Published Articles and Papers


Florida politics is never dull. In its unique way, the “Sunshine State” has been an increasingly important player in presidential elections in recent years. On the local level, Florida is rich with fascinating stories of the “good ol’ boy” network and old fashioned arm twisting politics in the state legislature. Media has become more than the message when it comes to politics in Florida, especially now that we’re in the cyber age. The theme of this essay is to examine the use of media, particularly campaign advertising, in the recent 2004 election in Florida including the presidential race, the race to represent Florida in the senate, the contest for the 13th congressional district and the proposed amendments to the Florida constitution. It will also attempt to illustrate the use, or misuse, of exit polls by campaigns and the media.

The pundits never ending pre-election chatter and predictions of another fiasco in Florida on Election Day never materialized. Although there were some comparably minor glitches in the voting system this time around, Florida deferred to Ohio and let the Buckeye State take center stage in this year’s Presidential race. In Florida, it appeared all chads remained in place or totally punched out in districts that voted the manual way. The new fangled electronic voting machines, used in many precincts that did away with the paper ballots, for the most part tallied the votes accurately. Despite a heavy turnout that had voters standing in line before the polls opened and after they closed, Florida’s electoral machinery worked fairly smoothly. “This really has been a referendum on our process,” Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood said. “We knew that the eyes of the world would be on us. We were prepared.” (USA Today 11/06)

This time around, President Bush’s victory margin in Florida was far larger than the 537-vote edge he got in 2000 after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to stop a recount. To win Florida’s crucial 27 electoral votes, John Kerry had to do well in Democratic strongholds in South Florida and hold his own in central Florida along the Interstate 4 corridor, which was rich with independent voters and considered the pivot point in statewide races. But the President carried that region, winning three key counties, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco, that Al Gore had won in 2000. (USA Today 11/04/04)

Joseph Agostini, spokesman for the Florida Republican Party said the difference was our “Ground game.” “We had 109,000 volunteers throughout the state. In 2000, we made 77,000 personal contacts. In the last four days before the election, we made 1.7 million.”

President Bush was also helped by his brother Governor Jeb Bush and most assuredly received credit from voters for bringing the state federal aid after Florida was battered by four hurricanes in August and September.

Exit Polls

Exit polls and their unreliable results were the main issue in the 2004 election. Attempting to avoid the embarrassment of another premature declaration of victory as in 2000, all the television networks showed increased restraint in projecting winners, particularly when it came to calling the electoral victor in Florida and Ohio. Dr. Edwin Benton, Political Science professor at the University of South Florida characterized the media coverage as “timid”. In a broadcast interview on Sarasota’s WIBQ radio, Dr. Benton explained, “For the most part the media was very careful about making calls or predictions based on exit polls given the fiasco they were embroiled in 2000. Fox and ABC were the more aggressive of the two major networks. The others were slower and didn’t give Ohio to President Bush until the next morning, where those two networks did it earlier on. It made for a more responsible media in that they were very careful rather than trying to be the first. It was more important to get it right than being first.” (WIBQ 11/24/04)

Exit polls continue to be used by the networks and early election coverage did have its moments of skewed coverage. Early watchers of particularly NBC and ABC were given the impression that John Kerry was winning the popular vote based on information gleaned from exit polls. As the evening wore on, and the actual vote counts came in, it was apparent that exit polling was once again a highly flawed system of information.

CBS News, which has had its share of controversy in the fall of 2004 particularly the flap over the Dan Rather story on President Bush’s Vietnam service history, reported in a broadcast story aired the day after the election (11/3, story 13, 2:11, Rather) In future elections, political analysts may put a bit less stock in the inside-track data from exit polls. That’s because some of the early numbers that got into circulation yesterday turned out to be misleading.”

Pollster Natalia Busey said, “A few of those early numbers were leaked to some bloggers and today there are a few red faces in cyberspace where some of the information was published.” Joe Lenski, of Edison Media Research said “It’s not supposed to be leaked to the campaigns or to characterize who’s ahead or who’s behind. That’s not the purpose of the first wave of exit polls.” CBS went on to report that the Internet published numbers showing a close race that John Kerry was on the way to winning in both Ohio and Florida. A CBS spokesman said “The networks, including this one, struggled with the early numbers but resisted the temptation to call races based on exit polls. We did report the optimism in the Kerry camp early in the night. Of course, that optimism turned out to be misplaced, based largely on early exit polls that are notoriously unreliable.” (Frontrunner 11/4)

Mike Lupica, the highly respected columnist for the N.Y. Daily news commented on exit polling during an interview on WIBQ radio in Sarasota the day after the election:

“We have to find a better way to do this so that every election now, we’re not sitting there finding out how Cuyuga county’s coming in and how the voters are shaking out in Florida along I-4. You look at that map and we’ve got to find a better way to do this. Every one of those big time network people, they’re never going to believe what they’re being told because they were fed from noon until about 9 o’clock election night, where all of a sudden they realized they were wrong in Ohio and wrong in Florida. They bought into this.” (WIBQ 11/03/04)

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the President’s brother, criticized the reliability of exit polls in his state: “We were feverishly trying to find someone who could explain why the polls were giving Mr. Kerry such a lead. “This brilliant exit poll company that was hired to replace the really stupid one that screwed up the last election was polling far more women than men, and women more often lean Democratic.” Governor Bush called the President Election Day afternoon and told him to discount the so- called exit polls. I told him, “I don’t believe it.” The New York Times (11/4, Drew, Goodnough) He turned out to be right. The exit polls were wrong.

Senator Bob Smith, who served in both the house and senate on the Republican side, representing New Hampshire echoed the Governor’s sentiments on exit polls from his own experience as recounted in an interview on WIBQ radio in Sarasota:

“When you poll before an election people will basically tell you the truth. But when you come out of the polls, I just think they play games or they’re exhausted. It’s not a true accounting because some people don’t want to say anything so they’ll just walk away. Others will be more vocal and can’t wait to talk about it. I don’t think that’s very scientific and that’s where they get burned.”

“In 1996 when I was re-elected as senator, it was a close race and all the networks called my opponent the winner on television. It was everywhere, all over USA Today, all the papers the next morning had me as the loser and they hadn’t even counted the votes. It was amazing. I tried to get them (the networks) at that time, to change, not by legislation, but just by request, to use the exit polls to compile data. But don’t try to predict winners. Let the voters pick the winners.” (WIBQ 11/03/04)

As a side note, Senator Smith wrote letters to all the network news anchors that incorrectly projected his opponent. His only reply came from ABC newsman Sam Donaldson who offered his apologies for the error.

When it comes to polling, exit polls don’t stand alone in their potential to be inaccurate. Senator Smith tells the humorous story of polls gone awry involving a senatorial campaign a few years back:

“Senator Tom McIntire, a democrat from New Hampshire who served a couple of terms. He was challenged in 1978 by Gordon Humphrey, who was an airline pilot and very conservative, and Humphrey won. Three or four days later, after the election, McIntire was asked by the press, what he made of the fact that the polls had you five or six points ahead in this election and you lost? McIntire said, You know what! I took a poll after the election and I was ahead then too!” Senator Smith commented, “You never know about polls.” (WIBQ 10/26/04)

Dr. Edwin Benton, who has conducted polling as part of his research at the University of South Florida, commented on the skewed data of the 2004 election in a recent interview: “I don’t have any more confidence in exit polls than I did before I question the accurateness based on do they really get a random sample? I’m not sure they do. If you don’t follow the methodology very religiously and very astutely, then being off by a little can be blow out of proportion.The people hired sometimes cut corners and do things which can destroy the liability of them.” (WIBQ 11/24/04)

Jan Schneider vs. Katherine Harris

Local politics, especially in Florida, provided some of the most intriguing and contentious races in 2004. The race for the 13th Congressional District involving mainly Sarasota and Manatee counties between incumbent Katherine Harris vying for a second term against the same democratic opponent she faced in 2002, longtime Washington, DC and now Sarasota attorney, Jan Schneider. Congresswoman Harris defeated Ms. Schneider by five points in the open seat race two years ago when Dan Miller retired after ten years in office. In 2004, Ms. Schneider couldn’t overcome the heavy Republican advantage in voter registrations in the district or Ms. Harris’ overwhelming campaign finance advantage. About 46 percent of registered voters in the district are Republican compared with 33 percent Democrats. About 19 percent aren’t registered with any party. (Wallace, Tribune 11/03/04) Ms. Harris won by nearly eleven points, but the interesting story of this campaign was the use of media.

Ms. Harris, raised more than three million dollars to help pay for television ads and other campaign materials, seven times more than Ms. Schneider who raised ,000. Ms. Harris’ campaign tried to paint Ms.Schneider as an out-of-touch liberal, frequently referring to Ms. Schneider’s ties with Hillary Clinton. Ms. Schneider and Mrs. Clinton attended Yale University together and Mrs. Clinton donated ,000 to Schneider’s campaign through her political action committee.

