Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shakespeare References in Scientology: A New Slant On Life

There are Shakespeare references everywhere, even in those nutty Scientology books. Scientology: A New Slant On Life contains a few references. The first is in a paragraph about William Harvey. L. Ron Hubbard writes: “Harvey was a member of the audience of a play by Shakespeare in which the playwright made the same observation, but again the feeling that artists never contribute anything to society blocked anyone but Harvey from considering the statement as anything more than fiction” (p. 35).

The second is a reference to The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth. Hubbard writes: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a guilty conscience” (p. 228). That is a reference to the King’s line “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” from Act III Scene i.

The third is a mention in the book’s glossary, where “Shakespeare” is defined as “William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and author of many plays; the most famous playwright of all time” (p. 334).

Scientology: A New Slant On Life – Yet Another Cult Classic by L. Ron Hubbard

Scientology: A New Slant On Life is a volume in the series of books on the science or religion or philosophy that L. Ron Hubbard created, and which many people have latched onto to help them deal with the confusions of life. At the beginning of the first chapter “Is It Possible To Be Happy?” L. writes: “Very often an individual can have a million dollars, he can have everything his heart apparently desires and is still unhappy” (p. 7). I don’t very often have a million dollars. In fact, I’ve never had a million dollars. What individual is he talking about here? Nobody I know, that’s for sure. Perhaps L. is talking about himself. I think he very often had a million dollars. I suppose it helps to own and run a lucrative cult.

In the same chapter, L. describes a couple having an argument, then writes: “Well, what do we do in a condition like this? Do we just break up the marriage? Or touch a match to the whole house? Or throw the kids in the garbage can and go home to Mama?” (p. 9). Interesting options L. has come up with. Clearly this is a guy with some personal issues of his own. One argument, and he thinks burning down the house and killing the children might be options. And once he’s killed the children, he thinks he can freely return to his Mama.

If you’ve read any of L.’s other cult classics, you’ve likely noted his obsession with the atomic bomb. In this book, he’s able to get all the way to page 12 before mentioning it. Good for him! He then mentions it again on p. 48 (“We in Scientology belong in the ranks of the seekers after truth, not in the rear guard of the makers of the atom bomb”) and on p. 74 (“Sure it’s incredible. But so is an A-bomb, a few pennyweights of plutonium, which can blow a city off the chart”) and on p. 236 (“as has been done with atomic weapons and certain drugs designed by the military”). By the way, L. is also obsessed with cheating wives, using them as examples over and over.

L. asks, “What is personal integrity?” He is also kind enough to provide an answer: “Personal integrity is knowing what you know. What you know is what you know and to have the courage to know and say what you have observed. And that is integrity and there is no other integrity” (p. 19). Okay, then! That’s settled. What I know is what I know. No argument from me, L. And in the very next paragraph he writes: “And not necessarily maintaining a skeptical attitude, a critical attitude or an open mind – not necessarily maintaining these things at all – but certainly maintaining sufficient personal integrity and sufficient personal belief and confidence in self and courage that we can observe what we observe and say what we have observed” (p. 19). Yes, it has been found that a critical attitude and an open mind are often detrimental to one’s ability to get along within a cult. However, a little later L. writes, “Examine the subject of Scientology on a very critical basis, not with the attitude that when you were in school you learned that such and such was true and since you learned that first, the first learning takes precedence” (p. 40). L. certainly likes to create his own peculiar sentence structures.

And if you’re curious just what Scientology is, L. tells us, “Scientology is the science of knowing how to know answers.” When did sciences begin receiving tax-exempt status? Perhaps when the science in question promised to grant immortality. “A Scientologist can make an individual well, happy and grant him personal immortality, simply by addressing the human spirit” (pages 26-27). And later L. claims, “I must face the fact that we have reached that merger point where science and religion meet, and we must now cease to pretend to deal with material goals alone” (p. 48).

Regarding the memory lapses that people face from time to time, L. offers this explanation: “The amount of time which he has spent on Earth and the number of deaths through which he has gone have brought him into a state of forgetfulness about who and where he has been” (p. 27). And where his keys are. Every time I die, I tend to forget the capital of Wyoming. But that’s my own struggle, I suppose. Perhaps Scientology can help me.

Scientology can work wonders for all sorts of people. L. writes: “A good auditor (Scientology practitioner) can take a broken-down, sorrow-drenched lady of thirty-eight and knock out her past periods of physical and mental pain and have on his hands somebody who appears to be twenty-five – and a bright, cheerful twenty-five at that” (p. 74). Would a broken-down, sorrow-drenched lady of thirty-nine then appear to be twenty-six through the magic of Scientology? Or if she paid a little more, could she also appear to be twenty-five? And what’s the cut-off age for looking twenty-five with regards to broken-down, sorrow-drenched ladies?

