who are the people standing there on ground zero? He then thanks everyone for their hard work not dissimilar from the way you would after a fundraiser or so. I do not really get this but the crowd there did and they cheered if  they were at a football stadium. He said what the American people apparently needed to hear and who am I to blame him for that.

A day later I am studying Brutus’ and Anthony’s speeches in Julius Caesar.

Ah: “if you have tears prepare to shed them now.”

Somehow I relate far more to Shakespeare than to Bush. I like the bards way of words better.  The drama of it, by the bucketload.

I eat these words, I chew on them, I savor them and, I come back to them and after having already chewed on them once before they still have kept taste and I hunger for more.

Sorry George, you go get’em but this  is just a level  you cannot reach.

I know, I know, it is not a fair comparison and Bush letting slip the dogs of war and crying havoc would be ludicrous and ridiculous but how I love it when Anthony does.

Even though the comparison between a ‘real’ event and a literary text is unequal there are similarities and in actual fact Bush did unleash the machinations of war. He did not cry but certainly created havoc in several parts of the world. And as for ambitions if Brutus was or was not ambitious Bush certainly was. If Brutus was ambiguous in his ambitions to do the wrong thing for the greater good.  Bush was not ambiguous in his ambitious for the benefit of one nation, one oil driven economy, one president.  They both plead the moral high-ground. The moral high-gound of ground zero and the most unkindest cut of all.

“Oh what a fall was there, my countymen!

Then I and you and all of us fell down, Whilst bloody treason swept over us.”

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How the mighty have fallen

And justly so.

At the kitchen table this morning I was reading Julius Caesar. On that same table, also, the newspaper with the bloodied head of a fallen dictator in the hands of his captors.

Shakespeare: “As by our hands and this our present act,

Though now we must appear bloody and cruel,

You see we do, yet see you but our hands

And this the bleeding business they have done”

Who says literature has nothing to do with our daily lives!


Although Ceasar, the one that William writes about, is far more a creature of legend than the fallen dictator in today’s newspaper.

Gaddafi who finally met his well deserved and, deservedly ignoble, end is far more a creature of evil it seems to me. Through his deeds, definitely. Even more so through the story of someone I once met. She had met Gaddafi face to face and said to me that she had found herself to be in the presence of evil. It is always the personal far more than the general that appeals to us. Whenever I now hear of this general it is this personal story that comes to my mind.

This evening I was reading Homer. Truly as I am writing this I had not realized how privileged and extraordinary my day has been. I was just struggling along trying to keep up with reading for my studies grumbling silently on how this bogs me down without realizing that in fact I am lifted up.

Anyway, I was reading Homer as well as Shakespeare today.

Achiles drags the dead body of Hector round the walls of Troy

Three times,

To me it bring to mind the pictures ( just as gruesome as those of Gaddafi today) of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of some country. The spoils of war.

Homer: “The body soil’s with dust, and black with gore”

“Then his fell soul a thought of vengeance bred; Unworthy of himself, and of the dead”

The language of affect. You could make a newspaper with current pictures and the bylines and captions could be taken from literary texts.

Unworthy pictures but somehow necessary, they seem to redress some kind of balance.

I first thought to add a picture of dead Gaddaffi’s head. I even downloaded it. Weirdly enough it had the date of my own birthday on the file which was  dated 2009 ??   I decided against it I don’t want images like that on my computer. The images affect me too much, they become images of affect used for effect.

Homer :

“princes and leader! countymen and friends! the powerful will of heaven

and Shakespeare

Brutus: “Friends Romans, countrymen”


All this in one

ordinary day!

How the mighty still fall

As they should.

“Though now we must appear bloody and cruel”.

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How the language of affect effects me

I take two master classes in Leiden this year. These classes are strangely related, even though their subjects differ wildly and widely, they approach it from opposite ends. How do words affect us and, how are our affections, our emotions or feelings, affected by
the language we use.  We talk about the creation of fire new words in the Shakespeare’s language class. In: MA Anger and Pity, Laughter and Lust: The Language of Affect we talk about defining feelings, emotions. What is Affect and why Affect.

What dictionary defines my feelings, and how does a dictionary define feeling ?

Dictionaries do not even agree about the definition of emotion and feeling. How can I define what I feel?

Maybe I should set up a content management system to mange the content of my feelings, set up a grid to categorize. Start a componential analysis to find the distinctive features of my emotions?

What distinguishes my feelings from yours, what my laughter from your tears?

What category holds my fears?

What definition fulfills my love for you?


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The effect of Shakespeare on the language of Affect

Today I was reading about Shakespeare and rhetoric in: Shakespeare and the Arts of language by Russ mc Donald.

According to Mc Donald  Shakespeare is an ideal student of Renaissance rhetoric. Because, just like Erasmus Shakespeare goes beyond rhetoric as a systems of figures and tropes. He not only knows how to use system, but puts the system to work for him.

Mr McDonald brings in the “Aristotelian argument” in which, he says, “Eloquent speech  leads to the discovery of truth”.  Mc Donald then talks about how Cicero “refines this view” by saying that “the instruments of rhetoric prompt us to recognize the complexity of identifying the nature of truth”.  In a funny way this ties in again with the MA course on the language of Affect in which we studied the complexity of identifying and defining the nature of emotions in words such as laughter, anger, pity and lust.  It seems to me that the very recognition of the complexity of identifying  a word or concept such as truth is in itself part of the defining properties of that word.

In  Language and Sexuality by Cameron and Kulick say at one point that “The ‘reality’ of sex does not pre-exist the language in which it is expressed; rather, language produces the categories through which we organize our sexual desires, identities and practices.