Ms. Schneider had complained during the campaign that Ms. Harris’ television commercials were attack ads that were misleading. (Wallace, Tribune 11/03/04) WIBQ radio in Sarasota had invited both Ms. Harris and Ms. Schneider to appear either together or separately on its “Suncoast Magazine” talk show and only Ms. Schneider accepted. In a broadcast interview a week before the 2004 election, Ms. Schneider expressed her annoyance over the less than flattering portrayal in campaign ads by her opponent and her frustration at not being able to debate Ms. Harris on the issues in a public forum:

“You’ve all seen these ads with the horrible picture and I’m supposedly in favor of socialized medicine that’s just another outright misrepresentation of what I’ve said. The internet tax, I am supposedly for. I don’t know what that refers to. I’ve never written or spoken those words before Ms. Harris’ ad. Ms. Harris has run nasty attack ads in every campaign she’s run Ms. Harris’ has continually avoided debating me on the issues. She cancelled our most recent debate.The people of this district deserve to hear the issues.” (WIBQ 10/26/04)

Katherine Harris’ dominated the media campaign over Jan Schneider using television ads on Sarasota and Tampa over the air stations and on local cable channels. The campaigns also used print ads in Sarasota and Bradenton newspapers. Jan Schneider, who used radio advertising effectively during the congressional democratic primary in August 2004, chose not to use that medium for the general election. Ms. Schneiders’ much smaller campaign war chest restricted the campaign’s ability to produce counter-attack ads which resulted in a limited number of commercials that aired primarily on local cable channels. Whether a higher frequency of television and radio ads broadcast would have made a substantial difference in the race is a matter of debate given the higher percentage of registered Republicans in the 13th district. It is interesting to note, however, that despite the biannual outcry that campaigns are becoming nastier and meaner, the fact is that negative ads are effective and the more money a candidate has to spend on them, the more likely he or she is to get elected.

Betty Castor vs. Mel Martinez

One of the most controversial campaigns in Florida and the country for that matter, was the race for an open senate seat in Florida between Democrat Betty Castor and Republican Mel Martinez. Mrs. Castor, a former president of the University of South Florida and former state Education Commissioner was already a well known name on the Florida political stage before the election. Mel Martinez served as the nation’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development since 2001 and was virtually hand picked to run for the senate seat vacated by retiring Democrat Bob Graham. Mel Martinez narrowly won the election by a margin of around 80,000 votes or about one percentage point. Again, like the Harris/Schneider campaign, the story in this race was the use of media as it featured some of the nastiest mudslinging in modern political history.

The debates alone between Mrs. Castor and Mr. Martinez provided some of the most heated exchanges of any candidates on television during the campaign. NBC’s Tim Russert, who moderates “Meet The Press”, was in charge of keeping the candidates on track during a debate in Tampa just two weeks before the election. The most contentious exchanges between the candidates were on the issue of Mr. Martinez’ attack ads criticizing Mrs. Castor’s handling of the Sami Al-Arian situation while she was president of the University of South Florida in the mid nineties. Al-Arian was an engineering professor at USF. Mrs. Castor placed him on leave with pay after he became the target of a federal investigation into terrorism. She reinstated him when no charges were filed. Al-Arian was finally arrested in 2003 and was charged with using an Islamic charity and academic think tank at USF to raise money for a Palestinian group blamed for terrorist attacks and killings in Israel. (Dunkelberger, Tribune 10/19/04)

The Martinez campaign focused much of it’s television advertising on that issue and accused Mrs. Castor of mishandling the case. The Castor campaign fired back with accusations in their ads that criticized Mr. Martinez for allowing President Bush to campaign with terrorism suspect Sami Al-Arian. The negative ad issue became the most talked about during this race. At one point in their televised debate in Tampa, moderator Tim Russert attempted to get both candidates to commit to stop running negative ads. Mrs. Castor said she would, if Mr. Martinez agreed. “I am not going to do anything unless I have a pledge from Mr. that he would remove these despicable ads,” Mrs. Castor said on the debate that night. Mr. Martinez reply was, “I’m not going to make the strategy for my campaign here tonight under these lights.” (Kumar, St. Pete Times, 10/21/04) Martinez supporters later said the Republican candidate couldn’t support the pledge, knowing independent Democratic groups could continue to run attack ads. Both sides continued to run negative ads right up to the election.

