Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Men in Tights... and Dresses

Since maybe like the Middle Ages there's been different clothes for boys than for girls, and probably before that. This cannot be denied. Girls (a lot of girls, anyway) like to wear ruffles and sparkles and lace. Boys (most boys, anyway) don't. That's why it's so funny when boys wear girls' clothes.

Think about it. It's all throughout history. Look at movies and TV. The tough-guy male lead wearing a dress and looking awkward or indignant always gets a laugh. Whole plots, even, whole bases for movies' classification in the genre of comedy have hinged on the age-old, fool-proof gag of the male cross dressser.

For evidence I refer to Some Like it Hot, I Was a Male War Bride, Bosom Buddies, Tootsie, the more recent Sorority Boys. What is perhaps an addition to the comedic quality of these examples is that the characters in these films are not drag queens. They are truly trying to disguise themselves, to pass as women. Of course we, the genius audience, can clearly see that they most definitely are not women. But the other characters in the films seem not to see anything out of the ordinary about six-feet-tall, broad shouldered women with Adam's apples and five'o'clock shadows. Maybe that's where some of the comedy comes from: our secret, almost smug knowledge that these characters are completely ignorant of. But it's still really funny to see a guy in a dress.

Yet a girl dressed as a boy somehow doesn't have the same effect. There have been a few movies that feature female cross-dressers, but these are from a slightly different mold as those of the male cross-dressing variety. Boys Don't Cry is not a comedy. There is, of course, the recent example of She's the Man. Most of the comedy in this movie, though, arises not from the girl trying to look like a boy, but rather act like a boy.

Seeing a girl dressed as a boy is somehow not as funny as a boy dressed as a girl. Maybe it's because Shakespeare used it so much. He ruins everything. Of course, in his time, it would have been a boy dressed a girl dressed as a boy, which looks the same as a boy dressed as a boy, which isn't funny at all, unless the boy is funny looking.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The End of the Road (or, Theology To Go)

June 19th, 2006
I set out from Kelly Latte's this afternoon with only the intention of going somewhere quiet to drink my mocha and be alone with God awhile. I thought of Lake Meridian, not thinking of the fact that it's a June afternoon and the possibility that God had other plans. He obviously did, because the lake was packed. I've never liked crowds. I drove once around the parking lot, then paused at the exit. Left or right? Right would take me back home, but something told me, "left."

I turned left onto Kent Kangley and as I drove through Covington it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going. God did, though. "Follow that truck." I did.

The truck drove through the traffic of Covington and continued on toward Maple Valley and as I followed, God and I had a conversation. Well, mostly I asked Him where I was going and mostly He didn't tell me. "Just trust Me," He said.

"Fine!" I said, and drove on.

A melting pot of emotions and thoughts I've expressed to God time and again in the past, though never all at the same time, came rushing in and I began asking Him where I was going again, though this time not literally.

Again He said, "Just trust Me."

Then it got philosophical. "I know I should trust You, God, I know it makes sense and really when you think about it, following You and giving You everything is the smart thing to do and I always try to do the smart thing and You know that because You made me this way and I want to believe that I can completely give up everything to You and that You're the only reason for living and that I shouldn't follow my heart but Yours, but really, my heart should be Your heart, and I know all of this. I know it. I don't need proof because it's right here in front of my eyes. What I need is faith, because even though I know all of this, I just can't quite seem to believe it." All this I intimated to God in a jumble of words and half-finished phrases and in about five seconds. Isn't that funny, how our words can make no sense at all, yet God knows exactly what we mean?

God said, "Just keep driving." I did.

Then I passed the Mormon church at Four Corners and I said, "What's their deal, God?"

"They don't even know," He answered. "They're confused. They have faith and works all jumbled up and they don't realize that salvation is already theirs. They're making it impossible for themselves, not realizing that with Me, all things are possible. Kind of like what you're doing right now."

Well! Just tell it like it is! Thankfully, I was stopped at a red light at that point. The light turned green and I eased slowly on the gas pedal, going through the intersection in spiritual silence for a few minutes before the words of a song on the radio broke through my reverie: "Let go, let go, just jump in..."

Merely curious this time, I again asked God where I was going. "Just keep driving," He said. "I want to show you something."