L. goes over a lot of the same stuff he covered in other books, like the so-called “A-R-C Triangle,” the idea of life being a game, and so on. If you’ve read one of his cult classics, you’ve pretty much read them all. And in this one, he directly takes entire passages from other books and inserts them here. For example, do you remember this wonderful line from The Problems Of Work: Scientology Applied To The Workaday World: “When one turns loose an automobile wheel and hopes the car will stay on the road, by luck, he is often disappointed”? Well, that line is included in this volume as well, on page 115. He also repeats this fantastic idea: “Confusion is the basic cause of stupidity.” I would have thought that worked in reverse, that stupidity might cause confusion. But then again, I’m not a Scientologist. Later he says, “Confusion is stupidity” (p. 118). Could it be the cause of itself? What an intriguing idea, L!

Regarding confusion, L. writes, “In a stream of traffic, all would be confusion unless you were to conceive one car to be motionless in relation to the other cars and so to see others in relation to the one” (p. 117). Sadly, I think it’s often my car that is the one to be motionless in traffic. I always seem to get in the one lane that is reluctant to move forward. I just wave to all the Scientologists driving by using my car to relieve them of their confusion.

L. also repeats the wonderful “This is a machine” anecdote from p. 25 of The Problems Of Work: Scientology Applied To The Workaday World. Here it appears on p. 118. Well, now we know how L. was able to write so many books. Odd that Scientologists didn’t notice this repetition and feel just a bit ripped off at buying the same book over and over under different titles.

Toward the end of the book, L. feels a need to defend Scientology, though he offers no excuse for the repetition of passages in his books. He has called Scientology a science and a religion; here he refers to it as a philosophy, while also speaking of himself in the third person. “A philosopher developed a philosophy about life and death,” he writes (p. 259). Yes, he calls himself a philosopher. Oh boy!

He tells us what he calls “the true story of Scientology” (finally!). After he developed it, people found it interesting, people found that it worked, people passed it along to others, and it grew. That’s it. But what’s wonderful is what he writes after that poignant true story: “When we examine this extremely accurate and very brief account, we see that there must be in our civilization some very disturbing elements for anything else to be believed about Scientology” (p. 259). He continues: “These disturbing elements are the Merchants of Chaos. They deal in confusion and upset. Their daily bread is made by creating chaos. If chaos were to lessen, so would their incomes.” Certainly there is no hint of paranoia or exaggeration here.

He then goes on to defend Scientology by speaking very highly of himself in the third person: “In actual fact, the developer of the philosophy was very well grounded in academic subjects and the humanities, probably better grounded in formal philosophy alone than teachers of philosophy in universities. The one-man effort is incredible in terms of study and research hours and is a record never approached in living memory” (p. 261). Wow! L. has no bigger fan than himself. Though he clearly thinks everyone is a fan, as he writes: “Therefore, since 1950 I have had Mankind knocking on my door. It has not mattered where I have lived or how remote. Since I first published a book on the subject, my life has no longer been my own” (p. 273).

By the way, L. claims it is the Merchants of Chaos who have used the term “cult” with regard to Scientology. In the lengthy glossary at the back of the book, “cult” is defined as “an exclusive or closed (one which is not open or in communication with others) group of people who share some common interest or belief” (p. 306). Because Scientology is constantly trying to gain new members, this definition of “cult” does not apply, and so the odd logic here is therefore Scientology is not a cult. However, Merriam-Webster defines “cult” as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.” You decide whether that applies.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Shakespeare References in Sisterhood Of Spies

Elizabeth P. McIntosh’s Sisterhood Of Spies: The Women Of The OSS recounts the tales of the women who worked in the Office of Strategic Services during the second world war. This book contains a couple of Shakespeare references.

The first is in the chapter on Operation Sauerkraut: “As Joseph Coolidge says, more tenderly, ‘I can but stand in astonished ecstasy. To crib from Shakespeare, “Time does not wither nor custom stale” the infinite miracle of us’” (p. 89). This is a reference to lines from Act II Scene ii of Antony And Cleopatra, when Enobarbus says, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety.”

The second reference is in the chapter on women in the CIA, and is about a woman named Nancy Bone: “She had graduated from Saint Louis University and taught English for two before deciding on a career in government. ‘As an English major I knew much more about Shakespeare than I did about intelligence,’ she recalled” (p. 321).

