:: Wednesday, December 04, 2013 ::
Posted by Edward Cline at 3:46 PM
Browsing through a second-hand book shop recently, I chanced upon
a New Penguin paperback edition of William Shakespeare's Othello, edited by Kenneth
Muir, a Shakespearean scholar. I have the Oxford Complete Works and have read the play a few times. What
intrigued me about the New Penguin edition, however, were a student's notes
inked throughout it with often indecipherable and frequently puerile, labored
penmanship (meaning in mixed block letters and cursive, a sure sign that the
student "texts" more than he writes). But enough of it was legible
that I could take the measure of the student's mind and what he was taught to
focus on in the play. The most significant comment was scrawled on the title
"othello & desdemonda oposits because not know his own
"His own culture"? That remark moved me to investigate what
the student might have thought of the characters of Othello the Moor and
Desdemona. Scholars have not agreed on the ethnic character of Othello. Various
of other editions of the play feature coal-black, Numidian faces in North
African dress, or brown Arabic or Egyptian faces, and even bearded white faces
in European dress. Othello, a professional soldier, whatever his race, has been
retained by the Venetians to fight the invading Turks. For centuries, Europeans
referred to anyone coming from any part of the Middle East and Northern Africa
as a "Moor," regardless of the race. In stage and film productions of Othello,
the title character has been played with varying success by white and black
In most of the other covers of Othello,
Desdemona, Othello's wife, is usually depicted as a fragile-looking blonde
woman, the daughter of a Venetian senator. When I was able to decipher the
student's marginal comments, I concluded that he had been told by his
instructor in class to read and think of the play in terms of race determining
one's culture, and not in terms of its principal theme, which is the
destructive forces of jealousy and the evil of Iago, who hates Othello and plots
to destroy the happy relationship between Othello and Desdemona.
The deterministic premise, that culture is a kind of genetic
phenomenon that governs the contents of one's mind and one's values, is a
Marxist product of the Critical Theory School of examining or
"reading" literature, and has become a staple of political
correctness. Formerly, the "reading" was an effort to identify and
elucidate innate, ideological "class" distinctions. In this instance,
it is a matter of identifying and elucidating innate, ideological
"racial" differences, with race creating irreconcilable conflicts
between whites and blacks, with the bias in favor of "black" culture
as a "victim" of white cultural "imperialism."
However, there is nothing "Islamic" or
"Muslim" about Othello. In fact, the villain, Iago, an officer in
Othello's army, is not motivated by racial bigotry, either, but by a burning
hatred of the good for being the good. But students are taught to search for
and find such "subtexts" and "signifiers" in their Marxist
This kind of nonsense has been taught in public high school and
university literature courses for decades. Critical Theory studies have also
now shifted to examining the conflicts between Western and Islamic culture, and
have invaded middle schools, as well. Numerous are the stories of how children,
teens, and college students are being brainwashed in British, European and
American schools to "depreciate" Western culture as an arbitrary
imposition and as the "oppressor" of Islamic and other primitive
Interestingly, the student made no marginal comments on the second
half of Othello, when Iago's
insidious plot begins to advance rapidly to its tragic ending. This is in Act
III, Scene 4, when Desdemona cannot find the handkerchief Othello gave her and
Othello begins to suspect that something is amiss. Just before that Act, the
student made a brief comment that while Desdemona was in her social milieu and
had lots of "contacts," Othello was outside his "natural"
Moorish milieu and had no social contacts.
Thus, according to a Critical Theory analysis, a method obviously
imbibed uncritically by the hapless student, Othello was "victimized"
by "white" culture and can't be held responsible for smothering
Desdemona to death in a state of angry jealousy, as Iago had plotted to happen
by appropriating the handkerchief and planting it on Desdemona's alleged lover.
This is what Othello's "natural" culture demanded of him, so his
action is beyond judgment.
