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Faust : Myth of Mind


Faust. But, leaving [ the subject of ] these vain trifles of men’s souls . . .




Faust’s visionary success has blinded him to humanness; he has become a megalomaniac. He now associates himself with Immortals—perversely so, as he’s fated to eternal suffering, which, at the end, he comes to realise :


Faust.                            All beasts are happy,

For when they die

Their souls are soon dissolv’d in elements;

But mine must live still to be plagu’d in hell.




But at the first, anti-hero Faust fancies himself smarter and stronger than inhuman spirits.—e.g., at (3.85–88), he attempts (audaciously) to school the devilish Mephistopheles :


What, is great Mephostophilis so passionate

For being deprived of the joys of heaven?

Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude

And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.


(Clamorously Famous last words.)




Kind reader, please recall the Faustian anti-hero Oppenheimer :


“the atomic bomb will be a terrible revelation of divine power.”




(3.89–102). Hell-bent Reason


Deluded intellectual Faust, fancying himself heroic, enlists Mephistopheles as messenger :


 Faust. Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer :

     Seeing Faustus hath incurr’d eternal death

     By desperate thoughts against Jove’s deity,


(An early literary sighting of the concept of THOUGHTCRIME!)


     Say he surrenders up to him his soul

     So he will spare him four and twenty years,

     Letting him live in all voluptuousness;

     Having thee ever to attend on me,

     To give me whatsoever I shall ask,

     To tell me whatsoever I demand,

     To slay mine enemies and aid my friends,

     And always be obedient to my will.

     Go, and return to mighty Lucifer,

     And meet me in my study at midnight,

     And then resolve me of thy master’s mind.

Mephistopheles. I will, Faustus.                            [ exit ]


Scrooby invites the kind reader to accept this pact as a metaphor of humankind’s doomed dependence on the faculty of Reason.




(3.104–115). So then a falsely-confident Faust envisions a triumphant engineering project :


Faust. Had I as many souls as there be stars,

     I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.

     By him I’ll be great emperor of the world,

     And make a bridge thorough the moving air

     To pass the ocean with a band of men;

     I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore,

     And make that country continent to Spain,

     And both contributory to my crown;

     The Emperor shall not live but by my leave,

     Nor any potentate of Germany.

     Now that I have obtain’d what I desir’d,

     I’ll live in speculation of this art,

     Till Mephistophilis return again.                 [ Exit ]


The bridge : a Literal & Metaphorical gadget : à la Trinity.




Please note how Faust, intoxicated with intelligence, fancies himself a world figure—the foremost man.


Bohr. You’re an American Prometheus;—The man who gave them the power to destroy themselves. And they’ll respect that.


After the detonation, the character Oppenheimer seeks to give them the power to save themselves.




Oppenheimer. Mr President, I feel that I have blood on my hands.


Faustian intoxication? Or heroic accountability; personal responsibility; humanness?


Oppenheimer. It’s not that simple.





Faust. O, what a world of profit and delight,

     Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,

     Is promis’d to the studious artisan!


Oppenheimer. Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.

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The Zone of the Meghan Moment


Body language expert Judi James said : “She used the technique of empathy, appearing to be reading at the same pace as the children and looking and sounding genuinely surprised when she turned each page.”


Ellen Coughlan, “Meghan Markle used her acting skills to bond with children”, Daily Mail, 3 April 2024.

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Anton. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?


Our friend Faust experienced much in Christopher Marlowe’s diabolical work. In his lifetime Faust gained worldly knowledge and wealth and fame—but, by the end, where did living in the world lead him?




[ The clock strikes eleven ]


Faust. Ah, Faustus,

Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,

And then thou must be damn’d perpetually!

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,

That time may cease, and midnight never come;


(Remember Melody Anderson in Flash Gordon struggling to overturn the hourglass?)


Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again, and make

Perpetual day; or let this hour be but

A year, a month, a week, a natural day,

That Faustus may repent and save his soul!


(14.134–41; cf. rise 3.13—the repetition technique recalls Οδίπους Τύραννος.)




Alas, Faust recognises the following :


               O, no end is limited to damned souls! (14.171)




Grady. I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.




(14.185–6). Terrified at oncoming doom, Faust speaks out a childish hope :


               O soul, be chang’d into little water drops,

               And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found.


cf. Oppenheimer


Shot 1. Waterdrops = fresh souls—see the compass drawing blast radii at (1:31:00).


Shot 2. The character Oppenheimer surveying, as God.




Final words.


               Faust. I’ll burn my books!—Ah, Mephostophilis!




F. W. Murnau, Faust (1926), 15:43–17:43.


Also features an original “bat man” at the wondrous 2:00; at the end, an exploding sun.

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Posted (edited)

Meanwhile, Webster’s White Devil is outrageously wacky.


The nobility is a snake-pit of odious characters, yet the storyteller’s art bamboozles the audience into emotional connections.


Example :


Noble Bracciano has no compunction about defiling a married woman, and he plots with her brother to win her affection, and thus is received by her mother, and the audience, as a vile character. Eventually, in 5.3, Bracciano is mortally poisoned, and stars as the dying one in a death scene that one might imagine as, well—please picture Hans Gruber being the evil Hans Gruber, yet imagine his death in Die Hard as portrayed with the heartfelt tender solemnity deserving of the deathbed scene of Murph.  


Not quite the David Cronenberg-meets-Terms of Endearment vibe of Οδίπους, but close.


Then—hard to believe?—the death scene takes a turn for the worse.


               Lodovico.                                            This is a true-love knot

                    Sent from the Duke of Florence.


Psycho Lodovico, costumed in religious garb, strangles the already dying man—strangles vile Bracciano, because, to some, revenge is sweeter than death.




May one commit to revenge as to love at first sight?




The Triple Tone is triumphant in 5.3, in which psycho Lodovico and accomplice Gasparo, both costumed and masked as Capuchin friars, preside over bedridden Bracciano with fluent Latin, a Situation to cast a solemn spell over the rapt audience—perversely so.


Imagine, kind reader, the Royal Albert Hall at full audience capacity belting out “Rule, Britannia!” under the baton of a lunatic Hannibal Lecter.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Posted (edited)

Engineering character


Flamineo is the only character in The White Devil whose speech repeatedly slips into blocks of prose. His loquaciousness can be extensive. The exuberant conspirator “loves the sound of his own voice”.




Flamineo’s been running off at the mouth for the entire play. But at the end, when he’s facing death?


Lodovico. Oh, I could kill you forty times a day,

     And use ’t four years together, ’twere too little!

     Naught grieves but that you are too few to feed

     the famine of our vengeance. What dost think on?

Flamineo. Nothing; of nothing: leave thy idle questions.

     I am i’ th’ way to study a long silence:

     To prate were idle.


