Sunday’s Best: The Point of History

You know it’s been a week when you don’t post a “Sunday’s Best” comic until Wednesday evening.  But that’s the kind of week it has been. Good but packed.  I’ll get to the reasons for that sometime soon.  Until then, here’s this Sunday’s classic Calvin and Hobbes.  I have a Calvin and Hobbes strip posted in my room each day, but rarely do I show a Sunday strip.  This one got some special viewing treatment and discussion as it connects directly to one of the major worldview questions: what is the point of human history?  Turns out Calvin has known the answer all along . . .

calvin history(image from gocomics.com)

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Take You to the Stars

I think one thing that I look for in any new Star Wars movie is its willingness to take us to new places.  I think that desire comes from the juxtaposition in A New Hope of the vastness of space and the emptiness of Tatooine.  So while there are a number of nice moments in this final Star Wars trailer, I am most enthralled by the possibility of new places with different horizons.  There are a few great ones in this trailer.

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Wordsworth’s “Old Man Traveling”

Lake DistrictWhile in England, we spent a couple of days in the Lake District, the stomping grounds of William Wordsworth.  We spent some time at his house, Rydal Mount, and then walked the Coffin Trail down into Grasmere.  We also spent some time in a little town with a big castle called Skipton.  While there, I found a “Everyman’s Poetry” edition of Wordsworth’s poetry.  I’ve not spent much time with Wordsworth since college (probably a survey class, maybe in my Romanticism class), so it’s been interesting to revisit some of his works.  Here’s “Old Man Traveling,” the first poem from the collection, which has a nice but sobering turn at the end.

                The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
“Sir! I am going many miles to take
A last leave of my son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital.”

(poem from wikisource.org)

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Sunday’s Best: Red Sea Today

It’s always nice to see a Bible-themed comic on a Sunday.  WuMo does that for us today:

Red Sea TodayThere’s obviously an ecological message going on here.  True and duly noted.  There’s also another level to it that comes into play when you mess with the figure.  Because there is a lot of garbage to get through.  And we would be wise and humble to admit it.  He parts the Sea and He makes the Way because He is the Way.

(image from gocomics.com)

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The Sorrow of Lady Constance

Constance CryingYesterday I made note of my favorite “King John” moment from Shakespeare’s King John.  There was one other scene in the first plays first half (as presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company) that has stuck with me.  In the previously mentioned scene, King John tasks Hubert with dispatching Arthur, a rival to the throne.  In this scene, Arthur’s mother Constance (played wonderfully by Charlotte Randle in the RSC production), is grieving the loss of her son.  Earlier in the play, Constance’s presence is played to almost comic effect, which makes this scene that much more powerful, a real picture of grief and loss.  It’s the kind of scene that would shock and surprise if done for a Shakespeare presentation.

KING PHILIP

Well could I bear that England had this praise,
So we could find some pattern of our shame.
Enter CONSTANCE

Look, who comes here! a grave unto a soul;
Holding the eternal spirit against her will,
In the vile prison of afflicted breath.
I prithee, lady, go away with me.

CONSTANCE

Lo, now I now see the issue of your peace.

KING PHILIP

Patience, good lady! comfort, gentle Constance!

CONSTANCE

No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
But that which ends all counsel, true redress,
Death, death; O amiable lovely death!
Thou odouriferous stench! sound rottenness!
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
And I will kiss thy detestable bones
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows
And ring these fingers with thy household worms
And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust
And be a carrion monster like thyself:
Come, grin on me, and I will think thou smilest
And buss thee as thy wife. Misery’s love,
O, come to me!

KING PHILIP

O fair affliction, peace!

CONSTANCE

No, no, I will not, having breath to cry:
O, that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!
Then with a passion would I shake the world;
And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy
Which cannot hear a lady’s feeble voice,
Which scorns a modern invocation.

CARDINAL PANDULPH

Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.

CONSTANCE

Thou art not holy to belie me so;
I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine;
My name is Constance; I was Geffrey’s wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then, ’tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal;
For being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he:
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.

KING PHILIP

Bind up those tresses. O, what love I note
In the fair multitude of those her hairs!
Where but by chance a silver drop hath fallen,
Even to that drop ten thousand wiry friends
Do glue themselves in sociable grief,
Like true, inseparable, faithful loves,
Sticking together in calamity.

CONSTANCE

To England, if you will.

KING PHILIP

Bind up your hairs.

CONSTANCE

Yes, that I will; and wherefore will I do it?
I tore them from their bonds and cried aloud
‘O that these hands could so redeem my son,
As they have given these hairs their liberty!’
But now I envy at their liberty,
And will again commit them to their bonds,
Because my poor child is a prisoner.
And, father cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
If that be true, I shall see my boy again;
For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
To him that did but yesterday suspire,
There was not such a gracious creature born.
But now will canker-sorrow eat my bud
And chase the native beauty from his cheek
And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
As dim and meagre as an ague’s fit,
And so he’ll die; and, rising so again,
When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
I shall not know him: therefore never, never
Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.

