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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


The character Oppenheimer—self-contained and aloof; especially remote in Hour 3; a man apart.


The character Strauss—not self-contained but integrated with the world (e.g., “common room, 4:00, tea”); not an Individual but enmeshed in socialisation (e.g., the character Oppenheimer lives rent-free in his head).


Chasing humanness vs. the Inhuman. Only one is the Creator, the Artist. The other? A “salesman”.




(11:27) Oppenheimer and Einstein together by the pond : a memory of the pastoral.


Polonius. As for Oppenheimer? Pastoral-tragical-revenger’s-love-domestic-political-historical . . .


*     *     *




[ enter Phillida and Galatea, both disguised as boys ]


Phillida. It is pity that Nature framed you not a woman, having a face so fair, so lovely a countenance, so modest a behaviour.

Galatea. There is a tree is Tylos, whose nuts have shells like fire, and, being cracked, the kernel is but water.

Phillida. What a toy it is to tell me of that tree, being nothing to the purpose! I say it is pity you are not a woman.

Galatea. I would not wish thee to be a woman, for then I should not love thee. For I have sworn never to love a woman.


Lyly, Galatea, 3.2.1–5



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Final lines


Gallathea. As It Was Playde Before the Queenes Maiestie At Greene-Wiche, On Newyeeres Day At Night (London, 1592).


Galatea. Yield, ladies, yield to love, ladies, which lurketh under your eyelids whilst you sleep, and playeth with your heartstrings whilst you wake; whose sweetness never breedeth satiety, labour weariness, nor grief bitterness. . . . Love conquereth all things but itself, and ladies all hearts but their own.




Rodney Dangerfield. Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!


Caddyshack (1980)

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Cinematic poetry


What follows are two lines commencing a new tale in Ovid, μεταμορφώσεις. Please, kind reader, recall the two-note motif in Spielberg’s Jaws.


Quam, dum pectendos praebet Galatea capillos,

talibus adloquitur, referens suspiria, dictis:




Quam, dum (p)ectend(o)(s) (p)raebet Ga(l)atea (c)a(p)il(lo)(s),

ta(l)ibu(s) ad(lo)quitur, referen(s) (s)u(s)(p)iria, di(c)ti(s):


(c) (lo) (p) (s)

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Ω λευκ Γαλάτεια


T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”


                                          there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet




et spectare feros in aqua et componere vultus.


and inspecting your roughness in the water, and composing your face.


Ovid, μεταμορφώσεις, 13.767


*     *     *


               I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.




Quam, dum pectendos praebet Galatea capillos,

talibus adloquitur, referens suspiria, dictis:


combing hair

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Posted (edited)

[ Enter the Alchemist’s boy, Peter ]


Peter [ to himself ]. What a life do I lead with my master! Nothing but blowing of bellows, beating of spirits, and scraping of crosslets. It is a very secret science, for none almost can understand the language of it: sublimation, almigation, calcination, rubification, incorporation, circination, cementation, albification, and fermentation, with as many terms unpossible to be uttered as the art to be compassed.


John Lyly’s Galatea was performed before Queen Elizabeth I by a troupe of juveniles. Peter the Alchemist’s boy may have been performed by a six-year-old schoolkid.


The child actor getting right this memory-feat and complicated elocution in live performance on stage—the perfecting of public speaking was, apparently, a primary reason why schoolboys were taught the art of acting in the first place—was a part of the interactive fun for the esteemed audience watching the production on New Year’s Day.


The potentially treacherous phonemic stream of Peter’s speech recalls, say, Danny’s amusingly just-successful delivery of


Don’t worry, mom. I know all about cannibalism. I saw it on TV.


And the audience smiles.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Eight or nine years ago I read a novel with a counter-terrorist hero having a chat with some NYC cops. It was a quiet moment (I don't remember the Title or Author's name) but one of the cops tells this joke:  Jeffrey Dahmer's mother was having dinner with her son at his apartment.  Hoping to enter a heart to heart conversation with her son she says,  "Jeffrey, you know I don't really like your friends,"  Before she can continue, Jeffrey says, "That's OK mom. just eat your salad."  

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My salad days / When I was green in judgment


“His punishment,” the Duke pronounced, “must exceed death.”


So goes James Shirley’s The Traitor (ca.1631).


The Duke of Florence continues :


                                 First apply all tortures

To enforce confession who are his confederates,

And how they meant to murder me. Then some rare

Invention to execute the traitor,

So as he may be half a year a-dying,

Will make us fam’d for justice.




“tortures” + “execute” = “justice”.


—a John Webster–approved™ portrait of our everyday overlords, which prompts friendly Scroob to recall a fairy-tale notion from long ago :


Gratiana. And by what rule should we square out our lives

     But by our betters’ actions?


(Revenger’s Tragedy, 2.1.152–3)


and this, from another aggrieved mother like Gratiana—


Cornelia. The lives of princes should like dials move,

     Whose regular example is so strong,

     They make the times by them go right, or wrong.


(The White Devil, 1.2.280–2)




Brian De Palma and John Webster


The story structure of Femme Fatale (2002) ensures that the audience is kept relentlessly one step behind—i.e., not yet able to piece things together.


The Situation of one step behind is intrinsic to The White Devil, in which (for example) characters repeatedly, and deviously, act out roles in front of other characters (and therefore before the audience), before everyone understands that the character is fooling everyone.


Earlier in this thread Scroob realized that No Country for Old Men is a cinematic masterclass in the three audience modes of (1) one step behind the narrative; (2) consonant with the narrative; (3) ahead of the narrative.


One step behind prepares an audience for surprise.


(Femme Fatale’s American embassy and Lou de Laâge’s workplace in Coup de Chance are the same building in Paris, but let’s move on.)


Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale maintains the audience in a surprising state of one step behind from first frame to last.