This is rather a bold statement with some biblical overtones (“in the beginning was the word”). It is also a statement that testifies to the creative power of words: If I say chair to you, we will both have created one in that very instant. I don’t suppose Cameron and Kulic mean to say that there was no sex before anyone ever talked about it. Rather, the way we do talk about it produces the boxes that we then use to fit the concept into.

Just as tragedy is a representation of an action (Aristotle), so language can be used to represent and produce the categories we need to define what it is that we feel. In this case sex is the action. Words are the representation of that action, and in this equation language is the tragedy, which it often is of course.

That would mean: tragedy = action and words = sex

Back to Mc Donald, who tells us that English school students were taught:

disputatio in utraque partem

“an  exercise by Cicero to both deny and promote a political of philosophical position. This illustrates how the study of expression exposes the framework of any kind of thought. The ultimate effect of rhetorical training must have been not only verbal but also philosophical”.

There we are again. My two MA courses do talk about the same thing. This is why we are reading Plato and Aristotle for Tony Foster and these help us define the nature of the language of affect. This is also why mr Mc Donald says that this perspective, the verbal and the philosophical, “is a defining nature of Shakespearian drama.”

“The dramatist encourages in his audiences a receptiveness to multiple points of view, a refusal of absolutes, an awareness of the competing claims of incompatible interpretations. ”  This is Mc Donald talking about Shakespeare but if we exchange “the dramatist” for The language of affect what happens?

We could use it as a label on one of our boxes of categories that we use to define Affect.

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poetry that shakes you and takes you by the hand

Literature 6A

Tuesday evening group

“Only in light of what has been gone through.

Seventh heaven may be

The whole truth of a sixth sense come to pass”.

(from Seeing things by Seamus Heaney )

Or when a poem takes you by the throat gently suffocating and only at the last line lets you off.  You gasp and feel quietly redeemed.

Read “the crossing” last poem in aforementioned seeing things.

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Seeing things

Sometimes, I live in words.

Sometimes these words come alive and join me living my life.

“Seeing things” the book I have to read and

do want to read is lost,

not in translation but I have lost it,completely, I cannot find it anywhere.

Sometimes I need words to become lost in, in order to lose myself for a while.

I need to be lost in words written by others because that is where I stumble across myself.

If I say chair to you, you immediately have a chair. This can no longer be undone. What is more it is your own chair that I have given to you. The “chair” I say to you changes in the moment of saying. The word chair changes in the moment of transition from my chair into your chair. The magic words can do. My chair can be a comfortable wicker chair, yours may be an upright kitchen chair or the one your grandfather sat in with you on his lap.

If I say chair to a room full of people a roomful of different chairs will have been created in the time it takes to say one word.

The word was with God and the word has become God.

last week we read Omeros, I saw many things, read many words. Most importantly, some of these words knocked on my door and entered.

“. . . but some sorrows are like stones, and they never melt, though our tears rain and groove them”

” measure the days you have left. Do just that labour which marries your heart to your right hand”

“When he left the beach the sea was still going on”

“Like Philoclete’s wound this language carries its cure”

The poet who says :”In all my work there is not one metaphor, and if it is there, it is there by mistake”.  In Omeros he describes the pitfall of poets, that pitfall of poets.

Let not words seem like they are let them be.

Looking up, right here right now,I see  my book with its title calling out to me, under the cushion of a chair.

Truly it is all a question or perspective

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Bede sees a swallow

Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica


A funeral, an old man, a long life, gone, over.

Time to let go the pastor said.  How, how can you let go a lifetime together.  The old woman weeps for the loss of her loved one, bringing tears to my eyes. I see her son in law, his skin grey with the disease that has taken hold of his life and left him little time. No one knows how long. We all know, not long.


I try to translate Bede,  comparing a men’s life to the flight of a swallow.

It reads freely translated:

Such things are  considered by me that time is like you king and your noblemen sitting in your hall with a fire kindled in the grate and it is rains and snows and storms outside, in flies a swallow, in one door and out another

In the brief time that it is inside, not more then in the blink of an eye that swallow flies from one winter to the next. What came before and what follows is not for us to know.

This is what I can teach with certainty that in this present life their time is as unknown to men on earth as that brief interval of the swallows flight through the king’s hall.

Bede, so long ago saw the brevity of life.

I see the time it takes in the ones that we love.

Taking loved ones. Leaving far too much time without them.

Was their time no more than the blink of an eye

and what do we do in the time left when eyes are still open and they haven not been blinked out yet.

“Þyslië mē is āesewen, þū cyning, þis andwearde līf manna on eorðan tō wiðmetenesse þǃre tīde, þe ūs uncūð is, swylë swā þū æt swǃsendum sitte mid þīnum ealdormannum & þeānum on wintertīde, & sīe fȳronǃlæd & þīn heall gewyrmed, & hit rīne & snīwe & styrme ūte; cume ān 5 spearwa & hrædlīëe þæt hūs þurhflēo, cume þurh ōþre duru in þurh ōþreūt āewīte. Hwæt, hē on þā tīd, þe hē inne bið, ne bið hrinen mid þȳ storme þæs wintres; ac þæt bið ān ēagan-bryhtm & þæt lǃsste fæc, ac hē sōna of

wintra on þone winter eft cymeð. Swā þonne þis monna līf tō medmiclum

10 fæce ætȳweð; hwæt þǃr foregange, oððe hwæt þǃr æfterfyliāe, wē ne cunnun. Forðon āif þēos lār ōwiht cūðlicre & āerisenlicre brenge, þæs

weorþe is þæt wē þǃre fylāen.”

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