With this remark, the hushed audience absorbs the heavy gravity of the moment—the pressure of the Situation has shut riotous Flamineo’s mouth, finally.




—but now comes a Genius Move!


Fifty-odd lines later, as Flamineo dies he reverts to type and belts out an (abbreviated) prose block. It is a “triumphant” return to character, “his old self” at the last! Here’s looking at you, kid


I recover like a spent taper, for a flash,

And instantly go out.

Let all that belong to great men remember th’ old wives’ tradition: to be like the lions i’ th’ Tower on Candlemas day, to mourn if the sun shine, for fear of the pitiful remainder of winter to come.

’Tis well yet there ’s some goodness in my death,

My life was a black charnel. I have caught

An everlasting cold; I have lost my voice

Most irrecoverably.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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In 1.1, a very bad man is introduced, Lodovico, and he mentions, in passing, the Duke of Bracciano and his mistress—


This in passing recalls Chance the gardener watching the U.S. President gladhanding on TV (11:52), only to later find himself shaking the President’s hand, in Rand’s library (1:00:15).


[ which recalls


                              Isabella. My jealousy?

                   I am to learn what that Italian means.


White Devil, 2.1.160–1


Chance. There is no need for a claim.

                  I don’t even know what they look like.


Being There, 36:38 ]


The appearance of amoral murderous nihilist Lodovico at the outset of The White Devil is equivalent to the opening sequence of Halloween (1978) : the introduction of a highly dangerous character in a “sealed-off” way structurally. Halloween then enters a present-day suburbia unaware of the coming threat.


1.2. A domestic comedy / a sex comedy. The Duke of Bracciano enters the house of his assistant, the social-climbing Flamineo, who hopes to whore out his sister Vittoria in hopes of wealth and self-advancement.


As perverse as the Situation is, the play’s tone is, as yet, comic; and rings well-nigh Monty Pythonic while Flamineo expends much verbal effort in persuading his sister’s husband not to sleep with his wife that night.


However, hanging over the humorous tone (perverse as it is) is nihilist urban psycho Lodovico, like Bad Fate. No matter what these characters think they are, they’re no match for psycho Lodovico. In Act 5, he kills all three principals of 1.2.


By wacky Act 5, the perversity of 1.2—a brother pimping out his sister—is now a throwback to a naive, quaint time.




Stephen King’s Pet Sematary offers an unwittingly fine general description of the structure of The White Devil :


It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls—as little as we may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, that one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate, evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity. That such events have their own Rube Goldberg absurdity goes almost without saying. At some point, it all starts to become rather funny. That may be the point at which sanity begins to either save itself or to buckle and break down; that point when one’s sense of humor begins to resurface.




I recover like a spent taper, for a flash,

And instantly go out.

Let all that belong to great men remember th’ old wives’ tradition: to be like the lions i’ th’ Tower on Candlemas day, to mourn if the sun shine, for fear of the pitiful remainder of winter to come.

’Tis well yet there ’s some goodness in my death,

My life was a black charnel. I have caught

An everlasting cold; I have lost my voice

Most irrecoverably. Farewell, glorious villains.

This busy trade of life appears most vain,

Since rest breeds rest, where all seek pain by pain.

Let no harsh flattering bells resound my knell;

Strike, thunder, and strike loud, to my farewell!               [ Dies ]


Flamineo’s last word


                              Strike, thunder, and strike loud to my farewell!   


is an appeal to the audience to erupt in applause—a common technique, we have seen, in Shakespearean-era plays;


and The White Devil is, as it were, an “ultimate compendium” (as far as it goes) of Shakespearean-era plays.




Henry James Positive-Negative Statement


Flamineo. ’Tis well yet there ’s some goodness in my death

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Agrippina’s poison mushrooms


Adeoque cuncta mox pernotuere ut temporum illorum scriptores prodiderint infusum delectabili boleto venenum, nec vim medicaminis statim intellectam, socordiane an Claudii vinolentia.


(Tacitus, Annals, 12.67.1)


Et veneno quidem occisum convenit; ubi autem et per quem dato, discrepat. Quidam tradunt epulanti in arce cum sacerdotibus per Halotum spadonem praegustatorem; alii domestico convivio per ipsam Agrippinam, quae boletum medicatum auidissimo ciborum talium optulerat.


(Suetonius, “Life of Claudius”, 44.2)




(Suetonius, “Life of Caligula”, 24.1)


Cum omnibus sororibus suis consuetudinem stupri fecit plenoque convivio singulas infra se vicissim conlocabat uxore supra cubante.


He had a habit of defiling all of his sisters, at parties, putting one at a time under him, while his wife reclined above them.




Friar. Why, foolish madman!

Giovianni.                                 Shall a foolish sound,

     A customary form, from man to man,

     of brother and sister, be a bar

     ’Twixt my perpetual happiness and me?


(Ford, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, 1.1.24–7)


Giovanni. Come, Annabella, no more sister now

     But love, a name more gracious. Do not blush . . .






Nos e tanto visi populo

digni premeret quos everso

cardine mundus?

in nos aetas ultima venit?

o nos dura sorte creatos,

seu perdidimus solum miseri,

sive expulimus!

abeant questus, discedo, timor:

vitae est avidus quisquis non vult

mundo secum pereunte mori.


(Seneca, Thyestes, 875–884)


Of all the people to exist,

is it fitting that we are to be destroyed,

overthrown by the knot of power?


We were born with a heavy fate,

whether we destroyed ourselves,

or were destroyed.


No laments! Abandon fear!

Who would wish to live

when the world itself is dying away?




Roman houses caught fire frequently. . . . The wealthy Crassus in the last century of the republic devised a scheme for increasing his immense fortune by exploiting these catastrophes. On hearing the news of an outbreak, he would run to the scene of the disaster and offer profuse sympathy to the owner, plunged in despair by the sudden destruction of his property. Then he would offer to buy on the spot at a sum far below its real value the parcel of ground, now nothing but a mass of smouldering ruins. Thereupon, employing one of the teams of builders whose training he had himself superintended, he erected a brand new insula, the income from which amply rewarded him for his capital outlay.


Jérôme Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Bertelsmann, 1941), 44.




(Plutarch, “Life of Crassus”, 2.4)


πρς δ τούτοις ρν τς συγγενες κα συνοίκους τς ώμης κρας μπρησμος κα συνιζήσεις δι βάρος κα πλθος οκοδομημάτων, ωνετο δούλους ρχιτέκτονας κα οκοδόμους, ετ χων τούτους πρ πεντακοσίους ντας, ξηγόραζε τ καιόμενα κα γειτνιντα τος καιομένοις, δι φόβον κα δηλότητα τν δεσποτν π λίγης τιμς προϊεμένων, στε τς ώμης τ πλεστον μέρος π ατ γενέσθαι,


               . . . In this way Crassus came to possess the largest part of Rome.