R-rated talk in The Traitor :


Sciarrha. Are all the brothels rifled? No quaint piece

     Left him in Florence that will meet his hot

     And valiant luxury, that we are come

     To supply his blood out of our families?

     Diseases gnaw his title off.








36. non temere ulla inlustriore femina abstinuit.  . . . uel laudabat palam uel uituperabat, singula enumerans bona malaue corporis atque concubitus. (36)


“There was virtually no woman of distinction he kept away from,” writes Suetonius. After an idle dalliance, Caligula would address the humiliated husband in front of dinner-party guests and “either praise or criticise her, enumerating the good and bad points of her body one by one, and her sexual performance.”




οτω τοι Πολύφαμος ποίμαινεν τν ρωτα

μουσίσδων, ῥᾷον δ διγ ε χρυσν δωκεν.


Theocritus, Idyll 11


Polyphemus, then, soothed his broken heart with song,

and stayed cool-headed even without his darling.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Posted (edited)

But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.


Sympathy for the Devil


Woodcock. What precisely is the nature of my game?


PT, 1:09:41




Drama, drama, drama


The Duke seeks a seduction of chaste Amidea, with a pówsoddy of conspiracies flourishing all around them—including one brother having fitted her with a weapon, and another hidden behind “the hangings” :


Duke.                             I am

     Resolv’d to grapple with you.

Amidea.                                           Keep off.              [ she shows the dagger ]

Duke.                                                                 Ha?

     Turn’d Amazon?

Amidea.                    Prince, come not too near me.


(Traitor, 3.3.85–87)




Lorenzo. Where’s the duke? He hath a guard,

     An army of heaven about him. Who in Florence

     Dares be so black a devil to attempt

     his death?


(Traitor, 3.3.172–5)


English Bob. One isn’t that quick to shoot a king or a queen. The majesty of royalty, you see.


Unforgiven, 32:25




               Lorenzo. Wise men secure their fates and execute

     Invisibly, like that most subtle flame

     that burns the heart, yet leaves no path or touch

     Upon the skin to follow or suspect it.


(Traitor, 4.1.190–93)


Pressure never has a name on it.


Mailer, An American Dream, ch5




Duke. He shall be banish’d.

Depazzi. I had rather lose my head at home, and save charges

     of travel. I beseech your grace.

Duke. Well, ’tis granted.


(Traitor, 4.1.303–8)


Salesman. That one'll set you back 7,500 if you take it home today.

De Niro. Can you do any better?

Salesman. Buddy, this is what you want to go home in, no?


The Irishman (2019), 3:09:38






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Naked Wife


Once there was a king in an ancient place who loved the Queen his wife. So beautiful was she in his eyes, that he was unable not to sing her praises to Gyges, who was the most trusted of his palace guards. “Gyges,” said the king, “I do not think I have convinced you of my wife’s beauty. Since seeing is believing, I would have you see her naked.”


“My king,” said Gyges, answering in protest, “I would prefer not to see the Queen naked. When a woman removes her clothes she reveals her humility. I trust in the wisdom of the ancients—I should mind my own business. And sir,” faithful Gyges added, “I already believe the Queen is the most beautiful woman of all.”


Gyges feared nothing good would come of this.


“Courage!” The King answered. “Gyges, this is no test; and my wife will not harm you. I’ll set it up so she won’t even know you saw her. Tonight, sneak into our bedroom and hide behind the open door. I will come in, then my wife will come in, and we will prepare for bed.”


Gyges bristled, but the King persisted. “A chair stands by the doorway,” he said. “My wife will put onto it each piece of clothing as she takes it off. You can look at her a long time. When she turns her back to you as she walks to the bed, you tiptoe out the open doorway.”


Gyges hated the plan, but saw no way out of it.


So when the king deemed it time for bed, he slipped Gyges into the royal bedroom. Then his wife entered and laid her garments on the chair one by one, and Gyges saw her.


She turned her back, and as he disappeared out through the open doorway she saw him go. The Queen understood what her husband had done and felt dishonoured and shamed, but she did not show it. Instead, she slipped into bed and said nothing.


The next morning the Queen summoned Gyges. The man, thinking it was a day like any other, went to her without fear.


When he stood before her, the Queen spoke. “Gyges,” she said, “you now have two choices. You either kill the king and take me and the throne as yours; or you will be killed at once. Decide.”


Gyges thought a moment.


“I’ll kill the king.”


The Queen nodded. “You, Gyges,” she said, “outraged all decency.”


“Since you’re forcing me to do this,” he said, “please explain how we’re supposed to do this.”


“Go to the same place you were last night,” she said, “when you saw me naked. Then kill him in his sleep.”


So they contrived their plot, and night fell, and Gyges slipped behind the bedroom door, for he had no choice but to follow the word of the Queen, who had put a dagger in his hand.


So the king slept, and Gyges killed him as he slept.


In this way Gyges became husband to the Queen and sovereign over the people.


These days she is remembered by her Robe of State, which is stored in the Treasury of the Kingdom.

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Aelian, Varia Historia, 1.34


Fortune, not reason, rules the state of things.

                  The Tragedy of Bussy D’Ambois


There was a man of the Persians named Rhacoces, who had seven sons, the youngest of whom, named Cartomes, was tireless in delinquency. Though the father strove to teach his son to obey the law, his son would not hear him; and the Judges came to their home. Then the father took his son, and bound his hands behind his back, and brought him before the Judges. And he denounced his son, and accused him of many crimes, and asked that his son be put to death. The Judges stood amazed at his words, and refused to decide the issue. Instead, they brought both father and son before their king, Artaxerxes. The father continued to speak out against his son, and the King asked him : “So you can endure to see your son put to death in front of you?” “Yes I can,” answered the man. “In my garden I cut away the branches that grow around the lettuce; then the lettuce thrives all the more sweeter and satisfying. Good King, when I see my son shame my family, and waste the wealth of his brothers, I would have him lose his life, to make an end to his wickedness, and see my family thrive, along with myself.” When Artaxerxes heard these words, he praised Rhacoces, and appointed him one of his Royal Judges, and explained to those before him that any man who would sentence his own child to death should be an honest judge of the people. The young man was dismissed without penalty, but the king threatened him with a terrible death should he break the law ever after.

