Ides of March: Cinna the Poet

 

CINNA THE POET

I dreamt to-night that I did feast with Caesar,
And things unlucky charge my fantasy:
I have no will to wander forth of doors,
Yet something leads me forth.
Enter Citizens

First Citizen

What is your name?

Second Citizen

Whither are you going?

Third Citizen

Where do you dwell?

Fourth Citizen

Are you a married man or a bachelor?

Second Citizen

Answer every man directly.

First Citizen

Ay, and briefly.

Fourth Citizen

Ay, and wisely.

Third Citizen

Ay, and truly, you were best.

CINNA THE POET

What is my name? Whither am I going? Where do I
dwell? Am I a married man or a bachelor? Then, to
answer every man directly and briefly, wisely and
truly: wisely I say, I am a bachelor.

Second Citizen

That’s as much as to say, they are fools that marry:
you’ll bear me a bang for that, I fear. Proceed; directly.

CINNA THE POET

Directly, I am going to Caesar’s funeral.

First Citizen

As a friend or an enemy?

CINNA THE POET

As a friend.

Second Citizen

That matter is answered directly.

Fourth Citizen

For your dwelling,–briefly.

CINNA THE POET

Briefly, I dwell by the Capitol.

Third Citizen

Your name, sir, truly.

CINNA THE POET

Truly, my name is Cinna.

First Citizen

Tear him to pieces; he’s a conspirator.

CINNA THE POET

I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

Fourth Citizen

Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.

CINNA THE POET

I am not Cinna the conspirator.

Fourth Citizen

It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his
name out of his heart, and turn him going.

Third Citizen

Tear him, tear him! Come, brands ho! fire-brands:
to Brutus’, to Cassius’; burn all: some to Decius’
house, and some to Casca’s; some to Ligarius’: away, go!
Exeunt

William Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene III

 

 

 

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded. It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

This Ides of March we are focused on Cinna the Poet.  Helvius Cinna was a noted poet of the late Roman Republic.  In the riots that followed the funeral of Caesar, he was lynched by a pro-Caesar mob on March 20, 44 BC,, who confused him with one of the conspirators, the unrelated Cornelius Cinna.

Elizabethan England, was no stranger to riots in London, Shakespeare no doubt having witnessed several.  Judging from his plays, Shakespeare hated mobs, regarding them as unreasoning and dangerous.  We see this in the mob that murders Cinna the Poet.  Confusing him at first with the conspirator, they then decide, once Cinna says that he is the poet and not the conspirator, to slay him for his “bad verses”, which the mob members had no doubt not read a line of, blood lust accepting any excuse.  The scene can be played as a comic scene, but if today we laugh, we laugh uneasily, riots of recent times reminding us of how dangerous a mob can be.

Norman Lloyd died last year at 106.  He played Cinna the Poet in the 1937 Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar.  The death of Cinna the Poet was a show stopper in that performance, Welles portraying it as symbolic of the unthinking mob violence that had helped to bring Mussolini and Hitler to power in Europe.

 

Shakespeare holds up to us mirrors filled with light and dark.  The death of the Poet Cinna is one of the darker passages in the Bard’s work.

 

 

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Published in: on March 15, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Cinna the Poet  
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December 19, 1944: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

 

How wonderfully daffy the golden age of Radio tended to be.  A broadcast on December 19, 1944 of the show This Is My Best:  Norman Corwin’s comedic poem The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, a hilarious look at a plot by Hell to stop Christmas, with Orson Welles starring as Nero.  Amazing the entertainment heights that could be reached without car chases, explosions, profanity, bathroom jokes and sex.

Published in: on December 19, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 19, 1944: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas  
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The Night America Trembled

 

Broadcast on September 9, 1957, The Night America Trembled recreated the reaction to the radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938.

 

How little it took to panic the country 83 years ago!  The War of the Worlds broadcast on Halloween Eve 1938 by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater demonstrated the power of radio and how edgy the country was.  Or did it?  Recent studies have contended that the panic was not widespread and that relatively few radios in the country were tuned to the broadcast.  At any rate there was enough of an uproar that CBS called a press conference the next morning at which Welles appeared and took questions:

 

MR. WELLES: Despite my deep regret over any misapprehension that our broadcast might have created among some listeners, I am even more bewildered over this misunderstanding in the light of an analysis of the broadcast itself.

