Jest in Literature - Who's wearing the pants?
Jun 17, 2002 09:39 PDT
JEST in LITERATURE
17th June 2002 # 012
As a general thing, when the woman wears the pants in the family,
she has a good right to them.
~ Josh Billings
IN THIS DIGEST :
~ The Doc
'Foil'ing with Macbeth
~ The Doc
(or fooling or failing .... take your pick!)
On the Poetic Front
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I keep running across ads for the Star Trek games and movies.
Whenever I do, I am reminded of something I once heard about
its creation. I don't know if it is true or not, but what I heard was
that the creator, Gene Rodenberry, used his three main characters
to represent aspects of a single individual. Doc McCoy (Bones)
represented the emotional side of a person; Spock the
logical/intellectual, and Captain Kirk the human sounding board who
was affected by these two sides of a personality. The conversations
(or arguments) that occur between Spock and Bones represent the
running battle between the emotional and intellectual sides of the brain
so the audience can see what decisions Kirk is going through when he
faces a problem. By creating these lopsided characters, the audience
can see the decision process without having the voice-over device as
if we are hearing the main character's thinking. The exaggeration,
especially with the logical side who is unable to experience emotion,
seems to work. It might even account for the unparalleled success of
the series and the movies. After all, what we are watching is a
dramatization of what most of us go through on a running basis.
To see it externalized makes it obvious and even somehow pleasant.
I don't know if this method is used frequently or intentionally very often.
Certainly it always gets a rise out of readers to be asked how many
boys are on that infernal island in Lord of the Flies (Issue 06). How
many do you think? People guess anywhere from sixteen to twenty-four,
but since the actual headcount is imprecise, there can be no correct
answer going at it that way. After all the guessing is done, the answer
that is fun to give is "one." The boys are flat characters that represent,
individually, a single aspect of a complete personality. If you squeeze
them all together like they're play-dough, you can manage to get one
complete person out of the pieces. Of course the real fun starts and ends
when you tell the guessers that the one character on that island is "you."
Now that's personalizing literature.
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====> 'Foil'ing with Macbeth
One of the better comparisons to use with Shakespeare's Macbeth is
that same infernal island focusing on two of the characters: Ralph and
Jack. Actually, this becomes a good way to try to understand what
"foils" do as a literary technique. The comparison only goes so far,
but usually if someone isn't familiar with one of the stories, they might
be with the other. Foiling is a technique where a character's choices
are made clear by comparing them to the choices of someone else in
a similar situation.
Macbeth and Banquo are faced with similar battles of conscience
regarding killing their King for personal gain. Macbeth courts the
thought, and it is obvious that he is considering the dastardly deed
with some relish. But he is hesitant, and it is only slightly clear how big
of a choice he has made because his own vascillations get in the way.
You might recall his hallucinations with the dagger hanging before him.
He also has the arguments with himself about his duties and loyalties
which oppose his murdering the King. The clarity of his choices
becomes more obvious when his are compared to Banquo's.
The real beauty of this foiling is that it allows us to see, for possibly
the first time in literature, that men's and women's roles have reversed
over time. That's right! What used to be actions that were typically "male"
were assigned to the woman, and what used to be female characteristics
were given to the man.
It may sound far-fetched, but I think you'll agree with me when I show
you how the play has been misread lo these many years. I also think
you'll agree that the logic is unassailable once you gather how to look
at it from a different perspective. And, most pleasing of all, many of
those things that seemed heretofore unexplainable suddenly make
Along with foiling off of Banquo, Macbeth battles with Lady Macbeth
over the ethics of murdering the King, but in that battle of wits, he's
out"manned." Only a fool would argue with a woman whose breasts
are full of poison and who does incantations with witches. You know,
she even talks more like a longshoreman than he does: "Screw your
courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail!" He follows with a line
of supposed adoration, "Bring forth men-children only," indicating that
a woman of her strength should or could only give birth to "men."
Think about that a second: here we are in the midst of a scene in which
a woman is doubly as tough as the dude, and he's telling her, as a
compliment, that she should only give birth to male children. How is that
a compliment when he's standing there with his cap twisted in his little
hands, the front of his pants wet, and she's belittling him like he's a sot?