Satelles. Fama te populi nihil

     adversa terret?

Atreus.               Maximum hoc regni bonum est,

     quod facta domini cogitur populus sui

     tam ferre quam laudare.


(Seneca, Thyestes, 204–7)


Assistant. You don’t fear unfavorable talk among the people?

Atreus. That’s the greatest good of power—the people are obliged to endure as well as praise me, their master.




The Heroic Perverse


At the end of White Devil, Lodovico faces capital torture; and after all of his many depredations, the psycho hits a heroic note!


Lodovico.                   I do glory yet,

     That I can call this act mine own. For my part,

     The rack, the gallows, and the torturing wheel

     Shall be but sound sleeps to me. Here’s my rest:

     I limn’d this night-piece, and it was my best.






Vindice facing capital punishment at the end of The Revenger’s Tragedy :


Vindice. I’faith,

     We’re well . . .

     We die after a nest of dukes. Adieu.




Long before Webster and Middleton . . .


The cheerfully hysterically insane Atreus has just fed his brother’s two children to, oops, his brother, Thyestes. . . .


Atreus. Sceleri modus debetur ubi facias scelus,

      non ubi reponas. hoc quoque exiguum est mihi.


Crime has a limit, but not its requital.

Even this is too little for me!


1052–1068; and what he goes on to say is horrible and triumphantthe Heroic Perverse.

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Psychedelic Wormhole


The sordid domestic sex comedy of 1.2 is followed by 2.1, an elaborate Situation featuring a husband and wife bedroom scene—a portrait of a quarrelsome marriage-hell that Ingmar Bergman might have filmed alongside episode five of Scenes from a Marriage.


What follows this harrowing domestic dispute?


[ Enter Bracciano, with one in the habit of a conjurer ]


What? A supernatural scene?


Conjurer.                                             Pray sit down;

     Put on this nightcap, sir, ’tis charmed; and now

     I’ll show you by my strong commanding art

     The circumstance that breaks your duchess’ heart.

     . . .

     Strike louder, music, from this charmed ground,

     To yield, as fits the act, a tragic sound!


At first the Conjurer strikes a mystic note evocative of, say, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—a magical vibe of charmed enchantment.


Oberon. And then I will her charmed eye release

     From monster’s view, and all things shall be peace.


However, we soon discover that the vibe here is actually closer to Macbeth


First witch. Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

     Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.


In 2.2, conjury and magic appear as “special guest stars” in The White Devil.


Just how many stage conventions are integrated into Webster’s play? Just as a Tarantino movie is stuffed with film references, so, too, is The White Devil engineered with similar theatrical aplomb.


Polonius. The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral . . .




What magic is conjured in 2.2?


At the hour of “dead midnight”, Bracciano sees though a wormhole-like eruption in spacetime and witnesses two murders, as if present there—or as if he were watching a movie of them.


It’s as if one sole supernatural scene exists in, say, All the President’s Men, as a matter of course.




Bracciano peeks psychedelically into the ingenious death of his “loathed duchess”—


Bracciano. Excellent, then she’s dead!

Conjurer.                                                   She’s poisoned

     By the fumed picture. ’Twas her custom nightly,

     Before she went to bed, to go and visit

     Your picture, and to feed her eyes and lips

     On the dead shadow. Doctor Julio,

     Observing this, infects it with an oil,

     And other poison’d stuff, which presently

     Did suffocate her spirits.




So steeped in corruption is The White Devil that even the peripheral character of the Conjurer is not immune to the play’s world-sickness, as his opening words reveal :


You have won me by your bounty to a deed

I do not often practise.




A Shakespearean-era in-joke? Is the Conjurer a surrogate for storyteller John Webster?


Bracciano. Now, sir, I claim your promise: ’tis dead midnight,

     The time prefix’d to show me by your art,

     How the intended murder of Camillo,

     And our loath’d duchess grow to action.

. . .

Conjurer. Strike louder, music, from this charmed ground,

     To yield, as fits the act, a tragic sound!


As it happens, the Conjurer is one of the very few characters in the play who gets out alive, miraculously unscathed. After 2.2, he is, to his everlasting good fortune, never seen again.




Please recall the technics of the ancient playwrights—they had no care for divisions into acts and scenes. Events occur dreamlike.


And so it is with John Webster’s The White Devil.


Locations, too—Webster, like the ancients, never lets us know in a stage direction where the action is taking place.


W. W. Grieg, a finely studious individual :


The total duration of the action could not be less than about three weeks. . . . The above analysis is of no more value than such tables usually are, for the reason that, in common with most of the dramatists of his day, the author shows a contemptuous indifference to the minutiae of time and space.


Walter Wilson Grieg, “Webster’s White Devil : An Essay in Formal Criticism”, Modern Language Quarterly 3, 2 (December 1900), 112–26.


Grieg fails to link this “contemptuous indifference” to the technics of the ancient authors, however; curiously, though, in the following paragraph he mentions Euripides’ Electra.




χαίρειν δ στις δύναται

κα ξυντυχί μή τινι κάμνει

θνητν, εδαίμονα πράσσει.


A mortal whose good luck meets with no disaster is blessed.

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Posted (edited)

Feeling the heat


The celebrated scene in Heat (1995) in which De Niro and Pacino chat together in a restaurant—two sworn antagonists sharing a comfortable time—has an antecedent in 3.3 of The White Devil.


Marcello. [ aside ] Mark this strange encounter.


And with this prompt to the audience, right in the middle of the play : Lodovico and Flamineo—nihilist urban psycho on one side, and clever naive conspirator on the other—join together in conversation (“housekeeping”) for sixty-odd lines.


Lodovico. Shalt thou and I join housekeeping?

Flamineo.                                                                 Yes, content:

      Let’s be unsociably sociable.


It is a highly-charged interaction. Each knows the other is no good. Neither trusts the other.


Lodovico. [ aside ] . . . ’tis strange. . . . I must wind him.

Flamineo [ aside ] . . . There’s somewhat in’t.  


Compounding the Situation, Flamineo is feigning madness—yes, Hamlet—in order to dodge the Law. Remember?


Flamineo. [ aside ] I do put on this feigned garb of mirth,

     To gull suspicion.


That was back at 3.1.29–30. Now the Kind Reader enjoys interactive fun in deciding where in the dialogue with Lodovico does Flamineo suddenly become deadly serious?


(A literary prototype of a speaker becoming Suddenly Deadly Serious : Cassandra in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, 1178.)