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Monsieur.                             The old Scythians

     Painted blind fortune’s powerful hands with wings,

     To show her gifts come swift and suddenly,

     Which if her favourite be not swift to take,

     He loses them forever.


Bussy d’Ambois, 1.1.113–8


               Bud Fox. Well, life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.


Wall Street (1987), 15:51


               Kitty. This is your moment. . . .




Aaron. That what you cannot as you would achieve,

     You must perforce accomplish as you may.


Alex. If you need pretty polly, you take it.




A suicidal Jack Lemmon struggling comically to open the hotel window in The Odd Couple (1968).


—An example of a narrative that starts with a character at the end of his rope.


At the outset of Bussy d’Ambois, the eponymous main character is described in the s.d. as “poor”. In 1.1., following a monologue of cynicism and depression, he drops to the stage floor, “Procumbit  [ he prostrates himself ], as if giving up on life for good.


Monsieur.                              Turn’d to earth, alive?

     Up, man! The sun shines on thee.

Bussy.                                                     Let it shine.

     I am no mote to play in’t as great men are.


Scrooby Q : Is The Tragedy of Bussy d’Ambois the first narrative in English Literature that begins with a world-weary character ready to check out?

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Posted (edited)

from Plutarch, Moralia : “How a Man May Benefit From His Enemies”


Consider the eminence of the witty answer of Diogenes to the man who asked, “How do I get revenge on my enemy?”


“By being a good and noble man,” was his answer.


“Bear past the bad,” Euripides said. “It is possible.”


If you want to annoy a hater, don’t abuse them as “weaking” or “wretch” or “godless” or “slave”. Instead, act human—be temperate, and honest, and just, and kind.


Demosthenes said: “Kindness stops the tongue, closes the throat, and makes them silent.”


But if you’re still tempted to hurl abuse, think first of yourself. Go into your own soul and look for the weak spots, so your enemy might not return to you the line from Euripides—


You who doctor others are sick.


*     *     *


Guise. Cease your courtship [of her], or by heaven I’ll cut your throat.

Bussy. “Cut my throat”? . . .  “Cut my throat”? . . . [ threateningly ] Go, at your pleasures, I’ll be your ghost to haunt you; if ye sleep on’t, hang me.


(1.2.114–6 / 203–7)


Plainview. One night I’m going to come to you, inside of your house, or wherever you’re sleeping, and I’m going to cut your throat.

Tilford. What? . . . Why are you acting insane and threatening to cut my throat?


*     *     *


Barrisor. O, miraculous jealousy! Do you think yourself such a singular subject for laughter that none can fall into the matter of our merriment but you?




Senate Aide. Is it possible they didn’t talk about you at all? Is it possible they spoke about something . . . [ hands Strauss his hat and coat ] more important?


hands Strauss his hat and coat = Kane helping Thatcher with his coat after the argument. (26:32)


*     *     *


Belinda. Ay, but you know we must return Good for Evil.

Lady Brute. That may be a Mistake in the Translation.


John Vanbrugh, The Provoked Wife






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Soundbite PhD

A Clockwork Orange as Inverted Revenge Tragedy


THESIS. Is A Clockwork Orange related to the Shakespearean-era revenge tragedy?




CHAPTER 1. Englishness.


e.g. bowler hats.

e.g. Alex’s characterological resemblance to Shakespearean-era antiheroes.

e.g. his life and times reflect contemporary England.


CHAPTER 2. A Clockwork Orange as “Shakespearean-era Modernity”.


e.g. Alex’s species of codpiece.

e.g. One rapist wears lace sleeve-cuffs. (6:00)

e.g. Moog-synth version of Purcell’s Music (1695).

e.g. Shakespearean-era speak, such as :


Alex. What, then, didst thou in thy mind have? (36:22)


CHAPTER 3. Tabulation of Structural and Thematic Links Between A Clockwork Orange and Shakespearean-era Revenge Tragedies.


               e.g. social commentary on the dystopia.




hypocrisy, manners, sexual perversion, sudden explosive violence, prolonged sadistic violence, rape, wealth and class divide, parent-child conflict, imbecility, corruption at the top and all over, clueless dogsbodies, masks, mourning, insanity, suicide, murder, comedy, the joie de vivre of transgression, Revelation.


CHAPTER 4. Genius Move : Skewing of Convention in Act 3.


e.g. Instead of an individual antihero avenging one by one, the social collective exacts revenge solely on Alex.


—The above is a genius inversion of the structure of Shakespearean-era plays : The revenger element in Act 3 of ACO is society itself against the individual.


e.g. Antihero Alex contemplates suicide (1:36:36). At this do any Spectators feel sympathy for the devil?e.g., criminal Vindice’s final, heroic speech that closes out The Revenger’s Tragedy.


e.g. At narrative’s end, Alex, unlike the antiheroes of the revenge plays, survives to tell the tale. Now—possibly—Alex might begin answering the depredations perpetrated on him in Act 3, just as all the good folks of English society have taught him to do.


CHAPTER 5. Conclusion.


               Yes, A Clockwork Orange is closely related to the Shakespearean-era revenge tragedy.




A Clockwork Orange is the only Shakespearean-era narrative of science fiction.

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What good is the law if it prevents me from receiving justice?


Bussy. When I am wrong’d, and the law fail to right me,

     Let me be king myself, as man was made,

     And do a justice that exceeds the law.