It is likely the earliest and most notorious dramatic presentation
of an Islamic "honor killing" – that is, if Shakespeare even had any
knowledge of that aspect of Islamic "culture," which is highly
Shakespeare would probably worry his goatee in confusion if he
ever read a feminist interpretation of Othello
(or of any of his other plays). Such as this
one, penned by an anonymous "teacher," to wit:
Iago’s desire for revenge on Othello is, in part, dictated by his
view of women as possessions. He believes that ‘it is thought abroad that
‘twixt my sheets/He’s done my office’ (I.3.381-2), suggesting that Othello has
slept with his wife Emilia. It could be argued, however, that Iago exhibits
little love for his wife, insulting her in public and ultimately killing her
himself. It is simply the thought that ‘the lusty Moor/hath leaped into my
seat’ (II.1.286-7) which drives him mad, the thought that Othello has used a
possession that belongs to him. Compounding this theory is the fact that Iago
refers to his wife metaphorically in these two instances: she is his ‘office’
and his ‘seat’; she is objectified and deprived of her humanity.
How is Desdemona’s relationship with her father explored with in
the opening Act?
To what extent are the female characters stereotyped: Desdemona the idealised
wife, Emilia the nagging wife and Bianca the doting mistress?
Why does the text focus on such powerless stereotypes?
How is female sexuality explored in the play?
What sexual identities are offered to the female characters?
What sexual freedom is given to the male characters?
What social structures are presented to maintain patriarchal
What happens to women when they cross or are suspected of crossing societal
expectations of submission and faithfulness?
To what extent must Desdemona and Emelia both die in order for
patriarchal control to be restored?
So, Othello, when did you stop beating your wife? A sharp
courtroom prosecutor might have asked that leading question of him. But I don’t
think Shakespeare had the restoration of "patriarchal control" in
mind as he composed the plot of Othello.
When Critical Theory English and literature teachers ask their students to
plunge their mental shovels into Shakespeare in search of buried gender, class,
or racial treasure, all the students can wind up doing is waving their spades in
empty air over an abyss as deep as the Grand Canyon. That's when they'll make
something up or just parrot the teachers' political agenda.
Shakespeare is not for "exploring" relationships or
sexuality or driving a Critical Theory bulldozer to demolish his "social
In my lifetime, I've seen Shakespeare done in a multitude of
interpretations and styles:
or late 20th
century modern dress, in 1930's Art Deco complete with airplanes
and jeeps, and in expected Shakespearean and Elizabethan settings. In a College of William & Mary production
of Othello (directed by a feminist),
which was set in South Africa, the principal military characters were garbed in
jungle camouflage and carried guns, while the whole cast spoke their lines into
cell phones, with Desdemona, Emelia, and Bianca appearing in miniskirts and
pantsuits. (I walked out after the first act, as did half the audience, so I
don’t know if Desdemona appeared in the final act in a Victoria's Secret swim
suit, but I wouldn't be surprised if she had.)
Who can forget West Side Story, loosely
based on Romeo and Juliet, which
pitted two street gangs against each other? An Australian production of MacBeth features warring street
gangs in Melbourne.
The problem with Shakespeare is that his plots and themes, while
oft times deterministic in and of themselves and needing no extraneous
political or modern interpretative overlays, were more or less original or were
timeless adaptations of plays that antedated Shakespeare. (Kenneth Muir, in his
Introduction to the student's edition of Othello,
reveals that Shakespeare found the basic plot in an anthology of plays by
Giraldi Cinthio, from 1565, when Shakespeare was one year old.)
Actually, it's not Shakespeare's problem. The problem lies in our
culture's esthetic and moral bankruptcy. Political correctness and Critical
Theory suffocate any attempt to either discuss Shakespeare in objective terms, especially
in academia, or they discourage writers from trying to best the Bard at his own
magnificent and prolific game.
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:: Friday, November 29, 2013 ::
Charting Our Destinies: From FDR to Obama
Posted by Edward Cline at 9:59 AM
to Like About JFK?" I cited humorist Art Buchwald's maudlin poem about
the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22nd,
1963, as an example of how captivated Americans were by JFK. Two lines from the
second stanza stuck in my mind:
We weep for our children and their children and everyone's
For he was charting their destinies as he was charting ours.
