Digging up Shakespeare

An effort is afoot to dig up the body of William Shakespeare:

Paleontologists are looking to examine the remains of William Shakespeare, hoping to unlock the mysteries of the life and death of the world’s most famous playwright — and to prove that the poet once puffed.

The bard is buried under a local church in Stratford-upon-Avon. And a team of scientists, led by Francis Thackeray — an anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa — have submitted a formal application to the Church of England for permission to probe the site where he sleeps, perchance where he dreams.

Safely, of course.

“We have incredible techniques,” Thackeray told FoxNews.com, referring to the “nondestructive analysis” the team has planned. “We don’t intend to move the remains at all.” Instead the team will perform the forensic analysis using state-of-the-art technology to scan the bones and create a groundbreaking reconstruction.

The first job is to confirm the playwright’s identity, Thackeray said.

“We’ll have to establish the age and gender of the individual,” he told FoxNews.com. The team also plans DNA tests for not only Shakespeare, but also the remains of his wife and sister, also buried at the Holy Trinity Church.

For Thackeray, the next priority is solving the longstanding mystery of Shakespeare’s final days. “We would like to find out the cause of death, which is not known historically.”

If all goes well, he believes the research could ultimately establish a full health history and build a picture of the kind of life the writer led. “Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness — a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s,” Thackeray explained.

The team also looks to address a controversial suggestion Thackeray made a decade ago, when he examined a collection of two dozen pipes found in the playwright’s garden and determined that Shakespeare was an avid marijuana smoker.

Thackeray claimed the devices were used to smoke cannabis, a plant actively cultivated in Britain at the time. The allegation has provoked disbelief and anger among some fans of the bard.

via Did Shakespeare Smoke Weed? Let’s Dig Him Up and Find Out – FoxNews.com.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  On his tomb, the Bard himself begs people, in Jesus’ name, to leave his body alone.  Not only that, he put a curse on anyone who would be so presumptuous as to dig him up:

“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,/ To digg the dust encloased heare;/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones.”

I’m suspicious of this story.  The Church of England says that it has received no such request to exhume Shakespeare.  Though the Institute and Prof. Thackeray seem to exist, their expertise on Shakespeare sounds very shaky.  Yes, people have grown hemp for centuries, but it was used for rope, not dope!  There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.  If that happened, Shakespeare would have written about it.

The great comic book bubble

Jonathan V. Last offers a fascinating mashup of two of my favorite topics:  comic books and economics.   Not only that, he draws lessons that apply to the recent popping of the housing bubble:

In 1974 you could buy an average copy of Action Comics #1—the first appearance of Superman—for about $400. By 1984, that comic cost about $5,000. This was real money, and by the end of the decade, comics sales at auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s were so impressive that the New York Times would take note when, for instance, Detective Comics #27—the first appearance of Batman—sold for a record-breaking $55,000 in December 1991. The Times was there again a few months later, when a copy of Action Comics #1 shattered that record, selling for $82,500. Comic books were as hot as a market could be. At the investment level, high-value comics were appreciating at a fantastic rate. At the retail level, comic-book stores were popping up all across the country to meet a burgeoning demand. As a result, even comics of recent vintage saw giant price gains. A comic that sold initially for 60 cents could often fetch a 1,000 percent return on the investment just a few months later.

But 1992 was the height of the comic-book bubble. Within two years, the entire industry was in danger of going belly up. The business’s biggest player, Marvel, faced bankruptcy. Even the value of blue chips, like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, plunged. The resulting carnage devastated the lives of thousands of adolescadolescent boys. I know. As a 12-year-old I had a collection worth around $5,000. By the time I was ready to sell my comic books to buy a car—such are the long-term financial plans of teenagers—they were worthless.

The comic-book bubble was the result not of a single mania, but of a confluence of events. Speculation was part of the story. Price gains for the high-value comics throughout the 1980s attracted speculators, who pushed the prices up further. At the retail level, the possibility that each new issue might someday sell for thousands of dollars drove both the sale of new comics and the market for back-issue comics. It was not uncommon for a comic book to sell at its cover price (generally 60 cents or $1) the month it was released and then appreciate to $10 or $15 a few months later.

But the principal cause of the bubble was the industry’s distribution system.

via The Crash of 1993 | The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Last goes on to spell out how the distribution system both inflated the comic book market–not just collectibles but the whole industry–and then brought it crashing down.  Marvel Comics actually went bankrupt in 1996.

The market did recover somewhat. In 2009, thirteen years after bankruptcy, Marvel was bought out by Disney for $4 billion.  And Action Comics #1 now sells for $1.5 million.   But the money today comes not from selling magazines on woodpulp but from intellectual property:  the movies that get made from comic books–as well as the accompanying toys and merchandise–make them valuable.