The scene in Hateful Eight of The Hangman discoursing on the niceties of frontier justice (specifically 46:54–47:57) has a Shakespearean-era predecessor in a remarkable passage from Bussy D’Ambois—remarkable for a number of reasonsin which our once-depressed but now-swashbuckling hero, while speaking with the King after killing a number of men in a street-fight, explores and champions the moral right of personal vengeance over the mechanisms of institutional law—for the select few.


And the King agrees with him.




*     *     *


Helen Hunt. This can’t be right. “Con-science?”


Indeed, the word is pronounced as three syllables here :


Friar. You must say thus then: that you heard from me

     How much herself was touch’d with conscience

     With a report


Bussy, 2.2.156–8


Also here :


                        a Leach [ doctor ], the which had great insight

     In that disease of grievéd conscíence,

And well could cure the same; his name was Patience.


—[ patience, also as three syllables ] Spencer, Faerie Queene,–7


*     *     *




59. So Caligula lived twenty-nine years, and ruled for three years, ten months, and eight days. His body was taken in secret to the Lamian Gardens and half-consumed in a hurried pyre there; and was what left of him was buried in a shallow dusting of earth. Later, when his sisters returned from exile they dug him up, cremated him and entombed him. Afterwards it was sufficiently established that the caretakers of the gardens saw ghosts walk; and no night passed without some terrifying disturbance in the house where he was murdered, until finally the house was destroyed by fire. As for Caesonia his wife, a centurion stabbed her to death; and his baby daughter had her brains bashed out against a wall.


*     *     *


Kubrick cutting within the fluid mechanics of Szavost kissing Nicole Kidman’s hand (7:30)—


—Ozu cutting serenely during Chishū Ryū lifting his cigarette, in Tokyo Twilight (1957), 24:24.


At times Ozu’s technique in, say, Tokyo Twilight brings to mind the conversational CUs of Silence of the Lambs; and Ozu framing different scenes similarly in order to convey the serenity of repetitive time recalls similar technics of The Shining.




Kudos to Hollywood Reporter for recalling Dogfight (1991), a fine Hollywood film from a time when those who took things seriously were more serious about it. Similar to Oppenheimer, here, too, the storytellers give audiences the benefit of the doubt. When the film ends it’s as much a mourning for classic Hollywood as for the characters and their world. It’s also, therefore, a mourning for the apparently dead concept of adulthood.


Among Dogfight’s finest features is an unforgettable screen kiss, and a recreation of the City Lights Bookstore.




Eyes Glazed Over


Scrooby theory : A filmmaker with the tools to communicate asking “How do we resist?” is among the most imbecilic moments in Oscar telecast history. No surprise it’s riffraff from England.


When was everyone going to cut out the nonsense and get to work, do their own real work? One’s own creative work was the only answer to the war in Vietnam.


Mailer, Armies of the Night

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Posted (edited)

A bit of fun


The flower of fire (so to speak) visible as the final sight of Alex’s nighttime imaginings in A Clockwork Orange (20:01) suggests a metaphorical view of the Spirit—


               Heidegger. As flame, Spirit is the storm that “storms the sky” and “chases God”.


—and therefore is one anticipation of thematic resonances of the Trinity blast in Oppenheimer.


—also recalls Satan as a rising pillar of fire in Last Temptation of Christ (59:20).




Colour—a predominance of the classic Renaissance combination green and red—connotes through association that Mr. Deltoid is as much a “Droog” in his way as Alex is in his.











Visible at (26:15) is British Vogue (October 1970) with Maudie James on the cover.


Apparently Kubrick wanted to film EWS since around 1970.


Maudie James was born in Somerset, England. “Somerton” is the name of an eighth-century town in the county of Somerset, England.


[  “Maudie James, the model with all the luck”, Australian Women’s Weekly (5 Nov 1969), 2. ]


Synchronicity—Call it the destiny of a creator who couldn’t lose?






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Posted (edited)

Kubrick Treasure Hunt


Q : How many times has the kind reader watched A Clockwork Orange? Has the viewer ever noticed the following three shots—flash cuts. And where are they?






Best wishes.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Sallust, The Catiline Conspiracy


2. If kings and rulers had any brains in peace as they have in war, human society would be stable and just. Governments would not pass from one confusion to a worse one, with all things continuously changing for the worse. Obviously, power is best maintained by those positive qualities which built our strength in the first place. But when laziness replaces thought, and greed and lawlessness overthrow all self-restraint and caring, the fortune of the empire deteriorates along with its morals. And so it goes—power moving from one imbecile to another, and the best no longer an option.






The authority of government is an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?




H. G. Wells, A Short History of the World


If the dangers, confusions and disasters that crowd upon humanity in these days are enormous beyond any experience of the past, it is because science has brought us such powers as we never had before.

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Apocalypse Now : Shakespeare’s King Lear  


               Gloucester. The King is mad.





First line as Thematic Fundament


Kent. I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.


The play’s first line evokes dissension and error and uncertain loyalties. (“I thought he liked one more than the other.”)


And so on.




Parody of the Revenge Tragedy


While characters of the play actively conspire revenge—for example :


               Cornwall. I will have my revenge ere I depart his house.




               Gloucester. Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature,

                    to quit [ requite ] this horrid act!




—the old mad King is enmeshed in a deteriorating structure and can only bluster :


Lear. No, you unnatural hags,

     I will have such revenges on you both,

     That all the world shall—I will do such things,—

     What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be

     The terrors of the earth!




               Lear. But I will punish home.




               Lear. And when I have stol’n upon these sons-in-law,

     Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!




In the end, Lear revenges himself on no one.




Henry James Positive-Negative Statement


Edmund. How malicious is my fortune, that I must repent to be just!








               Goneril. [ Speak ] No more; the text is foolish.




               Kent. My point and period will be thoroughly wrought,

                    Or well or ill, as this day’s battle’s fought.




Fool. She that’s a maid now and laughs at my departure

     Shall not be a maid long, unless things be cut shorter.