And so were Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan, George Bushes I and II, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Did any American ask them to? No. Like John F. Kennedy, they, too,
just assumed it was the proper function of government to establish national
"goals" and the natural role of the office of president to "lead"
us to them. To chart our destinies.
But, where to? What were those goals? What precisely was the
nature of the destination?
The problem I've had with virtually every presidential address
I've ever heard or read and that was made in the 20th and 21st
centuries, aside from their content, is that they've been fundamentally
authoritarian in nature. "I'm here to lead, and this is where we are
going, or ought to go. No kicking and screaming, please, there's a good fellow."
The presumptive role of presidential "leadership" has always been
abrasive to my sense of having a choice in my own destiny, and not that of
anyone else's, and especially not the plans of a "leader." I don’t
want someone, and especially not the government, "charting" my
Few questioned the propriety of a president setting himself up as
a kind of executive Scout Master prepared to lead his Cubs on a non-stop
crusade to "do good." Too many Americans were susceptible to JFK's
emotion-appealing rhetoric and felt a zing in their hearts when he turned on the
charm, donned the mantel of "leadership," and began pointing in a
multitude of directions.
On March 9, 2007, the late Ted Sorensen, JFK's principal
speechwriter, special counsel and adviser, endorsed Obama for president in 2007,
worked in Obama's 2008 campaign, and even provided assistance on Obama's
inaugural address. Sorensen claimed that he and JFK collaborated closely on speeches.
But Sorensen, a liberal, would not have written anything that JFK would have
had reservations saying in public; however, JFK would not have much disagreed
with anything Sorensen wrote.
Sorensen says, in this video, comparing JFK with
Barack Obama, that Obama, among other things,
"…has that same spirit, that same desire, to call to public
service, especially the young people, all the citizens of this country, to live
up to that great title, 'American citizen.'"
When Sorensen died in October 2010, the Associated Press published
obituary that all but canonized the speechwriter, as well. Sorensen's
career with JFK began in 1956.
Of the courtiers to Camelot's king, special counsel Sorensen
ranked just below Kennedy's brother Bobby. He was the adoring, tireless
speechwriter and confidant to a president whose term was marked by Cold War
struggles, growing civil rights strife and the beginnings of the U.S.
intervention in Vietnam.
Some of Kennedy's most memorable speeches, from his inaugural address to his
vow to place a man on the moon, resulted from such close collaborations with
Sorensen that scholars debated who wrote what. He had long been suspected as
the real writer of the future president's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Profiles
in Courage," an allegation Sorensen and the Kennedys emphatically - and
litigiously - denied.
Brian Marquard, in his November 1st, 2010 Boston
Globe article on Sorensen's death, wrote:
“I think Ted became the most important adviser and, on balance, I
think he was the best of the brightest and best,’’ said Harris Wofford, a
former US senator from Pennsylvania who had served as an adviser to Kennedy.
“He also knew what John Ken nedy thought. They had an extraordinary
relationship. It would be hard to know where one person’s thoughts ended and
the other began.’’
Officially, Mr. Sorensen was special counsel to the president, a
role he reprised with Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Sorensen worked so closely with
Jack Kennedy, however, that he became widely regarded as the president’s alter
ego, liberal conscience, and intellectual confidant. Kennedy sought Mr.
Sorensen’s counsel at every key juncture, from campaigning for the White House
to guiding the country through perilous times such as the Bay of Pigs invasion
and the Cuban missile crisis.
By Mr. Sorensen’s description, the two were as one as they drafted
turns of phrase Kennedy made famous. Scholars in decades since have parsed
sentences and scoured records while trying to deduce who wrote which words.
A number of conservative
weblogs and online news outlets have paid compliments to President John F.