(Amadeus—“My music. They’ve started without me.” 19:49)


Lodovico ends up killing Flamineo in 5.6, so Flamineo’s verbal bravado in 3.3 is misguided and ludicrous, similar to Moss’ swagger with Anton over the telephone (“I’ve decided to make you a special project of mine.” 1:25:52).


Example :


Lodovico. Your sister is a damnable whore.

Flamineo.                                                            Ha!

Lodovico. Look you; I spake that laughing.

Flamineo. Dost ever think to speak again?


The interaction escalates. Hot-headed Flamineo, motivated by a misplaced confidence in his strength, strikes Lodovico. This rash act of violence comes back to haunt him.


Just here, however, Flamineo departs safe in his confidence, while creepy Lodovico reflects—


Lodovico. These rogues that are most weary of their lives

    Still ’scape the greatest dangers.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit

litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto

vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;

multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,

inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,

Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.


These four words, united in the concept of the genus (“the people”), are placed by the poet in the first stanza of his epic (which begins with the letter “A”), in the shape of a triangle.




saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram

cruel Juno’s patient wrath


Kitty. The truly vindictive are as patient as saints. (Oppenheimer, p154)


*      *     *




33. quotiens uxoris uel amiculae collum exoscularetur, addebat: “tam bona ceruix simul ac iussero demetur”


Whenever he kissed the neck of his wife or lover, he’d say : “Off comes this lovely head whenever I say the word.”


34. cogitauit etiam de Homeri carminibus abolendis


He contemplated destroying the songs of Homer


55. Incitato equo, cuius causa pridie circenses, ne inquietaretur, uiciniae silentium per milites indicere solebat


So that his horse might not be disturbed, he would send out soldiers to enforce a silence in the neighborhood.

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Seneca, Octavia


qui si senescit, tantus in caecum chaos

casurus iterum: tunc adest mundo dies

supremus ille, qui premat genus impium

caeli ruina




The vast Everything ages, and is doomed

to collapse back into blind chaos;

and all the wicked on that final day

shall be crushed under the falling sky.

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Narrative art shows us human behaviour in action. Audiences have witnessed beastly activity onscreen for over one hundred years—and have enjoyed fabricated stories of earthly depravity for millennia—yet collective society hasn’t turned one whit better for all the stories that have ever been told.


Evidence : the year 2024.


*     *     *


Cinema audiences see human beings acting as horrible as themselves for about two hours or so, yet subsequently fail to change their behaviour for the better.


Example :


Blackett. Christ, Oppenheimer. Have you had any sleep? (4:02)


The professor is in a position of authority. Shouldn’t he comport himself as an exemplar of a gentleman, since his students, consciously or unconsciously, absorb his poise as guides for their own moral and ethical positions?


Blackett reveals himself as an imbecilic bully.




And since arrogance unsees one’s own weakness, he’s ripe pickings for picking off.




Yes, audiences witness human beings acting as horrible as themselves for about two hours or so, then leave the cinema and continue to act horrible to one another.


But as RDJ rightly said : “What we do matters.”




Because of the rare individual who makes it matter.


*     *     *




29. immanissima facta augebat atrocitate uerborum. nihil magis in natura sua laudare se ac probare dicebat quam, ut ipsius uerbo utar, διατρεψίαν, hoc est inuerecundiam. monenti Antoniae auiae tamquam parum esset non oboedire: 'memento,' ait, 'omnia mihi et in omnis licere.'  


To his monstrous exploits Caligula added atrocious speech. “In my nature I praise and approve nothing so much,” he said, “as my shamelessness.” When his grandmother Antonia cautioned him on his behaviour, he couldn’t help but respond : “I can do anything I want to anybody.”






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Bittersweet perversity


In innumerous Hollywood films from the earliest days to now, the “spark and fire” of love (Hamlet, 4.7.129) often leads to climactic happiness and an uplifting end-credit track.


One of the fine users of Quora explains for us : “You are simply attracted to a person or you’re not.”


As Juliet explains, true love is out of one’s control :


My only love sprung from my only hate,

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love is it to me

That I must love a loathéd enemy.






WARNING : In the skewed world of Shakespearean-era revenge tragedies, uncontrollable love—simple attraction, the prodigious birth of what the heart says—often ends in disaster.




The White Devil


Vittoria. I do protest, if any chaste denial,

     If anything but blood could have allay’d

     His long suit to me—




Vittoria explains to her mother that her forbidden love for the Duke is out of her reasonable control, and only her death could have stopped her attraction; thus her infidelity is justified by the immutable laws of Mother Nature.


Alas, Vittoria’s attraction leads to her ultimate end—a sword runs through her.


With her last breath, she reflects :


Vittoria. Oh, my greatest sin lay in my blood!

  Now my blood pays for ’t.




Unfortunately, this being The White Devil, her death gets worse for her—Vittoria expires in a hell of psychological torture :


Vittoria. My soul, like to a ship in a black storm,

  Is driven, I know not whither.






The Revenger’s Tragedy


The devil-may-care character of Junior Brother ravishes a married woman in an especially vile and violent manner, but his explanation of why he did the deed is remarkably untroubled and relaxed—the young man simply tells the simple truth as he sees it :



Second Judge. What mov’d you to’t?

Junior.                                                     Why, flesh and blood, my lord.

     What should move men unto a woman else?




Junior’s last words before facing capital punishment are perversely mock-heroic


My fault was sweet sport, which the world approves;

I die for that which every woman loves.






In Shakespearean-era revenge tragedies, beware of love. Nature leads to disaster.







Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Two early psychopaths in English Literature


Titus. What shall we do? Let us that have our tongues

     Plot some device of further misery

     To make us wonder’d at in time to come.


Clever vile principals such as Richard III and Iago scorn to get their hands dirty, preferring behind-the-scenes manipulation to engineer their criminal ends.  


Apparently the first “hands-on” Chigurhic psychopathic principal in English Literature is Aaron the Moor in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.


Aaron. I have done one thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly, and nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more.


Thus speaks a brutal conspirator and murderer, cruelly mocking and nonchalant in his evil.


               Anton. I wouldn’t worry about it.


*     *     *


Lodovico in The White Devil is English Literature’s second full-blown, bloody-handed, nonchalant psychopath.


In 1.1, he faces banishment from Rome due to his many offences including bloody murder, and to his enemies he vows reprisal.


     I’ll make Italian cut-works in their guts

     If ever I return.


By “cut-works” Lodovico promises to use his sword to carve out elaborate lacelike wounds in human bodies of his choosing.


Gasparo.                    Oh, sir.

Lodovico.                              I am patient.


(“The truly vindictive are as patient as saints.”)


     I have seen some ready to be executed,

     Give pleasant looks, and money, and grown familiar

     With the knave hangman: so do I. I thank them,


“I don’t care if I live or die,” Lodovico is saying. “I thank them [for their hassle]”—recalling the bleak bravado of “Go ahead and shoot, you’ll be doing me a favor.”


