Et tu, Brutus?

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was an amazing read. I found it engaging and I understood 99% of the things that were happening. Yes, those are the two measures I have for Shakespeare now: (1) how interesting is this? and (2) do I understand what’s going on? Julius Caesar scored big points on both scales.

First, the themes were clearly identified and reinforced throughout the play. It is obvious that Shakespeare is dealing with some interesting philosophical questions here (big shocker there, that’s so unlike him! — that’s sarcasm, in case you can’t tell). I mean, it’s not “to be or not to be” meaning of life meta crisis, but there are some poignant ideas presented here nonetheless.

For example, the relationship between folly and courage, which I briefly discussed earlier, is fascinating. Does one genuinely need to be a little bit crazy in order to be brave? I personally think that, yes, one does. In order to do something truly courageous, I think you need to be able to tell logic to STFU for a little while. Otherwise, logic will make good points and will talk you out of it.

Another element of Julius Caesar which I thoroughly enjoyed was the reoccurring juxtaposition of private vs. public selves. The separation which exists between the two, for most characters, appeared to be complete. This is not uncommon in today’s society: there’s work-me and private-me. The characters here seem to understand that there is a different between their public personas and their private selves, however that’s where their awareness seems to get blocked. They enter this mystical world where somehow their corporeal selves are imbued with superhuman strength and mythical protection. They believe that the celebrity of their public selves is ambrosia for their private selves: you can’t kill me, people like me too much! Caesar and Brutus both do this.

Lastly, the power of pathos in this play is awesome. Literally – it fills me with awe. Entire populations moved by speech! I can barely win an argument with my partner relying only on words. That’s one person. Meanwhile Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius can bend entire swarms of plebeians to their will. The outcome of this play, and the deaths of many characters, are determined by moving speeches and deliberate confessions.

In closing, I want to mention that Julius Caesar is a special play for me, which warranted some special attention. Making my way through this List has resulted in a lot of Shakespeare (a full quarter of my remaining reads are Shakespeare) and not all of it is good. I have to read all of it, and that means the flops too. There is some Shakespeare that is just a grind. As long as I’ve read more words I’ve made progress and that’s good enough for me!

I couldn’t do that with Julius Caesar. With this one, I promised myself to make the extra effort for a deeper reading. You see, my partner and I had our first date at a production of Julius Caesar and our first kiss along the river after that play. That particular production included roller blades, machine guns, and that we both fell asleep somewhere around Act III or IV. It was a magical night.

To honour my commitment, I am not ashamed to say I relied heavily on SparkNotes. I will not apologize for this. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, nor am I an expert in Olde English, or Roman history or mythology. In light of that, I adopted a three-step approach to Julius Caesar which I think worked really well for me:

Step 1) Read a scene, try to figure it out on my own.

Step 2) Read SparkNotes summary and analysis of the scene.

Step 3) Compare & contrast.

Doing it this was was actually a lot of fun, and a huge boost of confidence, as I saw how much I caught on my own. It also helped to correct any misunderstandings before I got too far in the play, and called my attention to things I would have otherwise missed.

Pensive Brutus in HBO’s Rome

Until next time, plebes!

Preach, Gretchen Weiners!

You have to admit, she makes a solid case for Brutus and stabbing Caesar.

Enjoy 🙂

Musing About Folly and Courage

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Julius Caesar is well under way. The assassination plot against Caesar is about to play out despite a myriad of omens warning him away from the Capitol.

Why does Caesar not heed the signs and stay away? Is it folly or courage? Arrogance or acceptance of fate?

To be fair, folly and courage are often confused for one another. There are many examples wherein an undertaking, decision, or action can be viewed as both incredibly stupid as well as heroically brave. Knights setting out to hunt dragons, for example. Or, more realistically, imagine being the Wright brothers testing out the first aeroplane (terrifying, but brilliant!). Are these two characteristics mutually exclusive or interdependent?

If we always made the ‘smart’ decision, if we always made the ‘safe’ call, what would we accomplish?

If we only listened to fear, or those who discouraged us – out of fear, love, hatred, etc. – we would not have human rights or feminism. We would not have heroes like Harvey Milk, Amelia Earhart, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Maybe bravery takes a little bit of folly; just enough for us to see hope through the obstacles which stand in our way. Otherwise, how would we find the strength to face them?

Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

(Ceasar, II:ii:32-33)

Caesar might be about to die, but the man speaks #truth.