Kennedy's vaunted anti-communism and virtually enshrined him in the pantheon of
American leaders and presidents, simply because of his hostility to the Soviet
JFK's friendliness with the welfare state is ignored by them. Had
he lived to have a second term in office, doubtless he would have accomplished
at least half what Lyndon B. Johnson, his successor in office after his
assassination, accomplished in establishing a full-scale welfare state.
Nowhere in his speeches as a senator from Massachusetts, as a
presidential candidate, and as president is there any indication that he was
opposed to welfare state legislation. Sorensen, the son of a progressive
liberal politician, was one, as well. He and JFK could not have worked so
effectively together had there been a fundamental difference in their political
thinking. One was Tweedledum, the other Tweedledee.
Out of the 2,256-word Dallas
speech (almost twice as long as JFK's inaugural
address), the term freedom occurs
eleven times, while leadership occurs
eight times. For what is leadership
leading to? What would JFK's goals have been? No one seems to have ever
questioned his role as a "leader," but what would he have led us to?
The phrase from Art Buchwald's tearful "We
Weep" poem from November 1963, "charting our destinies," bothered
me, because it is the antithesis of freedom. The presumption needed to be
The undertone of the Dallas speech, which focuses on America's
military deterrence capabilities, is off-putting because it communicates
something other than a concern for the country's safety and survival. That
undertone is: The country is mine to manage and to set in the right direction
(whatever direction that might be, which is certainly, given JFK's liberal
credentials, not in the direction of
freedom), and I expect you to do your part.
None of the steps discussed by JFK in his undelivered speech would
have been necessary had President Franklin D. Roosevelt been receptive to
invading Europe through the Balkans, as Churchill had advocated in order to cut
off the Red Army (before it had even broken out of Russia), to securing a surrender
of the Nazi government in return for joining an Allied effort to oppose Stalin
and his designs on Eastern Europe (a surrender German generals had sent
unacknowledged feelers to Roosevelt about), or even to giving aid and succor to
the very real anti-Nazi underground in Germany, an underground which reached
into the highest ranks of the Wehrmacht.
For a first-class discussion and detailed revelation of the
disgraceful roots of the "Cold War" and the role of Soviet espionage,
of the Soviet penetration of FDR's administration, and of the treason of
fellow-traveling Americans in the government during his years in office, see
Diana West's American
Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character, a work reviled
by Leftists and Neocons alike because it departs from, challenges, and exposes
the standard estimate of FDR and the conduct of WWII. See also her The Rebuttal: Defending 'American Betrayal'
from the Book-Burners, in which she counters every criticism
of American Betrayal and exposes her
virulent, smear-happy critics as ambitious censors. The West could have been
spared the cost in lives and treasure of the "Cold War" had the
Soviet Union been allowed to collapse during or shortly after WWII. Here is tantalizing
excerpt from American Betrayal,
recreating an event that occurred in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1941:
…It's a good bet State Department office windows were open in those
pre-air-conditioning days. Maybe a passerby heard the percussive beats of a
manual typewriter as Loy Henderson, a resolutely anti-Communist Foreign Service
officer, tapped out a plan for the United States in the increasingly likely,
even expected event that Hitler's Germany attacked Stalin's Russia somewhere
along a line of battle four or five thousand miles away from Foggy Bottom – as
indeed the Germans would do in launching "Barbarossa" the very next
day. It was June 21, 1941.
…Finally, should the Soviet régime
fall…the sky won't fall, too. This is a cloud-parting concept, revealing
beacons of a never-before-glimpsed light. Finally,
should the Soviet régime fall…we should let it. Finally, should the Soviet
régime fall…an anti-Communist government could take its place after the war….[pp.
244-245, American Betrayal]
Instead, the Soviet régime was propped up by FDR's policies, not
least of which was the cornucopia of benefits from Lend Lease, which enabled
the Soviets to resist the Nazi invasion, and later to swallow Eastern Europe,
replacing Nazi tyranny with Soviet tyranny.