Come to think of it, how about the scene where he puffs out his manly
chest and says, "We'll not proceed in this business!" (Forgive the tortured
quotes; I don't have the book with me, so I'm doing this from what's left
of my memory. In other words, I know I'm not quoting perfectly, but if
you get picky about it, remember, I've got a pair of boxing gloves, and
I know a woman who's not afraid to use them). Anyway, he stands tall
and manly, and she immediately eclipses him by challenging him with a
chest thing of her own. "I know what it's like to give suck, and I would
have plucked its bonesless gums from my nipple and dashed the brains
out..blah blah.." Who's the tough one here, and why is toughness
presumed to be masculine?
Now that I think a little further on it, I think a case could be made for
her effectively being the male in this twosome anyway. She symbolically
castrates herself earlier when she tells the witches to take her milk for
gall and, ta da, "unsex me here." I think that alone could stand as proof
that she wore the balls in the family to begin with. At this point, in fact,
if any of this made any sense, Macbeth would be saying, "I want to be
just as mean and tough a broad as you are, Sweetie." Some women play
the role of supporting their "man" when he falters by telling him just how
big and strong and wonderful he is when he starts acting like a baby.
Lady Macbeth just bitch-slaps her old man, he shapes up, gets his
act together, and things move on.
I count at least six times in this play where she supports her man by
calling him a pussy. And he keeps saying how much of a man she is,
each time. "Thank you, I needed that. Can I wear the penis to the
banquet tonight, Dear?" "Okay, but the first time you get out of line,
I'm taking it away from you, and then you'll start having those stupid
visions." "No I won't." "Yes, you will. And when you do, I'm just going
to let you make an ass of yourself, you big pussy!" "Am not." "Are so."
"Am not." "Are so."
I'm going to stay with this. If I get back to foiling fine, but I'm starting
to have fun foiling around with this, so I'm going to see where it goes.
Now, the murder of the King itself is a real show of manliness on
Macbeth's part, but I'll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, look
at who the bigger and better man is both before and after the actual
deed. The plan calls for getting the guards drunk, right? So, does
Macbeth go up there and have a few manly drinks with them and
drink them under the table? No. Lady Macbeth does! She goes up
and parties with the guys. She takes the grog and the drugs (possets),
she ingests the stuff right along with the (male) guards, and the next
time we see her, she says she's a little woozy. Woozy? She put the
guards away. They're up there in the chamber passed out, and she
admits that she might be feeling some slight affect from the partying.
Can you see how that went? Come on, walk through this with me,
because I'm not going alone.
Boris and Morg are elbowing each other under the table like this is
going to be their lucky night. Across from them sits Lady Macbeth,
her poisonous breasts straining at the material on her blouse. "Come
on, boys, have another." She fills the glasses by leaning over the table
and showing enough cleavage the guards can see all the way to Utah.
They're sputtering and imagining a royal threesome, and they're tossing
off the drugged wine like its water waiting for the Lady to get soused
so they can have a little fun with her. But she isn't acting the way they
hope. They're drinking; she's drinking. They're getting drunk; she's
drinking. They're seeing double; she's drinking. You know this has to
be the way of it, don't you? She has to have used some type of sexual
come-on or these guys wouldn't have deserted their posts. They are
committing a be-headable offense by leaving their King unguarded,
and they are making it many times worse by drinking on the job. Do
you think they did this lightly? Not a chance. They might be willing to
get head, but I doubt they are willing to give their's up unless something
was up on the auction block. She promised them something to get them
to violate their duties like this. She had to have told them they could
violate her duties in order to seduce them into drinking. And then she
had to out-drink them or the plan would have been a worse mess than
it was. The play just wouldn't be the same if Macbeth later entered the
chamber to kill the King and found his wife and the guards, naked and
all slathered up, twisted into some convoluted daisy-chain, whacked
off their respective gourds and her singing, "Give me a man, Give me a
Why didn't Macbeth argue with her when she volunteered to go drink
with the boys? Wasn't he suspicious of what she would have to do in
order to pull this plan off? "I'll get the guards drunk, and you stay
down here in the dark and have hallucinations, Honey." "Duh, okay."
Do you remember how long it took her to ring that bell that signaled
Macbeth to kill the King? While she's up there dallying with the guards'
daggars, what is the epitome of "maleness" doing? He's down in the
basement arguing with a floating daggar of his own. "Is this a daggar I
see before me?" "No, you idiot! It's a representation of manhood, a
phallic symbol! It symbolizes the actual phallus's your wife is toying
with upstairs while you're down here talking to yourself!"