Sisterhood Of Spies: The Women Of The OSS was published in 1998.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Tempest (A Noise Within’s 2014 Production) Theatre Review

Production photo by Craig Schwartz

The new production of The Tempest put on by the good folks at A Noise Within highlights the magical qualities of the play, while also hitting the right comedic notes and stressing the theme of forgiveness. There are some excellent performances here, particularly by Rafael Goldstein as Sebastian, Jeremy Rabb as Stephano, Kasey Mahaffy as Trinculo and Geoff Elliott as Caliban.

This production is visually compelling. The stage, upon the audience’s arrival, is covered with a dark tarp, with deep blues, greens and purples on the backdrop, giving the feel of the ocean. The opening storm scene is then done by cast members rushing in and lifting the tarp to create waves, with one person downstage, acting as the ship's figurehead, but also holding a model of a boat, which she then moves against the waves created by the billowing tarp. It might sound a bit odd, but it works quite well. It’s also interesting, because those figureheads were thought to ward off evil spirits, and of course spirits play an important part in The Tempest, particularly in this production. While this is done beautifully, it is in place of the dialogue of the play’s first scene, and so we’re not introduced to the men of the boat until they’ve landed on the island, and I do think we lose something by not seeing the men all together at the start.

The first lines of this production have Miranda (Alison Elliott) calling to her mother. Yes, Prospero is female in this version. I have mixed feelings about a female Prospero, because that obviously changes something regarding the relationship with Miranda, as well as the character’s motivation for bringing Ferdinand to their shores. I have to admit part of my reluctance to accept a female Prospero is the bad taste left in my mouth from that completely reprehensible film by Julie Taymor. That being said, Deborah Strang does a wonderful job in the role, embodying the character’s strengths as well as vulnerabilities. She plays Prospero as both mother and father figure to Miranda.

Of course, a female Prospero causes many changes to Shakespeare’s lines. For example, “Sir, are you not my father” becomes “Madam, are you not my mother.” Of course, Prospero’s next line in the play, “Thy mother was a piece of virtue and/She said thou wast my daughter,” no longer can work (and that is quite a funny line). And when Miranda says, “Had I not/Four or five women once that tended me,” she stresses “four or five,” which makes us think of Prospero as tending on her, as would a loving mother. And though most of the lines are changed to indicate Prospero’s gender, Ariel does still at one point say “That’s my noble master.”

Ariel is also female in this production (though, of course, that is less unusual). As I mentioned, this production puts emphasis on the magical aspects of the play, and so Ariel’s entrance is done as spectacle, with lights and sound, and a group of spirits spinning a large platform around. It works really well, and this production does much with that one movable platform. It seems that these other spirits serve Ariel, but when Prospero says “How now? moody?” she is able to dismiss the other spirits with a motion of her hand. A somewhat adversarial relationship between Prospero and Ariel (Kimberleigh Aarn) is established quickly.

Caliban, as played by Geoff Elliott, has a wonderful sad quality, steeped in the misery of his situation, and believing his home, his island, was taken from him by Prospero. Geoff Elliott’s excellent performance really makes us feel for this wretch, and we can’t hate him when he tries to turn on his master.

When the men arrive on the island, it is like the meeting of two worlds. This is stressed by the differences in wardrobe. The men are all in light-colored suits and hats, as from the 1920s. It would, of course, make sense that their dress would be slightly more modern, as Prospero and Miranda have been on the island for twelve years. All are in ties, though Gonzalo’s is a bow-tie, setting him apart from the others. William Dennis Hunt gives a delightful performance as Gonzalo.

Of the men, it is Ferdinand (Paul David Story) that we meet first. Interestingly, at his entrance, Miranda holds a parasol and Prospero dons sunglasses. It is almost as if they are anticipating the changes to come, adapting to more modern times even as Ferdinand first arrives. Miranda’s “What is ‘t?” (upon seeing him) is wonderful. She is clearly taken with him immediately, and when Prospero frees Ferdinand from a spell and he drops, she drops too, an empathic move that is a nice touch. Though of course a female Prospero makes Miranda’s lines “This/Is the third man that ere I saw! The first/That ere I sigh’d for!” unusable.

Miranda watches Ferdinand at the beginning of Act III, crouched and unseen. Interestingly, there are spirits on either side of her, who are also unseen, both by Ferdinand and by Miranda. Prospero then watches the unfolding scene with Ferdinand and Miranda from within the audience. Ferdinand has a delightful, youthful innocence, which works well when he is stacking the logs and talking of Miranda. He also has an air of honor about him, which is appropriate. I did want a little more sadness in his “I do think a king,” because he is saying he believes his father is dead. And Miranda’s reading of “I am your wife if you will marry me” is rather flat. There is something lacking in their chemistry.