As with his inaugural address in January 1961, the main thrust of JFK's
Dallas speech was anti-communist and pro-defense, emphasizing the importance of
nuclear deterrence. Still, the Dallas speech echoes a call to arms in the way
of committing the country to the defense of freedom. Yet the problem is that
JFK never really burdened himself or his rhetoric with a definition of freedom. He used it in a general, insinuative sense,
counting on his auditors to fill in the blanks about what freedom is or what it
meant to them, basing their understanding of what JFK might have meant by it in
an unspoken consensus of what I have described elsewhere of calculated
And his message always was: You exist and have some freedom to
make America great, but for no other reason, and I'll decide whether or not you're
worthy of praise.
By way of comparison, reading President-elect Calvin Coolidge's inaugural
speech of March 1925, one doesn't get the sense that Coolidge is taking charge
of everyone's life, or assuming command of the country's destiny. He had no
charisma and certainly wasn't photogenic. He was neither a glad-hander nor a
philandering playboy as were most of the Kennedy men. Listening to him read on
the radio from a script on the "Duty of Government" doesn't give one
the impression, either, that he was a man on a white horse ready to save the
nation. His principle message to Americans was that the future of the nation as
a free country was up to them, not him.
Coolidge's addresses, in print and on radio, contain a mixture of
virtues and fatal flaws, but one doesn’t get the sense, either, that he ever
talked down to Americans. He did not see himself as a member of some elite
group prepared to lead the country out of a desert. The White House
page on Coolidge reports:
In his Inaugural he asserted that the country had achieved "a
state of contentment seldom before seen," and pledged himself to maintain
the status quo. In subsequent years he twice vetoed farm relief bills, and
killed a plan to produce cheap Federal electric power on the Tennessee River.
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann
pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing: "This
active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country
admirably. It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone....
And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this
country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy...."
JFK uttering the word "freedom" meant nothing to him or
to Sorensen, and this is clear when one examines their shared political
philosophy, because they never define the term. Uttering the word cost JFK nothing.
He had fascist designs on the country. He asked Americans what "they
can do for their country," and this exhortation echoed Hitler's and
Mussolini's asking Germans and Italians what "they could do for their
countries." They were demanding that the citizens of those countries
recalibrate their lives to live for the sake and glory of the race or the
Remember that Hitler and Mussolini both were anti-communist, and continually
fulminated against the Communists, not because they abhorred Communism, but
because it was a competing totalitarian ideology, a rival statist political
philosophy. JFK asked Americans to recalibrate their lives, too. JFK was a
political pragmatist looking for something to do, something to be a
"leader" of, but it had to be a collectivist or altruist cause. He
was as much a welfare statist as was LBJ and his successors, including Ronald
Reagan, but most especially Bill and Hillary Clinton, both Bushes, and now Barack
Obama, in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic jihadist entities, is following in the
policy footsteps of FDR in propping up the Soviet Union, and of Ronald Reagan,
whom we should thank for enabling
the Taliban and Al-Qada, for once the Islamists had finished defeating the
Soviets in Afghanistan, they turned their sights and guns on the West.
JFK, in his undelivered Dallas speech, whether he knew it or not, addressed
the legacy of FDR's recognition of the Soviet government as a legitimate one
and of how he conducted WWII as a virtual valet to Josef Stalin's wishes.
On the other hand, Obama has never much disguised in his banal
rhetoric his hostility to freedom. His friendship with the Muslim Brotherhood
and its operatives in and out of this country's government, and now coupled
with his surrender to Iran in Geneva over Iran's nuclear program, compounds the
error made by Reagan in aiding Islamic designs on the West, by further
emulating FDR's pro-Soviet policies.
In this light, Neville Chamberlain was not the only appeaser of
tyranny, and, as with Chamberlain, peace will not be had in our time.
Barack Obama is also "charting our destinies," in which death
by ObamaCare or death by an Iranian-designed nuclear bomb detonated in Israel or
the U.S.is the destination.
Obama is no appeaser of tyranny. All indications are that he is
its friend and ally.
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