CARDINAL PANDULPH

You hold too heinous a respect of grief.

CONSTANCE

He talks to me that never had a son.

KING PHILIP

You are as fond of grief as of your child.

CONSTANCE

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!
Exit

(image from stratfordobserver.co.uk; text from http://shakespeare.mit.edu)

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Concerning King John

King John CrownedWhile in Stratford over break, we had the opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version of King JohnKJ is not that well-known a play, of course, and I can imagine that there are many reasons why.  Where it shines, it burns.  When it doesn’t shine, it’s dense and forgettable.  The RSC made good work of the play, though, particularly the first half.  They took two creative turns.  First, they cast King John as a woman (played admirably by Rosie Sheehy).  Second, they placed the play in what felt like a 1960s-era spy genre (think the British Avengers series).  That turn was most effective in the first half of the play, where there were a number of creative flourishes (dance numbers, boxing scenes) that served as spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine.  By the beginning of the second half, that creative flourish was gone (and the overall play the lesser for it).

My favorite scene involving the play’s main character happens near the end of the first half, when John is contemplating how to solidify his reign amidst the claims of others for sovereignty.  He must find some way to dispatch with Arthur, his young rival.  He tasks Hubert (described in the list of roles as the “imperfectly obedient intimate of King John”) with the job in this scene:

KING JOHN

Come hither, Hubert. O my gentle Hubert,
We owe thee much! within this wall of flesh
There is a soul counts thee her creditor
And with advantage means to pay thy love:
And my good friend, thy voluntary oath
Lives in this bosom, dearly cherished.
Give me thy hand. I had a thing to say,
But I will fit it with some better time.
By heaven, Hubert, I am almost ashamed
To say what good respect I have of thee.

HUBERT

I am much bounden to your majesty.

KING JOHN

Good friend, thou hast no cause to say so yet,
But thou shalt have; and creep time ne’er so slow,
Yet it shall come from me to do thee good.
I had a thing to say, but let it go:
The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
Attended with the pleasures of the world,
Is all too wanton and too full of gawds
To give me audience: if the midnight bell
Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth,
Sound on into the drowsy race of night;
If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs,
Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
Had baked thy blood and made it heavy-thick,
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
Making that idiot, laughter, keep men’s eyes
And strain their cheeks to idle merriment,
A passion hateful to my purposes,
Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
Without eyes, ears and harmful sound of words;
Then, in despite of brooded watchful day,
I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts:
But, ah, I will not! yet I love thee well;
And, by my troth, I think thou lovest me well.

HUBERT

So well, that what you bid me undertake,
Though that my death were adjunct to my act,
By heaven, I would do it.

KING JOHN

Do not I know thou wouldst?
Good Hubert, Hubert, Hubert, throw thine eye
On yon young boy: I’ll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way;
And whereso’er this foot of mine doth tread,
He lies before me: dost thou understand me?
Thou art his keeper.

HUBERT

And I’ll keep him so,
That he shall not offend your majesty.

KING JOHN

Death.

HUBERT

My lord?

KING JOHN

A grave.

HUBERT

He shall not live.

The Arden edition renders those last four lines as one, which is exactly as it was played.  The Arden edition also makes Hubert;s penultimate line a statement instead of a question, which is interesting.

It’s really a sad and sobering moment that is followed up on as soon as the curtains rise on the play’s second half.   Since it’s a tragedy, it doesn’t go all that well for anyone.

(image from expressandstar.com; text from http://shakespeare.mit.edu)

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A Song from the Road

Holy Trinity StratfordDuring my recent trip to England and Scotland with students, we had the opportunity to spend some time in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.  While the main reason for going in is seeing the place where Shakespeare is buried, it’s also a beautiful church in and of itself.  As I sat in the silence, I took out the pew-rack hymnal and came across this hymn:

“O Happy Band of Pilgrims” by St. Joseph the Hymnographer and J. M. Neale

1 O happy band of pilgrims,
If onward ye will tread
With Jesus as your fellow
To Jesus as your Head!

2 O happy if ye labour
As Jesus did for men;
O happy if ye hunger
As Jesus hungered then!

3 *The cross that Jesus carried
He carried as your due;
The crown that Jesus weareth,
He weareth it for you.

4 *The faith by which ye see him,
The hope in which ye yearn,
The love that through all troubles
To him alone will turn,

5 *What are they but forerunners
To lead you to his sight?
What are they save the effluence
Of uncreated light?

6 The trials that beset you,
The sorrows ye endure,
The manifold temptations
That death alone can cure,

7 What are they but his jewels
Of right celestial worth?
What are they but the ladder
Set up to heaven on earth?

8 O happy band of pilgrims,
Look upward to the skies,
Where such a light affliction
Shall win you such a prize!

It was, of course, a song appropriate to the moment, particularly as we were about halfway through our trip.  At the same time, the hymn speaks to the broader reality of the Christian journey.  You’ve got some Augustinian sense of Jesus as the Way in the first stanza and some solid reminders of how God works on this side of the journey in stanzas four through seven.  And all with the picture of pilgrimage.

You can learn more about the song here.

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