Apocalypse Relatable?


Gloucester. ’Tis the times’ plague, when madmen lead the blind.




               Albany. Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile:

                    Filths savour but themselves.


(4.2. 47–8)




               Albany. If that the heavens do not their visible spirits

                    Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,

                    It will come,

                    Humanity must perforce prey on itself,

                    Like monsters of the deep.




“Only a god can save us now.”

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Posted (edited)



The common Internet expression, “What a hill to die on!” (i.e., what a questionable hill to die on)


—has an equivalent in Euripides, Heracles, 155 :


τοσδ ξαγωνίζεσθε?

This is your fight?


spoken in the same manner, with the same scepticism.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Lyly, The Woman in the Moon


Dorothy. I’m not crazy. I know the difference between good and bad.


Blue Velvet, 1:10:18


Pandora. Hail, Heavenly Queen [ Nature ], the author of all good,

     Whose will hath wrought in me the fruits of life,

     And filled me with an understanding soul,

     To know the difference twixt good and bad!




The M’Naughten Rule, the ancient British importation which contends that if the accused knew the nature of their act, and knew it was wrong, then they are mentally competent and responsible for their actions.


Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, ch4




Prometheus and Pandora



The gods conceal from us a life of perfection.

Otherwise in one day easily we could change

our minds for the better, rather than toiling

for another year in the worst. Olympus punishes

us with the drudgery of plowing fields with ox

and patient mule, and the power to overcome

our depravation wastes away untapped in us;

for God has hidden our possible powers of mind

for he would not have us be as strong as gods.

Noble Prometheus deceived him and stole fire,

hiding the flame in a hollow of a fennel stem,

and his artfulness of thought escaped the notice

of god who moves the clouds. Afterwards, however,

Zeus Supreme who moves all things spoke out in anger :

“Prometheus! Smarter than all the rest in thought,

think yourself happy for tricking me? What you’ve done

is bring misery to yourself and all those to come.

Not only you but the whole world shall pay the price.

So let them all be happy while they embrace death.



So the god of all things demanded Hephaestus

to get to work, and mix together earth and water,

and skillfully endue the form with human voice

and strength; then mould the shape into a lovely girl

of exceeding sweetness, with face of a goddess.

Athena, then, will teach her the intricacies

of needlework, and the weaving of webs; and golden

Aphrodite shall pour down grace onto her head—

but also cares and sorrows and regrets, and troubles

that eat up the soul. And Zeus ordered tricky Hermes

to put into the girl shamelessness and deceit.

Thus was the dispensation from the son of Time,

and Hermes obeyed his word; and all things happened

in order. First, Hephaestus, the famous limping God,

fashioned the clay into a respectful virgin.

Next, bright-eyed Athena dressed her in finery.

Then the joysome Graces laid necklaces of gold

on her skin, which warmed the gems there; and the Horai,

the beautiful-haired goddesses of the seasons,

crowned her head in wreaths of flowers of spring.

Then Athena returned with garments to show off

the virgin’s body and breasts. Finally, Hermes came.

He fashioned into her deceitful wheedling words

and a wily θος [ ethosnature, character ] decreed by Zeus, master

of cloud and thunder; and he put a voice into her,

and the power of speech. And her name was Pandora.

And all of the gods who dwell on high Olympus

gave her as a misery to toil the world,

just because.



When this deep deceit was built to perfection,

Zeus sent Hermes to Epimetheus, brother

to Prometheus, bringing with him Pandora

and a beautiful jar fretted with gorgeous work

as gifts. Now Prometheus had instructed

his brother to refuse any gift of the gods,

in case what looked lovely was contrived as bad death—

but Epimetheus didn’t think of this at all.

He received the gifts, and accepted them, and then,

when it was too late, he understood what evil thing

was his. Before all this happened, human beings

all over the earth lived together in peace and quiet,

and were free from all sickness and grievous labour

and the troubles the Three Fates bring to humankind.

Now bad times came to the human race, which weakened.

The woman screwed the lid off the jar with her hands,

and all the enemies of peace and quiet scattered

on the air; and what she did brought many sorrows

and miseries to us all. Back inside the jar

the spirit of Hope made to fly out, but was caught

under the rim of the dark jar, and did not escape

through the opening, and Zeus had decided that.

But the infinite miseries released on us

stalk us all the time, filling up earth and air.

Disease randomly strikes first one, then another,

bringing to humans pain without warning, for Zeus

allows dangers to wander about us silently.

And there is no way to escape the will of Zeus.


Hesiod, Works and Days, 42–105.

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Mystical Sexy Theatrics


In 1.1 of The Woman in the Moon, the personification of Nature, flanked by her maidens Concord and Discord, brushes aside a curtain to reveal the so-called “Nature’s shop”, from where her two handmaidens bring forth “a clothed image”—a marble statue, an inert sculpted form in human shape.


Handmaiden Concord is instructed :


               Nature. [This] wanteth nothing now but life and soul;

                    But life and soul I shall inspire from heaven.

                    So, hold it fast . . .


                                                            [ Concord embraceth the image ]


               Concord. Now do I feel how life and inward sense

                    Imparteth motion unto every limb.


And Pandora comes alive!




               Rodney. Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!


The Woman in the Moon has an enchanting vibe; and has incorporated into it another side of Ovid as well—the racy.


The Woman in the Moon, as with Galatea, is, among its virtues, equivalent to a theatrical aphrodisiac—recalling, say, the phenomenon of couples leaving DeMille’s Cleopatra to enjoy a warm connubial evening in the winter of 1934.


The four lines opening Woman in the Moon commence the titillation :


Nature. Nature descends from far above the spheres

                    To frolic here in fair Utopia,

                    Where my chief works do flourish in my prime,

     And wanton in their first simplicity.


wanton—as verb. One sense of wanton here is “play”; a second sense is a cue to the audience that recalls the Dangerfield bulletin ending Caddyshack.