     And would account them nobly merciful,

     Would they dispatch me quickly—


Nihilist doublespeak—“dispatch” : (2) Let them kill me when they will.


Lodovico is smart—not the smartest of the principals of The White Devil, but smart enough to invade enemy lines and wage a successful campaign of terror. Yet in the end he’s not smart enough to elude heavy physical penalty for his deeds. Even so he pronounces himself satisfied. Why? He left a series of corpses in his wake. For some, Revenge is worth the punishment.


*     *     *


In his first dialogue scene of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Aaron offers the following advice to two men : You two are in love with a young woman? Why chase her? Just rape her.


That what you cannot as you would achieve,

You must perforce accomplish as you may.


Later, Aaron explains how much he hates Rome :


Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,

Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.


The thought of mayhem sexually excites some conspirators;—the more grotesque the crime, the hotter the feeling?


               Aaron. This is the day of doom for Bassianus;

                     His Philomel must lose her tongue today,

                     Thy sons make pillage of her chastity,

                     And wash their hands in Bassianus’ blood.

               Tamora. Ah, my sweet Moor, sweeter to me than life!

Aaron. No more, great empress. Bassianus comes.


No Hays Code back in Shakespeare's era; so—Aaron, facing his end :


     Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things

     As willingly as one would kill a fly;

     And nothing grieves me heartily indeed

     But that I cannot do ten thousand more.


Similar to indomitable Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Aaron does not go gentle into that good night :


Aaron. If there be devils, would I were a devil,

     To live and burn in everlasting fire,

     So I might have your company in hell

     But to torment you with my bitter tongue!

Lucius. Sirs, stop his mouth, and let him speak no more.


And Aaron’s last word in the play?


If one good deed in all my life I did,

I do repent it from my very soul.


*     *     *


Titus Andronicus appeared soon after The Spanish Tragedy. Apparently it was Kyd’s play that featured the first colossally shocking moment on the English stage. Scene 2.4—


               Horatio. What, will you murder me?


The answer?


               Lorenzo. Ay, thus, and thus! These are the fruits of love.


Witnessing this, Horatio’s sweetheart Bel-imperia turns hysterical—hysterical panic appears also in White Devil, 5.2, and Titus, 2.3 :


               O, save his life and let me die for him!

               O, save him, brother, save him, Balthazar!

               I loved Horatio, but he loved not me!

               Murder! Murder! Help, Hieronimo, help!


Yes—Lorenzo the knifeman is her brother.


Kyd’s box-office success spawned an entire genre (similar to the flood of Tarantino clones after Pulp). In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare attempts to outdo the traumatic horror of The Spanish Tragedy.


Example :


Chiron. Drag hence her husband to some secret hole,

     And make his dead trunk pillow to our lust.

     Come, Mistress, now perforce we will enjoy

     That nice-preservéd honesty of yours.


And their mother’s blessing to her evil sons?


Tamora. Therefore away with her, and use her as you will;

     The worse to her, the better lov’d of me.


In Titus Andronicus Shakespeare indeed outdoes the horror of The Spanish Tragedy, yet Kyd’s abrupt tone-shift (Romeo and Juliet to A Clockwork Orange) remains Triumphant as a foremost structural wonder, a magnitudinous moment in technics.


Well-alert to Kyd’s genius, Shakespeare engineers his own broad tone-shift in Titus;—he shows us the spectacular horror of a freshly-raped Lavinia bleeding with sliced-off hands and cut-out tongue, and cuts to the Tarantino absurdity of three men squabbling for forty-odd lines over which one shall willingly chop off his hand as a ransom to be sent to the king.


*      *      *


In Titus Andronicus, a sort-of Roman History play with elements of revenge tragedy, Shakespeare gave the audience what it wanted—the Elizabethan version of Noe&Haneke horror.


Long ago Scroob remarked that Sophocles is punishing the audience with Art in Οδίπους Τύραννος, 1237–84. Similarly, Shakespeare ensures to keep delicate Lavinia’s mangled presence onstage for much of the rest of the play, a Situation possibly as unbearable to the original audiences as the nine-minute horror in the underpass in Irreversible.


Scrooby theory : The audience screams elicited by both The Spanish Tragedy 2.4 (Horatio murder) and Titus Andronicus 2.4 (Lavinia reveal) are prototypes for the final audience scream of Silence of the Lambs.


Shakespeare is far from done. Example—5.2 :


Titus. Hark, wretches! how I mean to martyr you.

     This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,

     Whiles that Lavinia ’tween her stumps doth hold

     The basin that receives your guilty blood.


And remember, kind reader, Atreus feeding his brother’s two sons to his hungry brother . . . ?


Why might the audience bear to sit watching the horrible scenes of Titus? One reason : Noe&Haneke horror is not fantasy—it’s real and everyday, as Vittoria in The White Devil exclaims, near the end of her life :


Vittoria. Oh me! This place is hell!






32. Animum quoque remittenti ludoque et epulis dedito eadem factorum dictorumque saeuitia aderat. saepe in conspectu prandentis uel comisantis seriae quaestiones per tormenta habebantur, miles decollandi artifex quibuscumque e custodia capita amputabat.


On ordinary days, while he was lunching he’d have prisoners decapitated in his presence.







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dreamgirl of vengeance


A long time ago, a young woman brimful of promise, a beautiful and talented girl, was butchered, and left alive.  


But what of Lavinia in Act 4?


4.1 opens on a quiet domestic scene, the peace of Titus’ garden. Imagine sunshine, fruit trees, birdsong, rich vines, a trellis.


[  Enter Lucius’ son and Lavinia running after him, and

the boy flies from her with his books under his arm. ]


4.1 opens with the delicacy of a daydream. Imagine the mystic vibe of Picnic at Hanging Rock or The Virgin Suicides—a sunshiny aura of creepy enchantment.


[  Enter Lucius’ son and Lavinia running after him ]


Are we seeing a ghost of once-Lavinia, the sweetest Lavinia innocent of harm?


—Running in from out of the past, whole and lovely, her beautiful voice intact, still full of grace and promise. What poignancy—Make do with what you got. What pathos—The suffering angel endures. What heartache—Paradise lost.


[  Enter Lucius’ son and Lavinia running after him ]


In this De Palma Obsession-like Zsigmondian soft-focus dreamplace, it looks for all the world as if Lavinia is playing happily with her younger nephew.


It’s as if, after everything that’s happened to her, Lavinia has still not lost her essential innocence.




Das Unheimliche


See the mangled girl happily play!—The perverse, feeling right at home. As she runs, does she give the audience chills?




