Archive for Liar Liar

Bad Is the World, and All Will Come to Naught

Posted in Richard III with tags , , , on 2014/01/27 by mattermind

Liar (Kid)

Richard III, Act III

If Shakespeare were Sesame Street, today’s word of the day would be “dissembling.”  It’s a word we don’t hear much today, either in its gerund form or its root verb, “to dissemble.”  In fact, I had to look it up to make sure that its usage would not be listed as archaic.

To my  surprise, it remains very much in the active, English vocabulary.  Here is the definition from my Encarta dictionary:

dis·sem·ble [di sémb’l]

(past dis·sem·bled, past participle dis·sem·bled, present participle dis·sem·bling, 3rd person present singular dis·sem·bles)

1. vi put on false appearance: to put on a false appearance in order to conceal facts, feelings, or intentions
2. vt give appearance: to put on the appearance of something not actually felt or true (formal)
3. vt hide by pretense: to hide real beliefs or intentions through misleading speech or behavior (formal)

[15th century. From Old French dessembler “to be different,” from des- “dis-” and sembler “to seem” (see semblance).]

dis·sem·blance, noundis·sem·bler, noun

Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now semblance is a word I know and use all the time.  Why hadn’t I grasped the connection?  As I learned with Othello, Shakespeare seems more than a little preoccupied by the gap between appearance and reality, that which can be seen and that which can remain concealed.  For in that gap, a dishonest person may take ruthless advantage of the innocent, honest and trusting.

Richard III fits a similar mold to both Othello and Titus Andronicus.  In fact, I’m wondering how often Shakespeare resorts to the same device to drive his plots and motivate his villains.  Or, to be even more blunt, now that I have discovered this trope running through all three plays read thus far this year, I hope I don’t get bored by the same ol’ pattern again and again and again.

Did Shakespeare discover a winning formula that worked so well he only need repeat it?  For in Othello we had Iago, the devious schemer.  In Titus, Aaron the Moor filled that role.  And now we have Richard, the dastardly power-grabber up to no good.

Yet again, trust, devotion and honesty are played for fools.  In Act III of Richard III, poor Hastings discovers too late that his faith in Richard’s word was misplaced.  He had been better off listening to a friend’s foreboding dream:

Woe, woe for England, not a whit for me,

For I, too fond, might have prevented this.

Stanley did dream the boar did raze our helms;

But I did scorn it and disdain to fly.

Hastings is not alone.  Remember poor George, Duke of Clarence, murdered in the Tower, believing to the end that his brother was his friend.  Then there is the nephew’s entourage, intercepted, betrayed and executed.  And of course the two young nephews who are “disappeared” for the crime of standing in the way of Richard’s succession.  Crimes and deceptions every which way you turn.

For Richard, inauthenticity is a way of life.  He’s such a conniving snake that he never presents himself with integrity – unless that too serves an ulterior purpose.  He’s so adaptable and chameleon-like that I wonder to what extent he deceives himself.  Does he trust anybody?  Can anybody trust him?  Is this the fatal flaw that will bite him in the end?

Buckingham has been Richard’s closest ally and partner in crime thus far.  Yet I keep expecting Richard to betray and sabotage him before long as well.  Perhaps Act III is still too early. Buckingham serves a useful purpose, therefore Richard lets him linger.

It reminds me very much of the brilliant opening to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises:

How does the saying go?  No honor among thieves.  Richard has created a world in which he is the mastermind of dishonesty and deception.  Yet in such a world he himself has nobody upon whom he can trust.  Once he gets what he wants, will he discover that he has no solid ground upon which to stand?

Was that not Margaret’s curse upon Richard?  That he shall trust the deceitful and doubt the loyal?  If that’s the case, a more fitting end could not be found for such a treacherous, back-stabbing double-crosser as Shakespeare’s master dissembler, Richard III.

I’m Kickin’ My Ass…

Posted in References with tags , , on 2010/01/31 by mattermind

For those who don’t recognize the quote, it comes from a funny scene in Liar, Liar during which Jim Carrey’s character beats himself up — literally pummels himself — in the bathroom for being unable to lie in the courtroom.

While I haven’t resorted to physical violence against myself, I have taken on three staggering intellectual works (in addition to the Shakespeare) that are knocking me senseless by their brilliance.

They are:

A stunning work of human accomplishment itself, this book manages somehow to be both statistically geeky and poetic about the glories of our achievements since the harnessing of fire. While concentrating primarily on the last 10,000 years in particular, it examines the hows and whys underlying the best of who we are.

For the Randian in all of us, rather than those who wish to downplay our better aspects, it celebrates the monumental cultural and technological shifts that have characterized both our artistic and scientific progress as a species. Yes, he dares to use the word progress. This is an unapologic survey of the human race on a gargantuan scale. A monumental undertaking and an utterly glorious read.

And then:

This book was given to me as a Christmas present by somebody who wanted to get rid of me for awhile (“Here, kid, go run along now and play with this.”). A candy-coated concoction of rigorous scholarship and Di Vinci Code cleverness, it goes down like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packed with 25 grams of whey protein. I keep saying, one more page, one more page until my mind hits tilt and I am forced to put the damned thing down.

It reveals what a complete moron I am regarding intellectual history from the turn of the millennium (no, not 2001) through the Reformation and Renaissance. It exposes my ignorance and fills in all the missing pieces between the collapse of Rome and the modernizing energies released by the American and French Revolutions. I covered some of this stuff in college but the 11th and 12th Century got short shrift. Who knew there was so much going on that would change the world?

And last — and pertaining most significantly to this blog:

I mention it again because I finally started the darn thing. I’d only been putting it off because it looked so imposing. Then I caught the sheer genius of its construction: 518 pages divided into 91 chapterlets — I call them that only because they average about five pages each, obviously, but wow, do they pack a punch.

I’m reading one chapter for every act of a play I cover. But now that I’ve started, I’m finding the book too irresistable to put down. It’s filled with marvelous biographical writing about a man we supposedly know so little about. I love that it doesn’t digress into erudite but frivolous bogs. It’s succinct, bold, captivating, larky, and comprehensive in its sweep. Yes, there may be a few surmises made here or there, as well as conjecture that could get dismissed in a court of law. But screw that — here are projections, extrapolations, interpolations and musings based upon what we do know that make what we don’t a lot less painful to swallow.

I quote from a passage that just lit me up:

By four o’clock in the morning, the town had awakened; by five, the streets were filled with people. The traders and labourers breakfasted at eight, and took their dinner or luncheon at noon; they finished their work at seven in the evening at the end of a fourteen-hour day. The Statute of Artificers, however, promulgated in 1563, allowed one hour of sleep after the noonday meal. There were no holidays but the various holy days.

The average lifespan of the period for a man then was only 47 years. So Shakespeare, though he died at 52, outlived the statistical norm by 5 years. I don’t know about you people, but I’m floored by information like this.

Together, these three works collectively kick my ass and put me in my intellectual place. I’m dwarfed by their brilliance and overwhelmed by the magnitude by which they broaden my scope as I look out onto the world.

It’s an ass-kicking, all right, but a good and much needed one to be sure. I’m humbled and grateful for the service.

As Nietzsche reminds, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But he forgot to mention that it might also make us feel like a doofus in the process.