What does Scrooby mean? Please consider :


Bussy D’Ambois features a King who actively promotes racy behaviour circulating around him at court.


At (4.1.66), he describes the virtues of the “True Courtiers” competing to charm the court ladies :


               Bold but not impudent; pleasure love, not vice.


Earlier, Bussy propositions a Duchess and she schools him :


Bussy. I desire to be [ a courtier ] and would gladly take entrance, Madam, under your princely colours.

Duchess. Soft, sir, you must rise by degrees, first being the servant of some common lady or knight’s wife, then a little higher to a lord’s wife, next a little higher to a countess, yet a little higher to a duchess, and then turn the ladder.




The Duchess’ chastisement of “Soft, sir” recalls


—There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.

—How fast was I going, officer?

—I’d say around ninety.


Please note the car metaphor—because something terrible happens in a car fifty minutes later.


Something terrible? By the end of Act 1 of Woman in the Moon, the planet Saturn has intentionally degraded the mind of beautiful Pandora (through a kind-of supercelestial voodoo, the planet has injected depression into her; cf. the word saturnine); and the other planets intend to increase her debilitation.


Saturn. Saturn hath laid the foundation to the rest,

     Whereon to build the ruin of this dame,

     And spot her innocence with vicious thoughts.

     My turn is past, and Jupiter is next.


Newly-born Pandora has fled for now. How will she be saved from the planets of influence?






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Genius Move


What follows is a milestone in English storytelling history—3.2 of John Lyly’s The Woman in the Moon (1597)—and the Situation syncs up nicely with David Lynch.


In 3.2, Venus the goddess of love appears onstage and infuses Pandora with sexual desire. So Pandora withdraws into the woods with adoring shepherd Stesias, a mythical moment evoking Adam and Eve “hand in hand” walking the “grassie Herbe” of Eden (PL, 9.186 / 12.648).


Please recall the fourth line of the play :


     And wanton in their first simplicity.


Pandora is a good girl of 1597, so she first requests a ritualised marriage pact in advance of the consummation. The ceremony of twenty lines that follow display Lyly’s wondrous lexical skills—and purposely so—(“Show off!”)—but the poetry is not the subject of this post. Following the impromptu marriage ceremony, the two lovers depart for earthly delights in the woods.


recalling the mystic nighttime walk of Betty and Rita hand in hand above Mullholland Dr. (2:09:14–2:10:43), because


Something miraculous happens now to the structure of Woman in the Moon—storyteller Lyly becomes a full-blown modern surrealist.




Though with proto-anticipations such as the invisibility Situations in Odyssey, 7; and Aeneid, 1—


What eventuates in 3.2 is historic in our English literature for its visionary brilliance




Out in the woods, her body tangled up in lawful love, Pandora experiences an out-of-body experience (so to speak). Summoned by love goddess Venus, Pandora returns onstage—but not as herself, but as a spirit of herself.


While Pandora’s physical body remains back in the arms of her now-betrothed love and lovingly losing its virginity, an emblem of her spirit, her ghost self, proceeds through the trees and comes to Venus—


recalling the spirit of Diane Keaton watching her mechanical self in bed in Annie Hall (42:08)—


—so Pandora is in two places at once—


—and guess what, the events of the second place sync up with the Situation of the first place.




At the meeting of Venus and the spirit of Pandora a second ceremony plays itself out, with Pandora’s spirit singing and dancing with the goddess of love and her two seconds, Cupid and Joculus; and what is spoken is (so to speak) of Pandora’s unconscious :


                              [ They dance and sing ]


Joculus. Were I a man, I could love thee.

Pandora. Were I a man, wilt thou have me?

Joculus. But Stesias saith you are not.

Pandora. What then? I care not.

Cupid. Nor I.

Joculus.           Nor I.

Pandora.                       Then merrily

     Farewell my maidenhead,

     These be all the tears I’ll shed.

     Turn about and trip it.


                              [ dancing ]




semper maior


Joculus. Were I a man, I could love thee.

Pandora. Were I a man, wilt thou have me?

Joculus. But Stesias saith you are not.

Pandora. What then? I care not.


               And then I . . . I was ******* other men. So many . . . I don't know how many I was with.




I knew she was crying not for Deborah, not even quite for herself, but rather for the unmitigatable fact that women who have discovered the power of sex are never far from suicide. And in that sudden burst of mourning, her face took on beauty.


An American Dream


She was a presence. She was ambiguous. She was the angel of sex, and the angel was in her detachment. For she was separated from what she offered.


Mailer, Marilyn : A Biography



Pandora.                       Then merrily

     Farewell my maidenhead,

     These be all the tears I’ll shed.

     Turn about and trip it.


                              [ dancing ]

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And with Neptune moving into the Sagittarian light of the higher mind it was bound to be something love related


 [ the two lovers prepare to run off together ]


Pandora. For thee I have done this.

Gynophilus. Ay, and for yourself too. I am sure you will not beg by the way.




So I just sit and knit.

Is that what you married him for?

Maybe I like the way his thumbs hold up the wool.

Anytime his thumbs get tired. . . . Only with me around, you wouldn’t have to knit.

Wouldn’t I?

You bet your life you wouldn’t.


Double Indemnity (20:07)




In the end, Phyllis Dietrichson does indeed “bet her life”.


This Situation recalls the mirror scene (3.2) in The Duchess of Malfi


The extreme conversational as terrible portent.




The charming, amorous vibe of Woman in the Moon evokes, say, Smiles of a Summer Night


for one example.


At times The Woman in the Moon evokes a wacky fast-paced exuberant Marx Brothers revenge comedy—a collection of characters convening and reconvening in various assemblages and working at cross-purposes at a frenetic pace.


But first and foremost the foundational vibe-principle of The Woman in the Moon is Ovid.