Negative Campaign Ads

Why do campaigns use negative ads? Because, like them or not, they are effective in getting the job done, electing candidates. Charles Osgood illustrated their value as well as anyone during his October 24, 2004 “Osgood Files” segment broadcast on CBS radio:

“A lot of people say they’re fed up with these negative campaign ads, which devote all their time to putting the other guy down rather than talking their own candidate up. In fact, you can’t tell whose ad it is sometimes until the end when they tell you as possible who paid for it. But there’s a reason why Y does this, and sad to say, the reason is that these ads do work. Cynical as they may be and cynical as they make us in the long run. It turns out that most of us don’t really pay that much attention to politics most of the time and we don’t recall after awhile who paid for a certain political commercial. But we do seem to remember something about about Candidate Y being a spendthrift, a tightwad, a friend of the rich or lobbyists or child molesters, something like that. We can’t quite remember exactly, but pretty mean-spirited, anyway. On the other hand, when a candidate uses advertising to pat himself on the back and tell us how great he is, well, we don’t like that much either. One of the reasons we don’t like politicians in general is that most politicians talk about themselves entirely too much. Cast your vote for good old me! My opponent is an SOB.” (Osgood, 10/24/2004)

While not the only campaigns to do so, the Martinez and Castor camps used attack ads to such an extent that they became the main issue in the race for most people. And, to Mel Martinez’ credit, you could argue that they tipped the narrow election victory in his favor. Dr. Edwin Benton, professor of political science at the University of South Florida weighed in on the effect of political ads in the Martinez/Castor race in a radio interview a few weeks after the election:

“He (Martinez) kept hammering away at several issues, mainly the unfortunate thing that happened at the University of South Florida with the professor who it was found out had very strong ties to the Ji-Had and involved in terrorism and that Betty Castor should have known about it and done something.As long as it keeps working, the negative ads, you can expect candidates to continue to use them, sad as it may be. (WIBQ 11/24/04) Dr. Benton pointed out that since the famous “Daisy Ad” in 1964, produced by the Lyndon Johnson campaign intimating that Barry Goldwater would lead the United States into a nuclear war, negative ads have become more prevalent in every election.

“Since that time the negative ads have escalated tremendously and we’ll continue to see those as long as they are perceived to work. In spite of the criticism to the contrary, they will continue to do it. They figure they have more to gain than they have to lose.” (WIBQ 11/24/04)

Amendments and Media

Candidates names weren’t the only things on the ballot in Florida that caused a media stir leading up to Election Day 2004. There were eight amendments to the Florida constitution put before the voters which added to the clutter of media ads already saturating the airwaves. Amendment 4 was an especially heated contest throughout the fall of 2004. Amendment 4 asked Florida voters to decide whether Miami-Dade and Broward counties can vote on whether to authorize slot machines. The passage of the amendment would have opened the door to allow slot machine gambling into the dog and horse tracks throughout the state. In the tightest race of all the amendment initiatives, the “No” vote carried by the razor thin margin of around seven thousand votes. However, less than three weeks prior to the election, opponents to Amendment 4 fearing the closeness of the vote attempted to knock the measure off the ballot alleging that fraudulent signature gathering was used to put it on the ballot. (Talalay) A Tallahassee judge postponed a hearing in the case until January 31, 2005, which is now a moot point. But it does demonstrate the intensity on both sides of this issue.

Perhaps due to the “lottery situation” of several years ago when Floridians were sold on the idea that the lottery would enhance the state’s educational budget, where in fact it has done the opposite, voters this time around were reluctant to be swayed in favor of another so called “gambling” amendment. The media fight on both sides however, was fierce. Ads for and against Amendment 4 appeared on radio and television throughout the campaign season. Local radio in Sarasota, Florida was flooded with ads on Amendment 4. The campaign against the initiative spent a lot of money throughout the state running short 10 second radio ads that aired locally on Sarasota’s WIBQ urging voters to “Vote No on Amendment 4.” With the results so close this time around, speculation is that the proponents for slot machines will make another attempt to get this initiative on the ballot in the future.

Amendment 3 pitted doctors vs. lawyers in the battle over capping attorney fees in malpractice cases. The “Yes” vote won handily 64% to 36% (Bay News 9), but both sides spent an enormous amount of money in campaign ads trying to persuade voters to pull the lever their way. Nearly 27 million dollars was raised by groups representing doctors and lawyers over malpractice reform with the bulk of it spent on Amendment 3. (Green 1)

The tone of the ads in this campaign became almost comical. A group backed by the Florida Medical Association ran a string of ads bashing lawyers, urging a yes vote on Amendment 3. One parodied a grinning lawyer flashing a wad of cash. Their theme: Lawyers are bad. A patient safety group linked to state trial lawyers ran opposing ads. which featured patients victimized by bad doctors and a string of statistics on people hurt or killed by medical mistakes. Their theme: Lawyers are invisible. (Green 2) This time around the emotional plea worked in favor of the doctors.

One of the more intriguing ballot initiatives was the vote to repeal an amendment passed four years ago to build the high speed bullet train system in Florida. Amendment 6 did just that by passing overwhelmingly 64% to 36%. (Bay News 9) Local business organizations like the road builders’ political action committee Moving Florida, a collection of transportation interests, including Southwest Airlines, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Florida East Coast Industries all backed Amendment 6 and the media campaign extolling its passage. Those against the bullet train amendment, including Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, both of whom initially headed the petition drive that got Amendment 6 on the ballot, reversed course and spoke out against the amendment in the media. In 2004 fiscal conservatism wound up prevailing in the back and forth battle for a high speed rail system in Florida.