I lived through what Mr. Last describes.  In my years of reading comic books as a kid, I accumulated some titles that actually became rather valuable.  In the early 1970s, as a college student perennially in need of money, I sold them.  Soon the money was gone and a few years later I was kicking myself at how those titles had skyrocketed in value.  Now I just wish I had them so that I could read them again and re-experience my childhood imagination.

HT: Tom Hering

Shakespeare’s grammar: “He words me”

A neuroscientist describes one of the things that is so remarkable about Shakespeare’s language:  The way he–along with the Elizabethan English of his time–can use words for different parts of speech:

E. A. Abbott (1838-1926) was one of the great Victorian schoolmasters, who wrote, at the age of thirty, A Shakespearian Grammar. He described it as an attempt to illustrate some of the differences between Elizabethan and Victorian English so that his students could understand that the difficulty of Shakespeare lay not so much in the individual words, which could always be looked up in a glossary, as in the syntactic shaping of his thought. In Elizabethan grammar, he said, ‘it was common to place words in the order in which they came uppermost in the mind’ – and then fit the syntax around that mental excitement. Elizabethan authors, he continued, never objected to any ellipsis – any grammatical shortcut – ‘provided the deficiency could be easily supplied from the context’.

I told my brain scientists that one small but powerful example of this quick Elizabethan shorthand is what is now called functional shift or word-class conversion – which George Puttenham, writing in 1589, named ‘enallage or the figure of exchange’. It happens when one part of speech is suddenly transformed into another with a different function but hardly any change of form. It sounds dull but in performance is almost electrically exciting in its sudden simple reach for a word. For example: an adjective is made a verb when in The Winter’s Tale heavy thoughts are said to ‘thick my blood’. A pronoun is made into a noun when Olivia in Twelfth Night is called ‘the cruellest she alive’. Prospero turns adverb to noun when he speaks so wonderfully of ‘the dark backward’ of past time; Edgar turns noun to verb when he makes the link with Lear: ‘He childed as I fathered.’ As Abbott says, in Elizabethan English ‘You can “happy” your friend, “malice” or “foot” your enemy, or “fall” axe on his head.’ Richard II is not merely deposed (that’s Latinate paraphrase): he is unkinged.

This mental instrument of fresh linguistic coinage, which Shakespeare used above all, holds in small within itself three great principles. Namely: the creative freedom and fluidity of the language at the time; the economy of energy it offered for suddenly compressed formulations; and the closeness of functional shift to metaphor – that characteristic mental conversion that Shakespeare so loved – in the dynamic shifting of senses.

via Literary Review – Philip Davis on Shakespeare and Neurology.

My favorite example of this is in Antony & Cleopatra (II.ii) when Cleopatra responds says to her handmaidens of  Octavius Caesar’s smooth but deceptive rhetoric:  “He words me, girls, he words me.”

Some of Shakespeare’s language-bending has entered into the language has a whole, to its great enrichment.  For example, he took “lone,” as in “lone wolf,” which simply means “one.”  He added -ly to invent “lonely,” the feeling you get when you are “lone.”

The scientist goes on to do an experiment to try to find out how this works in the brain.  But this is also good literary criticism; that is, noticing what an author is doing.

HT: Joe Carter

Updating myself at Redeemed Reader

J. B. Cheaney writes for World and for children.  With fellow children’s lit author Emily Whitten, she has a blog entitled  Redeemed Reader | Kids books. Culture. Christ.  They discuss kiddy-lit, yes, but also lots of other things, from homeschooling to our current cultural condition.  Anyway, they did an interview with me, which they are posting in two parts.  In addition to discussing classical education and vocation,  I take the occasion to update some of what I wrote in my books Reading Between the Lines and Postmodern Times.

Who was left behind?

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, but I’ve set it up so that the post appears on Monday.  So I MIGHT be raptured by the end of the day.  I don’t know yet.  Right now I’m either in Heaven or Texas.

So who is left?  We need to hear from you.  Are the Lutherans all gone?  Where are the Calvinists?  Did the Baptists get taken?  Are the non-denominational Christians gone, or did they need to belong to a denomination after all?

We need to hear from the individuals who are always getting in theological arguments so that we can see if you have been right or not.  Roll call:  Grace?  Porcell?  Todd?  DonS?

Does anyone know if Mr. Camping is still here?  If so, what is he saying?  Just because we might not have noticed large groups of people disappearing doesn’t mean the rapture didn’t happen.  Maybe the gate is so narrow that only a handful of true Christians exist.  Maybe some homeless people, some New Guinea tribesmen, and some persecuted Christian Arabs–individuals no one would notice–got raptured.

So now let’s get ready for the Tribulation!  And the End of the World on October 21!

What do we learn from all of this?

Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.


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