Dream story


The Woman in the Moon ostensibly takes place within one day-to-night duration of time. But the action of the play demands a much longer period of time to play out realistically—days, months, years.




You’re so analytical. Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.


(Big Chill, 35:22)




Pandora in Woman in the Moon is a “compendium character” (so to speak)—a symbolic treatment of the continuum of a person’s everchanging emotions.




In 5.1, under the influence of the moon, Pandora exhibits lunacy. While she raves “Dormit” [ in her sleep ], her unconscious babble brims with sexually-suggestive doublespeak (205–9).


Which is to say : As the play approaches its conclusion, all her sex-on-the-brain is becoming too much for her. Pandora requires relief.




Pandora’s ever-changing emotional states and situational attitudes are manipulated by the planets of the Ptolemaic system :


Saturn. I shall instill such melancholy mood

     As, by corrupting of her purest blood,

     Shall first with sullen sorrows cloud her brain . . .




Jupiter. Now Jupiter will rule Pandora’s thoughts,

     And fill her with ambition and disdain.




Mars. Now bloody Mars begins to play his part.

     I’ll work such war within Pandora’s breast

     That, after all her churlishness and pride,

     She shall become a vixen martialist.




Sun. So now she shall become gentle and kind.




Venus. I’ll have her witty, quick, and amorous,

     Delight in revels, and in banqueting,

     Wanton discourses, music, and merry songs.




Moon. And as I am, so shall Pandora be—

     Newfangled, fickle, slothful, foolish, mad . . .








Each planet isn’t exclusive in its powers of influence over Pandora.


The influence of the planets stack up one upon another, and work together in Pandora as one emotional network, so that, by the end, her aura has become the sum total of the influence of the planets.




Lyly engineering character


Pandora can be as perverse and wanton as possible yet still maintain audience sympathy, because, according to the logic of the narrative, she is possessed by celestial powers, and is otherwise as innocent as Eve before the fall; so her outrageous behaviour is excused by the audience, and enjoyed. What a jackpot for an author!




At the end, like Roy Neary, Lyly’s Pandora rejects the earth and flies off into the heavens.


               Barry. Bye!




Women choosing women


After all the sex comedy antics of Pandora juggling a husband, a gang of suitors, and a lovesick servant, she finds relief in departing with the moona mythologically female power whose names include Cynthia.


As Woman in the Moon ends, personified Nature rhapsodises on the freedom of women :


Let them be mutable in all their loves,

Fantastical, childish, and foolish in their desires,

Demanding toys,

And stark mad when they cannot have their will.




This fundamental theme of the play was stated right off the bat


Nature. For Nature works her will from contraries.






Mysterious Woman. It could cost me my life, and possibly yours.




Simmering horror


An ominous Lynchian undertone persists through Woman in the Moon.


Example 1.


At times classical allusions in speech are ominous (e.g., Tantalus, 3.2.110).


Example 2.


Act 4 ends in a startling way—abruptly, and with a sudden violent vibe. The aggrieved husband threatens one of Pandora’s suitors, Learchus :


               Stesias. Away from my grove! Out of my land!

      Did I not give thee warning?


               [ Actus quarti finis. ]


The last line is metrically unfinished, a Situation equivalent to a suspended note or a fermata; the audience is left hanging—a held breath—


—and wonders, “How did this charming trifle arrive at this point?”


Example 3.


After all the sprightly sex antics and the silliness and the quick-changing comic reversals and the charming Ovidian note, Lyly ends the play with aggrieved anger and boiling violence.


The shepherd Stesias, once beloved of Pandora but now betrayed and abandoned, threatens her :


               Stesias. I’ll rend this hawthorn with my furious hands,

                    And bear this bush. If e’er she look but back,

                    I’ll scratch her face that was so false to me!




So the ex-husband is warned against physical violence :


               Nature. I charge thee, follow her, but hurt her not.


                              [ FINIS. ]


Conflicta curious tag to a light-hearted entertainment?




Lyly’s sprightly and well-nigh slapstick sex comedy mixed with sudden (suggestions of) violence anticipates, in a way, say, something like Something Wild (1986).


And wanton in their first simplicity.


first simplicity = basic instinct.


*     *     *


John Lyly and Superhero Movies


There exist only five published editions of The Woman in the Moon—1597, 1858, 1902, 1988, 2006. As of the year 2024, the number of academic and pseudo-academic articles on the play is notably scant.


Why might this be? It’s not as if brainy John Lyly didn’t powerfully influence the early Shakespeare!


Incoming Scrooby theory : The distinguished literary scholars of yesteryear might have pigeonholed in their minds The Woman in the Moon—even with its Ovidian pedigree—in a genre equivalent to the rubric of SUPERHERO MOVIES.




It’s an amazing thing what you can see while you’re sittin’.


The Straight Story, 1:19:20.





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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An ingenious murder plot, possibly conceived by Shakespeare


Mosby. I happened on a painter yesternight,

     The only cunning man of Christendom;

     For he can temper poison with his oil

     That whoso looks upon the work he draws,

     Shall with the beams that issue from his sight

     Suck venom to his breast and slay himself.

     Sweet Alice, he shall draw thy counterfeit,

     That Arden may, by gazing on it, perish.


Anonymous, Arden of Faversham (1592), 1.227–34.




Whether Shakespeare wrote the play, or Thomas Kyd, or Snoopy, all Scrooby knows is that the poetry flows so clearly and lucidly that Shakespeare’s hand in the Situation would be no surprise at all.


Arden of Faversham is a drama of murder in an ordinary home—an everyday housewife enters into a conspiracy with her lover to murder her husband.


In other wordsArden of Faversham is a very early sighting in English literature of two ordinary people conspiring domestic murder.


Moreover, Arden of Faversham, as with The Witch of Edmonton, took its plot from recent headlines.