It seems to me that they’re our four factors, which should have in any event maintained the illusion of fiction in the broadcast. The first was that the broadcast was performed as if occurring in the future, and as if it were then related by a survivor of a past occurrence. The date of this fanciful invasion of this planet by Martians was clearly given as 1939 and was so announced at the outset of the broadcast.

The second element was the fact that the broadcast took place at our weekly Mercury Theatre period and had been so announced in all the papers. For seventeen consecutive weeks we have been broadcasting radio sixteen of these seventeen broadcasts have been fiction and have been presented as such. Only one in the series was a true story, the broadcast of Hell on Ice by Commander Ellsberg, and was identified as a true story in the framework of radio drama.

The third element was the fact that at the very outset of the broadcast, and twice during its enactment, listeners were told that this was a play that it was an adaptation of an old novel by H. G. Wells. Furthermore, at the conclusion, a detailed statement to this effect was made.

The fourth factor seems to me to have been the most pertinent of all. That is the familiarity of the fable, within the American idiom, of Mars and the Martians.

For many decades “The Man From Mars” has been almost a synonym for fantasy. In very old morgues of many newspapers there will be found a series of grotesque cartoons that ran daily, which gave this fantasy imaginary form. As a matter of fact, the fantasy as such has been used in radio programs many times. In these broadcasts, conflict between citizens of Mars and other planets been a familiarly accepted fairy-tale. The same make-believe is familiar to newspaper readers through a comic strip that uses the same device. (more…)

Published in: on October 31, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Night America Trembled  
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Ides of March: Caesar and Welles

 

 

CASSIUS

Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

BRUTUS

How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along
No worthier than the dust!

CASSIUS

So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be call’d
The men that gave their country liberty.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

 

 

 

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded. It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

One of the more celebrated performances of Julius Caesar was that of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players on November 11, 1937.  Welles was all of 22 and playing the angry young genius in a hurry role to the hilt.  Welles was already a radio star earning the fantastic, for that time, salary of $1500 a week.  The average annual salary in Depression era America in 1937 was $890 a year.  However, Welles was determined to make his mark in the theater, and he plowed back almost every cent into his Mercury Theatre company, after he broke with the Federal Theater Project.  Julius Caesar was the first play of the company.  The play was performed in modern dress, partially because Welles could not afford costumes, and partially because he saw the play as a mechanism to warn about the rise of fascism in Europe.  The uniforms used could just have easily caused the play to be set in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

 

The play received laudatory reviews and caused a sensation in the theater world.  Orson Welles portrayed Brutus, the hero of the play, with such bravura that in one performance he accidentally stabbed the actor portraying Caesar.  The poor fellow was off for a few months recovering.

The play established the reputation of Welles as a genius, a reputation that would prove a considerable burden to Welles over his three score and ten in this Vale of Tears.  It also predicted much of Welles’ subsequent career:  the critics loved it but it failed to turn a profit.  Me and Orson Welles (2008) gives a fictional portrayal of the production.  Christian McKay gave a mesmerizing performance as Welles.

Published in: on March 15, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Caesar and Welles  
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October 30, 1938: War of the Worlds

 

How little it took to panic the country 91 years ago!  The War of the Worlds broadcast on Halloween Eve 1938 by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater demonstrated the power of radio and how edgy the country was.  Or did it?  Recent studies have contended that the panic was not widespread and that relatively few radios in the country were tuned to the broadcast.  At any rate there was enough of an uproar that CBS called a press conference the next morning at which Welles appeared and took questions:

 

MR. WELLES: Despite my deep regret over any misapprehension that our broadcast might have created among some listeners, I am even more bewildered over this misunderstanding in the light of an analysis of the broadcast itself.

It seems to me that they’re our four factors, which should have in any event maintained the illusion of fiction in the broadcast. The first was that the broadcast was performed as if occurring in the future, and as if it were then related by a survivor of a past occurrence. The date of this fanciful invasion of this planet by Martians was clearly given as 1939 and was so announced at the outset of the broadcast.

The second element was the fact that the broadcast took place at our weekly Mercury Theatre period and had been so announced in all the papers. For seventeen consecutive weeks we have been broadcasting radio sixteen of these seventeen broadcasts have been fiction and have been presented as such. Only one in the series was a true story, the broadcast of Hell on Ice by Commander Ellsberg, and was identified as a true story in the framework of radio drama.

The third element was the fact that at the very outset of the broadcast, and twice during its enactment, listeners were told that this was a play that it was an adaptation of an old novel by H. G. Wells. Furthermore, at the conclusion, a detailed statement to this effect was made.