As the population of Florida continues to escalate in booming proportions, the “Sunshine State” will continue to be a more powerful voice in presidential election process. Attitudes have shifted dramatically over the past 50 years in Florida as the politics of northerners have assimilated into the southern end of the state. No longer can either party pencil in an easy victory in Florida in the race for the White House. On the state and local level, areas that were once virtually automatic wins for the democratic party are now becoming heated battles for every vote. One thing is certain in the turbulent world of Florida politics however, the louder and more frequent the message gets out to the public, no matter what it says, people will tend to respond to it. Media, including radio, television, print, and internet will continue to play a vital part in the success or failure of an election campaign. And, negative ads, love‘em or hate‘em, will be a part of every campaign. Love ‘em or here’re, they do work. And until someone comes up with a more effective way to sway voters, the airwaves, internet and newspapers will be flooded with them every year around election time.

Reference Sources

Bay News 9

Benton, Dr. Edwin

WIBQ Radio interview 10/26/04

WIBQ Radio Sarasota, FL

Benton, Dr. Edwin

WIBQ Radio interview 11/24/04

WIBQ Radio Sarasota, FL

Branom, Mike

Four years after passage, bullet train goes back to voters
Associated Press Orlando 10/14/04 LEXIS NEXIS

Dunkelberger, Lloyd

A study in sharp contrasts;
In first debate, Mel Martinez and Betty Castor spar over Sami Al-Arian, Iraq,;
Social Security and more

St. Pete Times 10/19/04 Pg. A1

Frontrunner, The

Exit Polls Predicted A Kerry Blowout


Greene, Lisa

Ads, rallies and dollars upstage Amendment 3

St. Pete Times 10/26/04 Pg. 1B

Kumar, Anita; Bousquet, Steve

U.S. Senate rivals spar over ads

St. Pete Times 10/21/04 Pg. 1B

Lupica, Mike

WIBQ Radio interview 11/03/04

WIBQ Radio Sarasota, FL

Osgood, Charles

Negative campaign ads tiresome but they work

CBS Worldwide, Inc.10/20/04 LEXIS NEXIS

Schneider, Jan

WIBQ Radio interview 10/24/04

WIBQ Radio Sarasota, FL

Smith, Senator Bob

WIBQ Radio interview 10/26/04

WIBQ Radio Sarasota, FL

Talalay, Sarah

Opponents of Florida amendment fail to get it slot-machine issue off ballot

South Florida Sun-Sentinel 10/13/04 LEXIS NEXIS

Wallace, Jeremy

Harris wins another term;
Her rematch with Jan Schneider ends like the first contest

Sarasota Herald-Tribune 11/3/04 Pg. A16


“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays about the comic misadventures of two pairs of lovers who find themselves lost in a forest and fall under the spell and manipulation of impish fairies. Audiences at the time believed that a midsummer night was a time when sprites, or fairies, were particularly powerful. It was a time when people dreamed of their true loves and sometimes went a bit crazy.

The act of breaking down a comedy tends to detract from its amusement. As Edward Hubler said in his criticism “The Range of Shakespeare’s Comedy”, “The man who talks about the nature of comedy does a dangerous thing, and he knows it, for his reading in the criticism of many times and places suggests to him that he has a very slim chance of makings sense.” (Hubler p.55) In spite of that warning, the goal of this essay is to present some ideas on the comedic structure Shakespeare used to craft one of his most humorous creations, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” is a story of frustrated love and mistaken identity. The comedy emanates from the absurd ease in which lovers change the object of their affection all the while believing the sincerity of their feelings. The play does raise some reflective and philosophical questions such as: How and why do people fall in and out of love? How is love related to questions of identity of both the lover and beloved? Are lovers in control of themselves and their destinies? Which is more real, the “daylight” world of reason and law or the “nighttime” world of passion and chaos? (Belsey) While the tone of the play is lighthearted and fun, Shakespeare has deftly woven these questions about the basic human elements of love and looking for love in the storyline and allows the audience to discover the answers for themselves.