Stories move quickly in Shakespearean-era drama. Idle day turns to tense revelation—leading to conspiracy, and, eventually, to revenge—


because Lavinia gets her story out.


First she appeals to a book. Her father Titus contemplates the page she identifies for him, and immediately understands his daughter’s purpose :


Ovid, μεταμορφώσεις, 6.549–62


Talibus ira feri postquam commota tyranni

nec minor hac metus est, causa stimulatus utraque

quo fuit accinctus, vagina liberat ensem

arreptamque coma flexis post terga lacertis

vincla pati cogit. Iugulum Philomela parabat

spemque suae mortis viso conceperat ense:

ille indignantem et nomen patris usque vocantem

luctantemque loqui comprensam forcipe linguam

abstulit ense fero. Radix micat ultima linguae,

ipsa iacet terraeque tremens inmurmurat atrae;

utque salire solet mutilatae cauda colubrae,

palpitat et moriens dominae vestigia quaerit.

Hoc quoque post facinus (vix ausim credere) fertur

saepe sua lacerum repetisse libidine corpus.


The tyrant’s awful anger was provoked

by her words, and also his fear of them.

Enragéd by these reasons, he reached out

and drew his sword and seized her by the hair

and bent her arms behind her back and bound them.

When she saw the sword, Philomela offered

her throat in the hope that he would kill her.

She called out the name of her father and

struggled madly to speak, right up until

the moment her tongue was caught in pincers

and cut away with his merciless blade.

The trimmed root fluttered in her mouth, while

her tongue lay in the dirt, quivering there

and darkly murmuring. Just as a severed

tail of a serpent is seen to vibrate,

so the tongue twitched, and with its last quiver

touched its lady’s foot. Then after this crime

(one would scarce dare to believe it) the man

worked his lustful will over and over

and over upon the mangled body.


[ Lavinia takes the staff in her mouth, and guides it with her stumps and writes in the dirt. ]

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Comic relief


Tilda. I’m amazed you have the energy.

Clooney. You kidding? Pull around the corner and we’ll do it in the back.

Tilda. You’re so coarse.

Clooney. No. Back of the car, not a rear entry situation.


Burn After Reading, 58:48




Ferdinand, promoting chastity in his sexually-available sister, offers her some obnoxious advice she hears as wordplay on os priapi—


Ferdinand. Fare ye well—

     And [ remember, ] women like that part which, like the lamprey [ fish ] ,

     Hath ne’er a bone in ’t.

Duchess.                             Fie, sir!

Ferdinand.                                        Nay,

                   I mean the tongue . . .

     What cannot a neat knave with a smooth tale

     Make a woman believe?


Duchess of Malfi, 1.1.335–40






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Suddenly Deadly Serious


For the first 340 lines of Duchess of Malfi—a considerable duration of stage-time—the vibe within the palace chamber bustles with gossip and grandstanding, idle conspiracy and humor.


Storyteller Webster then deploys a KYD TONE SHIFT.


A racy vignette sets up the Situation :


Ferdinand. Fare ye well—

     And women like that part which, like the lamprey,

     Hath ne’er a bone in ’t.

Duchess.                             Fie, sir!

Ferdinand.                                         Nay,

                    I mean the tongue . . .                                 [ exit ]


Humorous—then, Suddenly Deadly Serious.


The Duchess contemplates Ferdinand’s “hate” of the idea of her remarriage. She reveals to us clear plans for wedlock anyway. Marrying for love—a Situation which leads ultimately, a couple of hours hence, to mayhem and her horrible death :


Duchess.                                      And even now,

     Even in this hate, as men in some great battles,

     By apprehending danger, have achiev’d

     Almost impossible actions (I have heard soldiers say so),

     So I through frights and threatnings will assay

     This dangerous venture.


Within a hell of Inhumans, the Duchess attempts a heroic act of humanness—Marrying for love.




btw, a soldier accomplishing a seemingly impossible action in battle is described in Mailer, An American Dream, ch1.


Mailer. Years later I read Zen in the Art of Archery and understood the book. Because I did not throw the grenades on that night on the hill under the moon, it threw them, and it did a near-perfect job.  





Antonio. [ musing ] O, ’tis far from me—and yet fear presents me

     Somewhat that looks like danger.


(Duchess of Malfi, 2.3.74–5)


Woodcock. I have an unsettled feeling, based on nothing I can put my finger on.






Scrooby Q : Is the KYD TONE SHIFTThe Spanish Tragedy, 2.4—the most consequential moment in English theatre history?

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laughter curdles to terror


Halloween (1978), 1:06:18. Michael Myers appears to Lynda in the doorway as a ghost. “Cute, Bob,” she says. “Real cute.” She laughs. Standing before her is the traditional homey Halloween bedsheet perforated with eyeholes. Costumed in this disguise Myers stands mute. Smiling, Lynda enjoys his regard. Thirty seconds on, she’s creeped out by his moveless silence. Thirty seconds after that, he strangles the life out of her.


the classic gambit of “overhearing”


PT, 1:50:40. Alma, standing behind an unwitting Woodcock, overhears him reveal his secret thoughts to Cyril. Scroob once detailed this technique as a classic romantic comedy gambit, and cited its use as the climax of an uplifting Betty Grable war picture, Pin Up Girl (1944).




3.2 of The Duchess of Malfi fuses these two technical elements together as one Situation. Thus storyteller Webster engineers a Colossal Dramatic Moment of fear and suspense. Nancy Allen might have played this scene to perfection in an alternate-world Dressed to Kill.


3.2 begins as an easy-going domestic scene of husband and wife enjoying an evening together. They trade sweet nothings, kiss, chat comfortably of love. The Duchess’ faithful maid, Cariola, is invited to comb her ladyship’s hair. (“When were we so merry?” the Duchess asks. “My hair tangles.”) Life is presently so happy for husband Antonio that he whispers to Cariola in merry mischief :


  Pray thee, Cariola, let’s steal forth the room

  And let her talk to herself. I have divers times

  Serv’d her the like, when she hath chafed extremely:

  I love to see her angry. Softly, Cariola.


       [ Exeunt Antonio and Cariola ]


The two conspirators tiptoe out of the Duchess’ bedroom while she continues to gush cheerfully, either with eyes closed or otherwise distracted.


Duchess. Doth not the colour of my hair ’gin to change?

     When I wax gray, I shall have all the court

     Powder their hair with arras, to be like me.

     You have cause to love me; I ent’red you into my heart

     Before you would vouchsafe to call for the keys.


                [ Enter Ferdinand, unseen ]


Ah! Recall, Reader, the dark Bates blur in the shower curtain. . . .