So Arden of Faversham is possibly the earliest prototype of the “Based-on-Recent-Events-in-Real-Life Made-for-TV thriller”.




The first murder in English theatrical history


Abel. Brother, whi art thou so to me in Ire?

Cain. we! theyf, whi brend thi tend so shyre?

     Ther myne did bot smoked

     right as it wold vs both haue choked.

Abel. God is will I trow it were

     that myn brened so clere;

     If thyne smoked am I to wite?

Cain. we! yei! that shal thou sore abite;

     with cheke bon, or that I blyn,       

     shal I the &thi life twyn;


               [ Cain kills Abel ]


     So lig down ther and take thi rest,

     thus shall shrewes be chastysed best.

Abel. Veniance, veniance, lord, I cry!

     for I am slayn, &not gilty.


The Towneley Mactacio Abel (“The Killing of Abel”), 315–28.




Scrooby translation


Abel. Brother, why are you so angry with me?

Cain. I? Thief, why did your land burn so well?

     Mine smoked as it burned;

     if we were there we both would have choked.

Abel. God’s will I believe it was

     that mine burned so brilliantly.

     If yours smoked, am I to blame?

Cain. Ah, you! I will tear you apart!—

     with this cheek-bone! If I don’t stop,

     I shall sever you from life!


               [ Cain kills Abel ]


     So lie down there and take thy rest;

     thus are big-mouths chastised best.

Abel. Vengeance! Vengeance, lord, I cry!

     For I am slain, and not guilty.




The first murder weapon in English drama is an animal bone.




Art historians are well aware that the weapon Cain used for his fratricide is shown, in a large number of representations in western art, as an animal’s jawbone.¹


¹See Plate 60a of the Holkham Bible picturebook; Plate 60b of the Lübeck Bible.


A. A. Barb, “Cain's Murder-Weapon”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 35 (1972), 386–9.




Hamlet. That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground [ dashes it ] as if ’twere Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder!




Cherrell Guilfoyle, “The Staging of the First Murder in the Mystery Plays in England”,  Comparative Drama 25 (Spring 1991), 42–51.


The killing of Abel is reported very briefly in Genesis : “Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him.” The writers of the mystery cycles had no canonical indication of what took place except that the murder of Abel was in the open air; nor is there any identification of a weapon.


The playwrights had to make up their own minds.

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Shakespearean Burn


Arden. [ holding sword ]                  mark my words,

     You goodman botcher, ’tis to you I speak:

     The next time that I take thee near my house,

     Instead of legs I’ll make thee crawl on stumps.


(Arden of Faversham, 1.314–7)




Lavinia’s rapist-mutilators mock her debilitated body after the terrible fact for ten carefree, cruel, relaxed, devil-may-care lines :


Demetrius. So now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,

     Who ’twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.

Chiron. Write down thy mind, bewray [ reveal ] thy meaning so,

     An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.


The Extreme Conversational . . .


[ She takes the staff in her mouth, and guides it with her stumps, and writes ]


. . . as . . .


Saturninus. Go fetch Chiron and Demetrius to us.

Titus. Why, there they are both, bakéd in that pie;

     Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,

     Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.


. . . Famous Last Words.


(Titus Andronicus, 2.4.1–10 / 4.1.78 (s.d.) / 5.3.60–3)




Preston Sturges? Coen Brothers?


By the start of scene 3, three separate Reasons for Murder are conspiring concurrently against one man, Thomas Arden, a gentleman of Faversham. 


1. Alice Arden his wife and Mosby her lover conspire the death of him for their own pleasure. (cf. 1.133–41; 220–25)

2. His neighbour Greene seeks vengeance on him for stealing his land, and hires two murderers to do the deed. (cf. 2.81–108)

3. Arden’s servant Michael hopes to marry Mosby’s sister, but requires Mosby’s permission to do so. Evil Alice promises Michael all shall be well with his nuptial hopes if her husband ends up dead. So Michael believes Alice is helping him. (cf. 1.145–7 / 3.139–41)


While this Situation presents itself as potentially farcical, the play’s dialogue is not funny. No, Arden of Faversham is not a comedy-drama. The triple-murder Situation is presented by storyteller Anonymous as a straight-faced riveting thriller.




Michael. [ musing to himself ]

     Ah, harmless Arden, how hast thou misdone,

     That thus thy gentle life is levelled at?




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




Woody Allen. The country makes me nervous. . . . You got Dick and Perry. . . .


(Annie Hall, 23:25)




The two hired murderers Black Will and Shakebag.


Will. Give me the money, and I’ll stab him as he stands pissing against a wall, but I’ll kill him.




Will. We’ll kill him.

Shakebag. Ay, thy mother, thy sister, thy brother, or all thy kin.




Greene. The first [ walking toward us ] is Arden, and that’s his man;

     The other is Franklin, Arden’s dearest friend.

Will. Zounds, I’ll kill them all three.

Greene. Nay, sirs, touch not his man in any case.




*     *     *


               Balthazar. What, would you have us play a tragedy?


(The Spanish Tragedy, 4.1.86)


Will. I tell thee, Greene, the forlorn traveller

     Whose lips are glued with summer’s parching heat

     Ne’er longed so much to see a running brook

     As I to finish Arden’s tragedy.


(Arden of Faversham, 3.94–7)


               Hippolito. You flow well, brother.

               . . .

Duke. I cannot brook—      [ dies ]


(Revenger’s Tragedy, 2.3.146 / 3.6.223 )


Monsieur. There is a glass of ink where you may see

     How to make ready black-fac’d Tragedy.


(Bussy D’Ambois, 4.2.109–10)


               Talbot.                           accurséd fatal hand

     That hath contrived this woeful tragedy!


(1 Henry 6, 1.4.76–7)


               Vindice. When the bad bleeds, then is the tragedy good.


(Revenger’s Tragedy, 3.5.205)

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