There is a lot of humor in The Tempest, and this production garners much laughter from the audience (often because of the great humor inherent in Shakespeare’s text, but also due to particularly spot-on delivery of those lines – as Prospero’s deliver of “Shake it off” in Act I Scene ii). One inherently funny scene is that of the meeting of Trinculo and Stephano with Caliban. In this production, Trinculo is dressed in a loud, blue plaid suit jacket, and gives some very funny line readings, like on “What have we here.”

When we next see Stephano, he is wearing a homemade crown and is seated on a throne of sorts, having really settled into the role of master of Caliban – at least with the trappings and air of the role, if not the actual responsibility. He has a staff at this point, drawing an interesting parallel to Prospero. Also interesting is that he has a cape, but it is made from Caliban’s own garb, so in his newly adopted lofty role he has actually taken from his one subject, just as Caliban believes that Prospero has done on a much larger scale. Caliban of course does not make this connection.

The changing of genders in both Ariel and Prospero causes some minor problems. When Ariel gets Stephano to believe that Trinculo is speaking against him, it doesn’t quite work as well, because Ariel’s is clearly a female voice. And when Stephano agrees to kill Prospero for Caliban, he says, “Monster, I will kill this woman,” which is much more difficult to swallow than “Monster, I will kill this man.” After all, Stephano isn’t really a bad man, and in a fight with a man you’d worry more for his safety than for the other man’s. And I just don’t believe he would agree to kill a woman.

Instead of the play’s epilogue, this production gives us a silent moment with Prospero and Caliban, with Prospero waving her staff to free Caliban. While this is not in Shakespeare’s text, it’s actually a really nice moment, and fits in well with the themes highlighted by this production.

The brief set changes throughout the production are turned into musical interludes, with tribal rhythms. There is one intermission, coming at the end of Act II.

This production of The Tempest was directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and it runs through November 22, 2014. A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., in Pasadena. There is free parking at the Metro Parking Structure.

(Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

O Baby Mine: Sing A Song Of Shakespeare CD Review

I’m of the opinion that it is never too early to start your children on Shakespeare. I think it’s easier for kids to pick up the language early on. If you wait until they’re teenagers, it may be more of a struggle for them. O Baby Mine: Sing A Song Of Shakespeare is a collection of songs based on the works of William Shakespeare, and is aimed at children and parents. I am neither, but I am enjoying the CD all the same. The title of the CD is a play on “O Mistress Mine,” from Twelfth Night (a song that was covered by Paul Kelly on his 2012 release, Spring And Fall).

Different artists contribute their takes on the works of the bard, focusing on the comedies and tragedies. The histories are not really represented, which isn’t all that surprising. But it is somewhat surprising to find the sonnets likewise unrepresented here. Besides Twelfth Night, there are songs inspired by As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other comedies. It’s nice to have The Two Gentlemen Of Verona represented here, by “Who Is Sylvia?” a short tune which has a fun New Orleans flavor, and vocals that have shades of Paul McCartney.  And it’s cool to have a song inspired by the plot of The Comedy Of Errors (“Do You Think You Have A Twin?”). There are also some songs inspired by the tragedies, including one, of course, inspired by Romeo And Juliet (“Nightingale’s Lullaby,” a sweet tune with cello).

“Up And Down”

O Baby Mine opens with “Up And Down,” which begins with a child reciting Puck’s lines from Act III Scene II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Up and down, up and down/I will lead them up and down.” The song then kicks in, and has the feel of a groovy folk tune. I only wish the lyrics were delivered with an even more mischievous air, as Puck might sing them. These are lines regarding Lysander and Demetrius, with Puck promising to keep them from harming each other. And though the song’s lyrics are all lines by Puck, some of them are from different scenes. For example, the next lines (“I’ll follow you. I’ll lead you about a round”) are from Act III Scene I, and are about the mechanicals. And “Lord what fools these mortals be” is from Act III Scene ii.

“Shakespeare Said It First”

“Shakespeare Said It First” is a song about how people often quote Shakespeare without knowing it, and offers many examples, such as “heart of hearts” and “Give the devil his due.” This song could be a lot longer, as there are many, many more examples to choose from (like “dog will have his day”). This song is presented with simply vocals and keys, both performed by Cinco Paul, who also wrote the song. There is a definite sense of play, but it is a song for adults as much as for children, as most folks are completely unaware of how often they refer to Shakespeare’s works.