The plot skillfully interweaves several groups of characters. Theseus, Duke of

Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, the Amazon queen whom he has conquered in war. Egeus brings before the Duke his daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry Egeus’s candidate, Demetrius, because she is in love with Lysander. Theseus tells her that by law she must either obey her father, die, or become a nun. Left alone together, Hermia and Lysander plan to elope; they confide in Hermia’s friend Helena, who is in love with, but spurned by, Demetrius. Meanwhile, a group of “mechanicals”, or craftsmen, are rehearsing a play based on the Ovidian story of Pyramus and Thisbe to perform at court after the Duke’s wedding. Their director is Peter Quince, and their principal actor is Bottom, a weaver, the character that drives the comedy in the play as this paper will explore in more detail to follow.

Before doing that however, it is important to understand the underlying theme of the play which is “change”. Love is shown to be both changeable, as the young lovers dizzyingly switch affections, and a transformative power, which can turn even an ass into a desirable partner. Dreams, magic, and the imagination coalesce as metamorphic forces.

(Bates) This is best described in the words of Theseus, Duke of Athens:

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact . . . .
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
(Act 5, Scene 1, lines 4-8, 12-17)

This is one of Shakespeare’s most Ovidian plays, not only in the dramatization of “Pyramus and Thisbe”, the play within a play, but also in its succession of metamorphoses: a flower, accidentally hit by Cupid’s arrow, turns from white to purple and becomes a love charm and a man is transformed into an ass.

As Edith Hamilton writes in her book “Mythology”, “Pyramus and Thisbe” is a story found only in Ovid. It is the story of young lovers and forbidden love. The lovers are separated by a wall and communicate to each other through a small crack in that wall. While the original story is dramatic and ends in tragedy, the performance of the play by the group of so called “actors” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is executed so badly, it becomes the comedic climax of the entire play.

Bottom the Weaver, who believes himself to be a much more talented actor than he really is, takes charge of the production and if he had his way, would play all the parts. When he is chosen for the part of Pyramus, Bottom says, “That will ask some tears in the true performance of it: If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes. I will move storms. I could play Ercles, rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split.” (Act 1, scene 2, 28-33) . In line 54, Bottom says, “let me play Thisbe too. I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice.” In line 73, Bottom boasts, “Let me play the lion too. I will roar, that I will make the Duke say, ‘Let him roar again.’

In the 1999 film production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, actor Kevin Kline delivers a masterful comedic performance as Bottom. Kline portrays Bottom with all the traits of a conceited, egotistical, bigheaded, braggadocios blowhard, and still makes him a likeable and comical character to the audience.

Today “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most often produced plays, however that was not always the case. For nearly two hundred years it was never produced in its original form. Though by modern standards it is quite tame, it’s relative bawdy nature resulted in watered down versions of the manuscript being produced. In 1631 the Bishop of Lincoln got into trouble with the Puritans by allowing it to be performed, in whole or in part, at his house on a Sunday. An abridgement of the play with the title “The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver” was apparently acted in private during a period when theaters were closed. (1642-1660) (Yale) It was not until 1827 that the first restoration closest to the original play was produced in Berlin from a translation by a German named Tieck. Productions of “Dream” in both England and America which were reasonably faithful to the original text began around 1840.

The play was continually adapted in those two hundred years. During most of the

nineteenth century Oberon was played by a woman instead of a man and many productions have put the fairies in clown’s costumes and sent them flying on trapezes. In the 1999 film version of “Dream” starring Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer, the setting is moved to 19th century Italy.

There have been several film productions of “Dream”. Max Reinhardt’s 1935 version stands out because of its portrayal of the nineteenth century’s emphasis on spectacle. A number of notable Hollywood stars appeared in the film including Olivia de Havilland as Hermia, Mickey Rooney as Puck, and even tough guy actor James Cagney as a blustering Bottom. The aforementioned 1999 version also featured well known actors among them Calista Flockhart as Hermia and Stanley Tucci as Puck.

As stated previously, Bottom the Weaver is the comic force in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, particularly when he is transformed into an ass by the impish Puck. Deborah Baker Wyrick illustrates in her critique, “The Ass Motif in The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, how Shakespeare used this imagery to convey humor:

“His palpably translated presence synthesizes the ‘admirable ass’, the ‘foolish ass’, and the ‘licentious ass’ traditions. His unselfconsciously ludicrous appearance forms an essential component of the play’s comic machinery, emblematizes his own character and talents, and comments upon the play’s interconnected themes of metamorphosis, imagination and love.”

When Bottom enters the woods with the group of actors to rehearse the play they will be presenting before the Duke of Theseus, he has no idea what is in store for him. Oberon, the Fairy King, has Puck transform Bottom’s head into an ass and uses him to punish Titania, the Fairy Queen, by having her “fall in love with a vile thing.” Wyrick comments: “Subliminal erotic perversity notwithstanding, the audience’s predominant response to the dalliance between the ass and the Fairy Queen is one of amusement. It is a comedy of the grotesque. A theatrical translation of the essentially dramatic and humorous tension found in medieval cathedrals where gargoyles crouch near saints and angels.” Referring back to Mel Brooks quote about juxtaposition, Wyrick supports it in her critique by saying: “Since this order of comedy is built on strong antithesis, the overall juxtaposition of the dainty sprite (Titania) and the palpable gross monster creates a comically incongruous spectacle embellished with equally incongruous flourishes — the homely song, the orders to the fairy attendants and the flowery garland decking the ass’s nose.”