Why yes, yes I did just use a hashtag in a sentence. Because I’m #hip and #withit.

I present the below topical reference to Rocky Balboa as further evidence of my hip-and-with-it-ness, which I think mirrors the overall sentiment I am communicating in this post:

#Preach, #Rocky! #NeverSayNever #Courage #Strength #KeepFighting #BoxingRingPhilosophy (okay, now I’m doing it just to bug you)

And now, onward, to the Capitol for a bloodbath!

Rocky Balboa banner credit: https://theeternalexplorer.wordpress.com/tag/rocky-balboa/

Jeremy Bentham was on to something, but Gaia takes it too far: considering individuality vs.superorganisms in “Foundation and Earth” (also spoilers)

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DONE! I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it feels to be able to put this series to bed and move on with my life.

I’m happy to have read the series, if for no other reason than I can now say that I did. It feels like an accomplishment, and like it gives me more credibility as an accomplished science-fiction reader. Though, I am admittedly still in my infancy in that genre.

Asimov and I disagree on many fundamental concepts on which his opinions were expressed throughout the series. Most notably, his views on women, sexuality, and gender relations, though there were others as well. This made the series a challenging one for me to read – I had to labour (yes, labour) to put aside my objections and offense so that I could read the books. This was near-impossible for me at the start, but by book 7 I had improved enough to be able to focus on plot. It also helped that books 6 (Foundation’s Edge) and 7 (Foundation and Earth) benefited from some improvements to the treatment of female characters.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!

Furthermore, I liked this book because I love being right, and it is rare that my predictions are correct (remember my Anna Karenina predictions – they were way off!). After reading Forward the Foundation I predicted that Daneel would be back, and I was right! Go me!

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Recap:

So – ready for the spoilers? Okay – here we go. It turns out that Earth was radioactive this whole time, just like everyone kept saying it was. I assumed this would be as a result of nuclear war on the planet, because I think we can all agree that seems to be an inevitability of our times. However, it’s attributed to a fight between Spacers and Settlers, and their hatred of Earth. So, kind of nuclear war? But not really…to be  honest those details from the book – the WWWWWH of Earth becoming radioactive – are fuzzy.

I’m in a satisfying state of post-book-completion-haze right now. Pray, have mercy!

Fun fact: Trevize hilariously contracts a deadly STI whilst visiting a planet of topless women. HA! Suck it, Trevize. That’ll learn ya.

Trevize & Co. find Earth, and since it is uninhabitable, they figure the moon is the next most likely location of its ‘secret.’ They land on the moon, find Daneel, Trev determines his gut decision in favour of Galaxia was right all along, and Daneel mind-melds with a toddler. THE END.

Slightly more insightful thoughts:

An overarching theme of Foundation and Earth is the question of whether it’s better to be an individual, or one part of a larger inter-connected whole (aka Gaia, aka superorganism). The entire plot, in fact, is driven by Trevize’s desperate search for Earth to find support for his decision in favour of Gaia for the future of humanity.

Ultimately, the novel determines achieving Galaxia, in other words becoming a superorganism, is better for the well-being of humanity. But is this right? Free-will is such a fundamental belief in so many world cultures, it is difficult to envision parting from it. In fact, the necessity of giving up so much of my own free-will and self-determination to a higher power is one of the big reasons why I struggled so much with religion when I was younger.

The concept of utilitarianism seems relevant to this discussion as well – is it really the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that matters? If it is, is it right to sacrifice personal happiness for the common good – even if that means giving up our individuality?

ARYA

Well, I couldn’t do it. Arya Stark and Trevize both have me beat there. I might be able to do it if I was able to maintain my individuality, while still participating in the ‘greater whole’ – but to completely sacrifice people’s ability to have dominion over themselves, to make their own decisions…I just can’t get behind that plan.

SIDE BAR: In Googling utilitarianism, because I couldn’t remember anything about it, the internet informed me of Spock’s “needs of the many” quote. I learned something new about Star Trek today. So, that’s pretty exciting.

 

Final thoughts: I still think I should have read iRobot instead.

Modern Family gif credit: giphy.com: http://giphy.com/gifs/modern-family-julie-bowen-i-told-you-so-3o85xpZcINGzBPDI0U
Game of Thrones photo credit: http://www.vulture.com/2016/05/arya-lessons-faceless-men-game-of-thrones.html