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Much Ado About Something

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Ten years ago when my daughter, Claire, was in the second grade, her teacher asked all the students to tell what was there favorite movie. There were all the usual suspects from Disney such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. There were a few who preferred Pixar’s Toy Story. There were one or two who improbably liked Titanic. And there was Claire, who declared that her favorite film was Much Ado About Nothing. Her teacher was surprised. A second-grader whose favorite film was based on a play by William Shakespeare?

In truth we had very few films on VHS in those days, and Much Ado About Nothing was a family favorite. It was so exuberant, so spirited, and the music was entrancing. For Claire, it was also a puzzle, and she loved working on it, trying to understand it more and more.

For those who have not seen it, here is a brief synopsis.

Claudio, newly returned from war, falls in love with Hero, only daughter and heir of Leonato, a gentleman with a respectable fortune. Because he is shy, he agrees to let the Duke woo Hero on his behalf. Meanwhile, the Duke’s brother, Don John, plots to ruin the wedding because he hates his brother, to whom Claudio is like a right hand. Don John conspires with one of his retainers to deceive Claudio and the Duke into believing that Hero is unfaithful. Claudio makes a scene at the altar, publicly exposing and rejecting Hero, who faints from shame and injured innocence. The friar, who was to officiate at the wedding, persuades Leonato to let it be known that Hero died from the unjust accusation. The deception eventually comes to light, and Claudio is properly filled with remorse and agrees to marry Leonato’s niece as recompense. Hero appears veiled as the supposed niece and marries Claudio, and everyone is happy.  There is also a side romance between Benedick and Beatrice which overtakes the main story and makes it much funnier.

There was much ado about nothing because the whole story of Hero’s unfaithfulness was completely fabricated. But Shakespeare seems to be winking slyly at us and suggesting that all the hoopla about whether Hero is really a virgin is also about nothing. Claudio’s failing is his jealousy. It leads him to act without mercy toward Hero, whom he had declared he loved.

Let’s contrast Claudio’s behavior to Joseph’s in the well-known Christmas story. In Shakespeare’s day the stories of the New Testament were as familiar as the latest escapades of Brad and Angelina in ours. Everyone knew the story of Christ’s birth in minute detail. In particular they knew how Joseph, hearing that Mary was pregnant, decided to break off their engagement quietly so as not to expose Mary to public disgrace. Joseph had every reason to suppose that Mary was unfaithful and certainly no virgin, indeed, more reason than Claudio had. But he was merciful and considerate. Though he would not marry her, he also would not shame her. Joseph, therefore, became a model to Christian men for handling infidelity.

Claudio’s ruthless exposure of Hero reveals his own pride. Even supposing Hero really was unfaithful, how had she injured Claudio? His injury should have been private. In choosing to make it public, he exposed his own vanity. The enormity of the injury done to him was not in the betrayal of his trust or an intrusion upon his intimacy with Hero. It was that he might acquire the reputation of a cuckold. He cared more about how he appeared to others than he cared about Hero. She shows herself more gracious and forgiving in the end by accepting him after he had so wronged her.

This pride in possessing a virgin occurs throughout the world. It is universally human. Every man wants to marry a virgin, wants the woman he loves to be his and his alone. Nowadays, when it seems impossible that any woman of marriageable age is still a virgin, men try to content themselves with wanting fidelity for the time being. As long as they are both still in love, the man expects complete faithfulness even though he himself may have occasional lapses.

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Why I Am A Christian, Part 3

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God and I have not always been on speaking terms. Not that I blame him; he’s always in the right, always perfect. I don’t always like reality. Sometimes I think The Way Things Are sucks. So I complain to God, and he says, “Tough.” Then I get miffed at him for not taking my side, as if he really should reconsider the way he has made things, and I quit talking to him for a while. It’s childish; I know. Nothing comes of it except that I have to come to my senses and apologize.

Sometimes God quits talking to me. I don’t think he actually gets mad at me. It’s more like a dad who just gets tired of being ignored when he tries to tell his son something. So he quits telling him. I’m not always willing to listen. In fact, I can be downright stubborn, enough to try the patience of Jesus himself. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. God has a way of getting his point across without words. He just lets reality sink in until I can’t continue in denial any longer. Then I sheepishly acknowledge that he was right all along, and we’re cool again.

Even when we are cool, God can be reticent. He says one word for every one hundred I say. Maybe it’s because he has already said so much. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t hear him. Or maybe I’m the one who is always talking whenever we’re together. The funny thing is; when he says something, it somehow changes me.

He’s tough. He’s strong. He’s not safe or domesticated. He’s immovable and always thinks he’s right. But he’s good. He is always good. And the indescribably amazing wonder of it is that, good as he is, he accepts me. You can’t help admiring a God like that.

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Is Race Necessary?

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Why is Barack Obama black? Or, if you prefer, African-American?

What makes a man with a white mother and a black father “black” instead of “white?” If we must choose race for the child of parents from different races, why must we choose the darker parent? Why not the lighter? Does having a black father make him “more black” than having a white mother makes him “white?” For that matter, how do we know how “white” his mother is or how “black” his father? There has been enough interracial copulation over the years for every “black” alive today to be a little “white” and every “white” to be a little “black.” Isn’t it time we got past identifying people by race?

And why do we keep celebrating firsts for blacks as if it were somehow novel or unexpected for blacks to achieve anything? Isn’t it time we realized that every race has produced villains and saints, sluggards and paragons? Isn’t it time we knew to the depths of our souls that differences in education and opportunity are far more powerful determiners of intelligence and ability than genetics or race?

Or gender.

Celebrating firsts for women is just as bad. Have we made so little progress in the struggle for mutual respect and understanding that a woman’s presidential bid is cause for rounds of self-congratulation? Why is the United States so far behind India? Or Israel? Or England? Or Germany? Where is the novelty in a woman becoming head of state?

If you really want to see the media wet its pants and fawn all over someone, then let that someone be a black woman who does anything of merit. We will hear no end to what an outstanding accomplishment it is for a black woman, as if being “black” and being a woman were two insuperable barriers that had to be overcome. Isn’t it time we recognized accomplishment without astonishment at the race or gender of the doer?

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