I was still following the truck. I was past Maple Valley now and in one of those little towns. Ravensdale, I think. The mountains rose up before me, green before summer's dry heat sets in, the tops shrouded in a mist of clouds perforated by beams of sunlight.

A new song was on the radio now. "It's a winding road... I still don't know where it goes... It's a long way home. I've been searching for a long time, but I still have hope... I'm gonna find my way home..."

"Is this what you wanted me to see?" I whispered, tears pooling in my eyelashes.

For some reason I burst out laughing. "This is beautiful, God," still smiling, at peace for a moment.

Then, "Should I turn around and go home now?"

"Not yet."

"How will I know when it's time, when I've reached my destination?" In essence, "How will I know?"

"You'll know."

Frustrated, "How will I know? Will there be a sign or something?"

Again, "You'll know."


Five minutes later I saw a paper plate tacked to a signpost with one word on it: "DONE." I laughed, turned around and drove home.

August 2nd, 2006
Today I drove all the way to the end of that road. I drove though forests and hills and more little towns than I could count, twisting and turning like any good country road should. Then, there it was. The end of the road, just a gravel driveway leading up to a little blue house, and three kids jumping on a trampoline in the back yard. I wonder if they know that they live at the end of the road, or if they care. In knowing, would they gain anything?

I'd wondered for ages (okay, months) what was at the end of that road, and they had known all along and didn't care. I think we all find the same thing at the end of our road, no matter what we find. We want to know so bad, but when we find out...

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know what he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." - Paul of Tarsus

...we find we don't need to know everything.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"The Prince" and Me: Machiavelli in Shakespeare's "Henry V"

This idea first came to me last fall while taking a course on Shakespeare at school. I had never read any of Shakespeare's histories before when my class was assigned to read Henry V, or "Henry five" as we ended up calling it. As we read the play, it struck me that King Henry, at least as portrayed by Shakespeare, was a Machiavellian ruler. Actually, I had no idea if this was a legitimate theory or not, since, of course, I'd never actually read Machiavelli, but I thought it sounded good, and if I could prove it that would be really cool. So I decided to read The Prince and here's what I came up with:

Henry V
is about a young man coming into his role as a king and what he does to prove his right and capability as king. In the process, Henry illustrates several tactics for ruling proposed and explained by Niccolo Machiavelli in his treatise The Prince. Machiavelli's Prince is personified by King Henry. This personification is shown in Henry's decisions and actions thoroughout England's war with France.

From the beginning, Henry displays Machiavellian principles. His initial decision to go to war is partly due to the persuasion of his advisors: "Awake the rememberance of these valiant dead, / And with your puissant arm renew their feats!" This encouragement to revive the glorious war victories of his ancestors appeals to Henry because it will allow him to prove himself in war, something Machiavelli says a prince cannot rule without: "A prince... must have no other object or thought, or take up anything as his profession, except war and its rules and discipline, for that is the only art that befits one who commands." Triumph in war is the only way that Henry, or any prince, according to Machiavelli, can prove that he is a capable ruler, so he sets out to conquer France, claiming divine right to its crown and lands.

King Henry also illustrates Machiavelli's theories in his dealings with his army. In Act 4, scene 3, his rousing St. Crispian's Day speech shows that he has mastered the art of persuasion to gain his troops' support: "And Crispin Crispian shal ne'er go by, / From this day to the ending of the world, / But we in it shall be remembered." Promising immortality in the memory of humankind is a foolproof way to convince men to fight, even at the risk of their own lives. Machiavelli would approve: "Those princes have done great things... who have been able to confuse men's brains by cunning, and in the end, they have overcome those who made loyalty their foundation." By not mentioning the great risk his men are taking and instead glorifying war in his inspirational speech, confusing his men's brains, Henry has played upon his troops' loyalty in persuading them to fight, proving himself a Machiavellian ruler.

It's very possible that Shakespeare was familiar with Machiavelli's writing and intentionally formed Henry's character based on the work. He was very well-read. And if he did read it, he probably didn't think of the possibilty, as my brother has pointed out, of its being a satire, a joke, a fifteenth century episode of Punk'd, like Jonathan Swift's essay about how poor people should eat their babies (except I don't think Swift was in the fifteenth century). But, intentional or not, it's clear that Shakespeare's Henry reflects Machiavelli's Prince, in both word and deed, a resemblance which established Henry as a great leader and a great king.