“There Are Bees”

“There Are Bees” is a delightful folk song written and sung by Madison Scheckel. The lyrics are inspired by a song Ariel sings in Act V Scene I of The Tempest. This is one of my favorite tracks. It has a great feel to it, and there is certainly a joy here. There are some wonderful lyrics, like this line: “And where there’s me there’s always you.”

“O Baby Mine”

As I mentioned, the title of this collection comes from a song from Twelfth Night. The title track is a slow, soft, pretty song, the lyrics by Susan Lambert and Rob Kendt, though some of the lines are directly from Shakespeare’s play, such as “Present mirth hath present laughter” and “Youth’s a stuff will not endure.” These lines, by the way, are sung by Feste in Act II Scene iii. This track features some wonderful work by Melissa Wrolstad on violin, Doug Davis on banjo, and Paula Lane on dobro.

This song is featured in two separate versions on this CD: Daddy Version and Mommy Version. The second version has vocals by Madison Scheckel. Rob Kendt plays guitar on both versions, and Doug Davis plays banjo on both. But the second lacks the violin and dobro.


“Witches’ Song” is a combination of two of the witches’ scenes from Macbeth: Act I Scene i and Act IV Scene i. The lines are rearranged somewhat, with the last lines of Act I Scene i being the first lines of the song: “Fair is foul and foul is fair/Hover through fog and filthy air.” The vocals are delivered with a great sense of play by Benita Scheckel and Patricia Ann Lamkin (yes, only two witches in this version). And I love Melissa Wrolstad’s work on violin.  I’ll be adding this track to my Halloween play list.

I was surprised to find that this CD also includes a song based on two very serious speeches of Macbeth’s – the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Act V, and the “Macbeth does murder sleep” speech from Act II.  Though “Out, Out, Brief Candle” actually includes only the one line from the former, “Out, out, brief candle,” and then begins the latter with the word “sleep” from “Macbeth does murder sleep,” and then continues from there (“the innocent sleep…”), which of course changes the tone. Madison Scheckel’s vocals remind me a bit of Nico on this track. This song also features Amy Laura McLean on cello, a beautiful addition.

King Lear

I go back and forth on which is the greatest artistic achievement of the human race – Hamlet or King Lear. I didn’t expect either of these great tragedies to be mentioned on this album, but “Oh Father” begins with David Tobocman singing of taking his daughters to see King Lear. (This song also refers to Macbeth and Romeo And Juliet.)

And “We Two Alone” is a song based on an incredible speech from Act V of King Lear, when Lear has regained some measure of himself, and some joy at his reunion with his daughter, even as they’re both taken prisoner.

CD Track List
  1. Up And Down
  2. Shakespeare Said It First
  3. There Are Bees
  4. O Baby Mine (Daddy version)
  5. Witches’ Song
  6. Who Is Sylvia?
  7. Nightingale’s Lullaby
  8. Sigh No More
  9. Do You Think You Have A Twin?
  10. Oh Father
  11. In Springtime
  12. O Baby Mine (Mommy version)
  13. Out, Out, Brief Candle
  14. We Two Alone

O Baby Mine: Sing A Song Of Shakespeare was released on August 12, 2014.

Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast and Michael Doherty's Music Log.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shakespeare References in Joe Haldeman’s None So Blind

None So Blind is a collection of Joe Haldeman's science fiction short stories and poems, several of which have Shakespeare references.

The story “Passages” contains a reference to Hamlet: “It took a step forward and rolled its shoulders like an exotic dancer, very exotic, which I supposed was an Obelobelian shrug. ‘Not maybe, die maybe. It is… self. You must be…self.’ Always good advice. Go forty light-years and find Polonius” (p. 59). That, of course, refers to Polonius’ famous advice to Laertes: “to thine own self be true.”

“Images” contains a reference to The Taming Of The Shrew: “I’d done leads in Shrew and Salesman and had dozens of smaller parts” (p. 180).

“The Cure” has a reference to Macbeth: “Now people were shooting back, and it was like one of those reenactments you get at Corral World or somewhere, sound and fury and nobody getting really hurt” (p. 228). That line contains a reference to one of the most famous speeches in the play, when Macbeth says, “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.”

“None So Blind” contains a Hamlet reference: “So along came Cletus, to whom Cupid had dealt only slings and arrows, and what might otherwise have been merely an opposites-attract sort of romance became an emotional and intellectual union that, in the next century, would power a social tsunami that would irreversibly transform the human condition” (p. 251). The phrase “slings and arrows” comes from that most famous of all speeches, the “To be or not to be” speech.

The poem “The Homecoming” contains a reference to The Merchant Of Venice: “but a shylock in Saigon would give you/five for six, in crisp hundred-dollar bills” (p. 264).

None So Blind was published in 1996.