Shocking is the sudden appearance of insane enemy Ferdinand, who the audience knows has bloody murder on his mind. Suspense rises as the Duchess continues to babble, blithely unaware, even speaking of the threat to Antonio’s life, as she knows her brother Ferdinand is “now in court”. She speaks of the danger using the extreme conversational. Hence the surprise she experiences when discovering Ferdinand behind her should be consummate :


We shall one day have my brothers take you napping:

Methinks his presence, being now in court,

Should make you keep your own bed.—But, you’ll say,

Love mix’d with fear is sweetest.—I’ll assure you,

You shall get no more children till my brothers

Consent to be your gossips.—Have you lost your tongue?


                              [ She looks in the mirror and sees

                               Ferdinand behind her ]


Sudden silence. What a moment! The proverbial pin drop. Scroob recalls Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance : “Some interruptions are too profound to disturb your composure.” The Duchess speaks :


’Tis welcome:

For know, whether I am doom’d to live or die,

I can do both like a prince.

Ferdinand.                             Die, then, quickly!


*     *     *


Antonio. Heaven fashioned us of nothing, and we strive

     to bring ourselves to nothing.




               Duchess. I account this world a tedious theatre,

                    For I do play a part in ’t ’gainst my will.




*     *     *


An incest theme in The Duchess of Malfi? Webster is a master of the Indirect and Unstated.


*     *     *


Flamineo. Why should ladies blush to hear that nam’d, which they do not fear to handle?


White Devil, 1.2.19–20


Domino. I’d rather not put it into words.


EWS, 50:33


*     *     *


4.2. Before the Duchess is strangled, she thinks of her children. Facing the end, she has the calm poise of, say, Pacino removing his necklace in Donnie Brasco.


I pray thee, look thou giv’st my little boy

Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl

Say her prayers, ere she sleep.





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Nolan and Shakespeare : the technics of silence


Please recall, kind reader,


               Oppenheimer. And now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.


And what follows in the film is thirty seconds of a serene scenic nature view, a restful spell allowing the audience appropriate time to absorb what just took place between the character Oppenheimer and Jean Tatlock in bed.


Shelley :


Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory—


Storyteller Nolan allows the Oppenheimer-Tatlock conjunction to vibrate in the memory for a significant duration of quiet time, a working of hypnotic magic on the sensorium of the cinema auditorium.




The technics of silence is applied equally deftly in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.


5.2. The evil Empress Tamora comes with her two vile sons to the door of Titus’ dwelling. She delivers to him a loony story—


Know, thou sad man, I am not Tamora;

She is thy enemy, and I thy friend:

I am Revenge, sent from the infernal kingdom

To ease the gnawing vulture of thy mind

By working wreakful vengeance on thy foes.


Tamora and Titus speak. Does he believe Tamora’s tale? Apparently so; he addresses her as Revenge and asks favours of her, as if she were indeed a power newly arrived from the infernal kingdom. Conversation is sustained for about 100 lines—a considerable duration of stage-time.


During their colloquy, the pressure rises in the theatre auditorium.


(Cinema audiences have seen infinite iterations of this Situation—e.g., police detective Robert Loggia visiting Judd Nelson in Nelson’s apartment, not knowing he’s the psycho everyone’s looking for, in Relentless (1989). Or, say, Arbogast interviewing Bates.)


For 100 lines the audience wonders : “Is Titus fooled? Does he really believe her cock-and-bull story? Is he fooling her? Is Titus setting a trap for Tamora? What?”


Shakespeare—the original Master of Suspense.


For 100 lines Shakespeare keeps the audience behind the action. We wait for the moment when we will catch up with the narrative and understand the truth of things.


Finally, Tamora-as-Revenge promises Titus the coming of great events :


I will bring in the empress and her sons,

The emperor himself, and all thy foes;

And at thy mercy shall they stoop and kneel,

And on them shalt thou ease thy angry heart.

and, at the last, come these adjacent lines :


Tamora. What says Andronicus to this device?

Titus. Marcus, my brother! ’tis sad Titus calls!




Scrooby theory : In between the deliveries of line 119 and line 120 is a stretch of silence that (who knows?) may have lasted as long as Oppenheimer’s thirty seconds.


Q : Would noble Titus shout for his brother right in the face of his guest?


Scrooby theory : Titus walks across the span of the stage in silence, and for this duration of highly-charged time the audience is wondering, in rising suspense, what Titus is thinking and what Titus will do—because Titus, everyone knows, is capable of horrible things.  


It’s a moment that Kubrick might have described as “Some silence, okay?” (Eyes Wide Open (Bertelsmann, 1999), 66)


Finally :


               Titus. Marcus, my brother! ’tis sad Titus calls!


And the audience asks itself, its proverbial heart in its proverbial throat : What shall it be?


Nolan’s silence is a type of breathing out; Shakespeare’s silence is a type of breathing in.


Storytellers Shakespeare and Nolan understand audience psychology. They use silence as a mystic pressure valve on mood.

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In the silence


Titus’ silence between 119 and 120 is located at the structural heart of 5.2—the silence is the pivot point of the scene—one of the most memorable scenes in Shakespeare.


Not for a moment was Titus fooled by Tamora’s ridiculous “jest”. In the silence he contemplates his Situation.


In how many films have we experienced a variation of the following subsequent reflection :


Titus. Oft have you heard me wish for such an hour,

     And now I find it.


Titus’ silence, his conspiratorial and triumphant silence, recalls Alex’s sinister eyeball response to the following exchange :


Alex. When do I get out, then?

Nurse. I’m sure it won't be long now.




In 5.2, before he cuts the throats of Tamora’s two sons, Titus informs them of their fate :


Titus. Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust,

     And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,

     And of the paste a coffin I will rear,

     And make two pasties of your shameful heads,

     And bid that strumpet, your unhallowed dam,

     Like to the earth swallow her own increase.

     This is the feast that I have bid her to,

     And this the banquet she shall surfeit on.


Was the vibe of this plan germinating in the mind of Titus in his iconic silence between 119 and 120?




Enchanting Revenge


Tamora-as-Revenge comes to Titus with a mystic gentleness in her speech; kindly, just as Satan comes to Christ as a noble young girl in Last Temptation.


Tamora employs a fairy-tale placidity to enchant and dazzle Titus :


Tamora. Titus, I am come to talk with thee.


She uses the technique of empathy. Also, for example, she applies a calming hypnotic repetition to her speech :


               Tamora. Come down, and welcome me to this world's light . . .

               Titus. Art thou Revenge? and art thou sent to me,

     To be a torment to mine enemies?

               Tamora. I am; therefore come down, and welcome me.


Revenge appears with the august grace of the Blue Fairy!

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The character of Titus Andronicus has his left hand voluntarily lopped off by psychopathic Aaron, as a ransom to save his sons from the emperor, at 3.1.191. Unfortunately, as is revealed 40-odd lines later, it’s all a sick joke on Titus.