Finally, the bell rings. "It summons thee to heaven or to hell," says our
proud hero, and he charges up the stairs to murder his liege. Now,
that's a man. So let's follow him for a minute or two. Up he goes,
apparently unarmed because when he comes down he's carrying the
guards' daggars, if you'll recall. So, our manly unarmed hero is going
to do a most distasteful thing, but on the way, he must realize that
what? that wasn't an hallucination floating before him in the famous
daggar scene. We know he drew his own daggar and compared it
to the unsubstantial one, so what else did he do? He left it there after
looking it over? What a role model this guy is for young boys
everywhere. He needs to find a weapon. He has to, has to I tell you,
go to where the guards are passed out and take their daggars from
them. How else would he get them? I know she says, "I laid them at
his side, he couldn't have missed 'em," but what does that mean? Does
she know this flumox of a husband is going to forget his own daggar, get
all the way to the King before he realizes it, and then go, "Hot damn,"
when he sees that she has left a couple of weapons there for him?
When does he spot them? Is he making jabbing motions at the King's
sleeping body with nothing in his hands before he realizes he's unarmed?
How smart does she have to be when this is the person she's got to
out-think? No, I think we all know what she's talking about when she
says she laid the guards' daggars. She's just toying with words.
Whack, whack, slice, stab, stab. The manly-man stabs the old King in
his sleep. What a fight he must have had. Not a single sound came from
the King. How do we know? Because one of the King's sons cry out, "Hold
it, there, pardner," and the other says, "Amen" or "Ah, men," or something
of that order. We don't know who was in their bedchambers so it's best not
to guess who they were saying these things to. But we do know that those
are the only sounds that emanated from upstairs during the murder, so the
King hadn't made any sounds.
Somehow, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth passed each other on the only
stairway -- she going down (again?) and he going up -- without seeing
each other, because she's downstairs. He stumbles in a few minutes
later, and he's going through a total psychotic episode. He apparently
forgets Duncan's name and keeps saying, "I murdered Sleep." She
recognizes his condition, and guess what she does? Right! See how it
all fits? She calls him a pussy again! And he whimpers around until she
says, "For god's sake, what do you have in your hands?" He holds them
up and says, "Oops." "You brought the guards' daggars down with you?
You imbecile! How can we blame them when you've got their freaking
daggars?" "Well, I ain't going back up there, uh uh, no way, no how."
"God, you are such a weak, sniveling......pussy! Give me those daggars,
and I'll take them back up." Like the man he compliments her for being,
he says, "Okay, Honey. You take the daggars up, dip your hands in the
old man's belly to get enough blood to smear on the guards, and I'll just
be waiting here when you get back, because you're the woman and I'm
the man." She stomps off, and he goes into a weeping jag again about
murdering "Sleep. Macbeth doth murder Sleep."
To cap this gender-reversal off (although I could do this for the whole
play now that I've gotten the swing of it), let me just point out a couple
of lines, further on, that should make the point so strongly it will end all
questions. Macbeth slips up at one point, and actually calls her by her
"male" name. You know what I mean, don't you, because you're getting
into the swing of it now. Yep. I mean that little line he tosses off that we
shouldn't pay much attention to. She asks him what his intentions are
about taking care of Banquo, and he says, "Be thou innocent of the
knowledge, dearest chuck." Chuck! You see what happens when
you read closely.
And finally, should you have any remaining doubts that Lady Macbeth,
after drinking the guards to their oblivion, took advantage of their state
for her own pleasures, look at what she calls herself right after the body
of Duncan is discovered. She's speaking only to herself because no one
is addressing her at this moment. She shrieks out this line in utter dismay
when she recognizes what a slut she's been. "Help me hence, Ho."
See, back then, it was the woman's perrogative to be the "ho."
Should you have the time, try reading the play again from this new
perspective. So much fits, I think you'll agree with me that what
Lady Macbeth is trying to accomplish is the attainment of a goal she
has long sought. She wants to sit in the front row of the colloseum
during the big game between the Lions and the Humans, swill mead
(see issue ten), and play with a daggar of her own.
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On the Poetic Front
In Issue 11, The Doc described a poetic experiment that
he is trying out, giving his students one word and asking them
to paint a picture about it using words (the result should,
unless one gets lost somewhere, be a poem :-)
We'd love to see how that experiment works, here too. The word
for this week is 'Prejudice'. Please use the link below to send
in your efforts. Also please let us know a) whether you would
prefer your effort to be treated anonymously (especially if you're
just getting to grips with this medium) or you'd like to be credited;
b) whether you'd like to receive The Docs comments and suggestions
or are happy with your work as is, and wouldn't mind it displayed, but
wouldn't really care to have it discussed.
Waiting to hear from you ....
With best wishes,
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