In the scene between Titania and Bottom, now with the head of an ass, we see what Wyrick calls a double antithesis. The expected roles of the characters are now switched. “Titania exhibit’s the amorous aggressiveness one would anticipate from a lusty beast. Bottom reacts with the reserve one would anticipate from a virtuous lady.”

Titania: “Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful.”

Bottom: “Not so, neither; but if I had wit enough to get out of this wood, I have enough to serve mine own turn.”

Titania: “Out of this wood do not desire to go: Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or not .And I do love thee: therefore, go with me. (Act 3, scene 1, 154- 163)

Volumes of material have been written about Shakespeare over the centuries. He is the most produced playwright in history and each of his works has been studied, critiqued and scrutinized by scholars, students and literature buffs ever since the Bard hung up his quill and parchment. In conducting research for this paper, I wanted to go beyond just the literary criticisms of Shakespeare’s comedies and go right to a living source from someone who has acted in, directed and produced a multitude of his works on stage.

Geoffrey Owens theatre credits are numerous. Currently he teaches acting and directs productions at the Asolo Theatre Conservatory in Sarasota, FL. Classically trained, he has taught Shakespeare at the Gene Frankel Studio, New York University, HB Studio and Yale University and is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Shakespeare Company. Although he is best known to television audiences for his role as Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show in the 1980’s, Geoffrey Owens is a classically trained actor with a vast knowledge and deep appreciation of Shakespeare’s work. As of this writing Mr. Owens was in the process of directing Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Asolo Conservatory part of the masters theatre program at Florida State University.

Geoffrey Owens was my guest on WIBQ radio in Sarasota, Florida where he talked about the challenges of directing a Shakespeare production and the elements of comedy he used in his plays. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

DM: “Is directing Shakespeare more challenging than other plays?”

GO: “I think it’s more difficult in a way, but it’s also more gratifying. It’s my favorite stuff to act and to direct because it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got everything contemporary plays have. It has the richness of language. We spend a lot of time going over the text to make sure the actors know exactly what they’re saying which you can’t take for granted. What they’re saying, why they’re saying it and even how to say it so that it’s clear to an audience. An actor can spend six hours pulling apart a speech and making it clear, but then the audience gets one second to understand that same thing. It’s very precarious, very involved, but very fulfilling.”

DM: “Shakespeare included a lot of issues in his plays that are relevant today didn’t he?”

GO: “Absolutely. He wrote about the human heart basically. The human heart has not changed, so the relevance of Shakespeare’s plays has not changed.”

DM: “Is there a challenge to directing a Shakespeare comedy because he didn’t put a lot of stage directions in his original texts did he?”

GO: “No, it is up to the director to find the physical life of the play. I think the challenge of comedy is the precision. You know it’s a comedy so you feel this burden that it better be funny. You have to find not just the comedy in the words but the comedy in the actions between the characters. Comedy comes from truth. If something is not true it’s not going to be really funny. As actors and directors, we’re trying to find the truth in the moment. Shakespeare’s such a good writer that he’s built in such elements into the characterizations and the plot that if you just play it truthfully, I believe it will be funny.

DM: “How do you stage a Shakespeare comedy because he didn’t really write jokes, did he?”

GO: “Actually he wrote jokes. Even in his more serious plays, Shakespeare has sections of those plays, for instance, the first part of “Romeo and Juliet”, the first third of it is actually one of the funniest plays that he ever wrote and then it turns very dark.”

He writes jokes. The seeds of standup comedy and vaudeville, I think, are very much found in Shakespeare.”

DM: “Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of his best comedies isn’t it?”

GO: “If you don’t get laughs with that play, you’re in trouble. It really is so funny. In terms of staging I don’t come to rehearsal with a blueprint in mind. I like to get the actors on stage and let them play with it and find what works.” (WIBQ 10/26/04)

One of the best versions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the 1982 Joseph Papp production that was staged in Central Park in New York City as part of his annual Shakespeare in the Park series. Preserved on videotape, the play was performed in an outdoor amphitheatre in the heart of Manhattan’s Central Park in front of a live audience. and included well known actors William Hurt and Christine Baranski in the cast. Jeffrey DeMunn’s performance as Bottom the Weaver in particular, is one of the funniest interpretations of that character who is turned into an Ass by the mischievous Puck.