The fourth factor seems to me to have been the most pertinent of all. That is the familiarity of the fable, within the American idiom, of Mars and the Martians.

For many decades “The Man From Mars” has been almost a synonym for fantasy. In very old morgues of many newspapers there will be found a series of grotesque cartoons that ran daily, which gave this fantasy imaginary form. As a matter of fact, the fantasy as such has been used in radio programs many times. In these broadcasts, conflict between citizens of Mars and other planets been a familiarly accepted fairy-tale. The same make-believe is familiar to newspaper readers through a comic strip that uses the same device. (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 30, 1938: War of the Worlds  
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Orson Welles on Churchill

 

Ah, for the halcyon days of my youth when talk shows did not consist of mindless chatter about sex, bleeped F-Bombs from some non-educated “celebrity” or stale, politicized tripe.  I have always been somewhat skeptical about evolution, but the contemporary world, at least the human portion of it, does make a striking case for de-evolution.

Published in: on January 24, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Orson Welles on Churchill  
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Sermon of Father Mapple

 

 

 

 

John Huston’s film Moby Dick (1956) is a true work of genius.  The only film version worthy of the novel, the screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury who in 10,000 words  got to the essence of the 206,052 word novel.  (Bradbury confessed when he was approached by Huston to do the screenplay that he had never been able to get through the novel.)  A deeply religious film that asks questions about God and the human condition that still  jar us, the most striking scene is the sermon on Jonah by Father Mapple, portrayed unforgettably by Orson Welles.  Enoch Mudge who served as the chaplain of the Seaman’s Bethel in New Bedford and Father E.T. Taylor who served as the chaplain of the Seaman Bethel in Boston, served as the real life models for the fictional Mapple. (At the time of Melville any clergyman of age or authority was often accorded the title “Father” by his parishioners in Protestant churches, a distinction retained today only by Catholics, the Orthodox and a few Protestant churches.)

Welles suffered from a bad case of stage fright just prior to the scene and John Huston produced a bottle to help Welles fortify himself.  Welles then did the scene letter perfect in one take.  Here is the text of the sermon as written by Bradbury for the film:

 

 

 

And God prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command, and it was, for all the things that God would have us do are hard. If we would obey God, we must disobey ourselves.
But Jonah still further flouts at God by seeking to flee from him. Jonah thinks that a ship made by men will carry him into countries where God does not reign. He prowls among the shipping like a vile burglar, hastening to cross the seas, and as he comes aboard the sailors mark him.
The ship puts out, but soon the sea rebels. It will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes up. The ship is like to break. The bo’s’n calls all hands to lighten her. Boxes, bales and jars are clattering overboard, the wind is shrieking, the men are yelling. “I fear the Lord!” cries Jonah, “the God of Heaven who has made the sea and the dry land!”
Again, the sailors mark him. And wretched Jonah cries out to them to cast him overboard, for he knew that for his sake this great tempest was upon them.
Now behold Jonah, taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea, into the dreadful jaws awaiting him. And the great whale shoots to all his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison.
And Jonah cries unto the Lord, out of the fish’s belly. But observe his prayer, shipmates. He doesn’t weep and wail, he feels his punishment is just. He leaves deliverance to God. And even out of the belly of Hell, grounded upon the ocean’s utmost bones, God heard him when he cried. And God spake unto the whale, and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the deep, the whale breached into the sun and vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
And Jonah, bruised and beaten, his ears like two seashells still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean … Jonah did the Almighty’s bidding, and what was that, shipmates? To preach the truth in the face of falsehood! 
Now, shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled water when God has brewed them into a gale. Yeah, woe to him who, as the pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway! But delight is to him who against the proud gods and commodores of this Earth, stands forth his own inexorable self, who destroys all sin, though we pluck it out from under the robes of senators, and judges. And eternal delight shall be his who, coming to lay him down, can say “Oh father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be thine, more than to be this world’s or mine own, yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to thee, for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

 

Here is the much, much lengthier version from the novel  (Too bad that time prevented Ray Bradbury from serving as Melville’s editor!) (more…)

Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sermon of Father Mapple  
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Sermon on Jonah

Orson Welles gives a spell-binding performance as he delivers a sermon at the beginning of the movie Moby Dick (1956).  The role of Father Mapple (back in the days when Protestant ministers would often have that title) is based on Father Edward Thompson Taylor, the great Methodist missionary among seamen who was in charge of the Seamen’s Bethel in Boston in the Nineteenth Century.

Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 6:33 am  Comments Off on Sermon on Jonah  
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