               Messenger. Worthy Andronicus, ill art thou repaid

                    For that good hand thou send’st the emperor.

                    Here are the heads of your noble sons,

      And here’s thy hand, in scorn to thee sent back.




Q : How many instances of the word “hand” appear in Titus Andronicus?


Over 70.




In this thread back on 27 April 2023, Scroob remarked on the hand-centric performances of Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac (2007) and Harrison Ford in Frantic (1988) : “In both films the actors use their hands prominently throughout their performances.” In the post, Scroob offers commentary on reasons for these performance decisions.




John Bulwer, “A Corollarie of the Speaking motions, discoursing gestures, or habits of the Hand” in Chirologia, or The Natural Language of the Hand (London, 1644), 11.


The stretching out of the Hands is a natural expression of gesture, wherein we are significantly importunate, intreat, request, sue, solicit, beseech, and ask mercy and grace.


J.B. Philochirosophus [John Bulwer], Chironomia, whereby the Naturall Gestures of the HAND, are made the Regulated Accessories or faire-spoken Adjuncts of RHETORICALL Utterance (London, 1644), 16.


The Hand is known to be so absolutely pertinent to speech, that we together with a speech expect the due motion of the Hand to explain, direct, enforce, apply, apparel, and beautify the words.




Tamora. Titus, I am come to talk with thee.

Titus. No, not a word; how can I grace my talk,

     Wanting a hand to give it action?



What does Kant, in Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, have to say on the subject of the Hand?


sight and hearing . . . must originally be referred to touch in order to produce empirical knowledge.


Derrida, On Touching (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2005), 41.




Amusing doublespeak commencing the final horrible banquet :


Lucius. The trumpets show the emperor is at hand.

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Stanwyck and Titus


MacMurray. If your husband’s a member.

Stanwyck. No, he isn’t.


And she rises out of her smoky, enchanting, soft fairy-tale glow;—and walks across the room, now in harder light, and thinking to herself; and storyteller Wilder stays with her while MacMurray unloads his spiel offscreen; stays with her, because, as with Titus in the silence between 119 and 120, Stanwyck, in her own conspiratorial silence, is birthing a monstrous plan.

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Stanwyck. Hello, Mr. Neff. Aren’t you coming in?

MacMurray. I’m considering it.


Strauss. This is one of the most prestigious appointments in the country—

Oppenheimer. With a great commute. That’s why I’m considering it.


Groves. So you’ve got the job now?

Oppenheimer. I’m considering it.


When happens next? He who’s “considering it” walks into doom.




Q : Does Oppenheimer (intentionally) have engineered into it every decade of cinema history?




An ancient superstition warns us against leaving a book open indefinitely in our dwelling when we turn to other matters; such leads to bad luck.


Lo and behold : When Stanwyck comes to MacMurray in the night (“See if you can carry that as far as the living room”), an open book, resting on its pages, is visible on a table beside Stanwyck on the couch.




(31:41) MacMurray readjusts his carpet so that everything looks perfect again—just after he makes the decision that eventually destroys his life.




(34:28) When MacMurray prompts the husband to sign the paperwork (“the applications for auto renewals”), Stanwyck moves across the room from one seat to another. Now the husband, for all of his blustering self-confidence, is unwittingly flanked by his two killers.


Such is the Situation in The White Devil, 5.3.66–7 :


While social-climbing Flamineo pronounces with brash bravado


To reprehend princes is dangerous; and to over-commend

some of them is palpable lying.


he doesn’t realise he’s flanked not by two allies but, in disguise, the noblemen Francisco and (psycho) Lodovico, whose conspiracies eventually include Flamineo’s murder.


Flamineo’s naive authority here is another early literary instance of the cringeworthy, which Scroob has already traced back to at least Sophocles.

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Posted (edited)

James Shirley, The Maid’s Revenge (London, 1639).


Like Stephen King’s Carrie, the character of Berinthia is wronged in love—and goes on a killing spree. No one is safe, not even her brother and sister.




sophisticated genre-splice


Following a pile-up of stabbed and poisoned bodies, we reach the end of the play, and the suicidal murderess speaks :


Berinthia. Oh father, my heart weeps tears, for you I die, oh see

     A maid’s revenge with her own Tragedy.


The playwright’s plan recalls the duality of the wacky Revenger’s Tragedy;— Shirley proceeds more seriously.




hardcore death


Catalina. I must hence, hence, farewell, will you let me die so?

     Confusion, torment, death, hell.


a much stronger wording of a similar sentiment from The White Devil :


               Vittoria. My soul, like to a ship in a black storm,

                     Is driven, I know not whither.


Catalina’s dismal death recalls the post-war hysterical death of a Hollywood superstar :


Elsa Bannister. I’m afraid. Michael, come back here! Michael, please! I don't want to die! I don't want to die!




a modern woman


Berinthia stabs her brother Sebastiano “upon his couch”—i.e., she kills him in his sleep; poisons her sister Catalina and also—as collateral damage—their maid Ansilva; then mortally wounds herself.


In her own death-throes Berinthia echoes Vittoria of Revenger’s Tragedy—a tribute to Middleton :


Vittoria. My soul, like to a ship in a black storm,

                     Is driven, I know not whither.


               Berinthia. My soul is reeling forth I know not whither.




blunt nihilism


Berinthia. It will be easy to die.

     All life is but a walk in misery.              [ end of act 4 ]




Three years later, the London theatres are shut by the English Parliament.







Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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You, Tityrus, lying under cover of this beech,

play your cosy music on your shepherd’s pipe.

But me? My house is closed now. I must leave my fields,

I must leave my homeland. You, Tityrus, sit cool

in the shade, and the woods return your pretty sounds.



O Meliboeus, a god granted me this peace.

And forevermore he shall stay a god to me;

and I shall often offer him lambs from my fold.

All this is his, everything you see. My cattle

roam where they like; on my pipe I play what I like.



What you do is fine by me. It’s everything else—

the unrest universal in the countryside.

Look! I’m driving my goats, but I am sick inside;

and this one, Tityrus, can barely lead. Just now,

in those hazel-trees, she dropped twins in the bare dust,—

the hope of the flock! I have had a bad feeling

for ages, stirred by thunder in the skies;—also

from the frightening sound of the raven’s cry

in the trees. What god did you say? Tityrus, do tell.



The city they call Rome, Meliboeus!


Virgil, Ecologue 1, 1–19.



John Lyly, Galatea, 1.1.1–5.


Tityrus. The sun doth beat upon the plain fields; wherefore let us sit down, Galatea, under this fair oak, by whose broad leaves being defended from the warm beams we may enjoy the fresh air, which softly breathes from Humber floods.


                              [ They sit down under a tree ]

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