Containing a play within a play, “Pyramus and Thisbe”, which features comically clumsy writing, poor staging, cheap costumes and awful acting, the band of actors mangle their way through it with hilarious results. The laughs are strong and frequent throughout this production and exemplify Geoffrey Owens point that actors need to find the comedy by working it out on stage. For pure comic enjoyment, this 1982 version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” best illustrates Shakespeare’s humor in the hands of well trained and talented actors.

DM: “Why do so many actors love doing Shakespearean roles?”

GO: “Shakespeare wrote not only what life is like, but he combined that with the notion of what life should and could be.”

DM: “Was Shakespeare considered a genius in his time?”

GO: “He was actually. Shakespeare was one of those artists that was esteemed in his lifetime and was very successful in his lifetime just on the business level.” (WIBQ)

The plot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is both light-hearted and whimsical. Research by those much more scholarly than this writer has turned up very little which may be properly called the “source” of the play. The Yale Shakespeare edition notes that the most that can be said is that there are some resemblances of detail between this play and some earlier narratives. The play within the play, Pyramus and Thisbe, and the name Titania, Queen of the Fairies, were derived from the works of Ovid. Oberon’s magic potion or “love juice” is thought to have come from the Spanish Diana Enamorada by Jorge de Montemayor. Consensus is however, that Shakespeare concocted the image of fairies, Bottom the Weaver, the magical forest from his own observations of simple men and from his own imagination.

“Dream”, like most of Shakespeare’s plays is written in blank verse, a style that was introduced in the 1500’s. Blank verse follows a flexible rhythmic pattern consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream :An Annotated Bibliography (1986), Harold Brooks illustrates how Shakespeare signaled the characteristics of each group of characters in Dream by the language they speak. Bottom and the mechanics or “actors”, generally speak in prose, which gives them a simple, more pastoral or countrified quality. Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies, speak in a more complex form of poetry symbolizing the magical nature of the fairy kingdom. Theseus and Hippolyta, speak in blank verse, a language of high estate, royalty, and

tragedy. The world of the fairies is colored by rhymed couplets to which even the mortals succumb when they fall under the influence in the woods.

Mel Brooks, who wrote and directed some of the funniest films ever made, once said, “Comedy is juxtaposition, juxtaposition, juxtaposition.” When you throw two or more seemingly incompatible ideas, objects or personalities together, something funny is bound to happen. The great comedian Steve Allen said, “Comedy is serious business. A lot of hard work goes into creating something with the intention of making someone laugh.” Perhaps the most famous quote about comedy is often attributed to the British actor Edmund Gwenn who said, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” In “Dream”, Shakespeare juxtaposes the real world of the young lovers, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander with the unreal world, or fairy world, of Titania, Oberon and Puck. When these two diverse worlds are thrown together, the comedy begins.

Another legendary comedian Dick Shawn once said, “The audience laughs at comedians on stage, because we fool them.” Ed Wynn, one of the early television stars and legendary vaudeville performer was called “The Perfect Fool” in honor of his status as a giant in comedy. The word fool being defined not as being foolish, silly or idiotic, but meaning clever in surprising the audience thereby causing laughter.

In “Dream”, Puck says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be”, which is the basic theme of the play, though it is qualified, transformed even, by the mood in which the play is conceived. Huber notes in his criticism, that Shakespeare picked up on this theme because he too had been a fool in love, if we may believe the sonnets. “In ‘Dream’ all the people in love find the going too hard, and fools they are, all, except Theseus and Hippolyta who, untouched by the midsummer madness, retain their good sense.” (Huber p.57) Shakespeare is telling the audience that acting the fool is something we all do and can relate to, particularly when dealing with love. “Folly may lead us not only into sin but into a state of profound well-being.” (Huber p.57) Huber points out that the opposition of folly and good sense is often the heart of comedy.

Shakespeare wrote what has been termed high comedy, what Huber calls “a subdivision of comedy which is neither farce, nor burlesque nor yet satire. It differs from farce in that it has a certain intellectuality; it is about something. It differs from satire in that it does not ask you to think less well of the thing laughed at.” (Huber p.62) George Meredith’s commented in his essay on the comic spirit, “If you can see the ridicule of those you love without loving them less, then you have it. If you can see the ridiculous in yourself without losing your self-esteem, you have a good share of the comic spirit in your soul. (Huber p.62) Shakespeare has structured the comedy in “Dream” with this type of comedy. Bottom, the Weaver’s character, despite his pomposity and being turned into an ass by Puck, somehow retains his likeability to the audience. We laugh at his predicament, but the spirit of high comedy keeps his dignity intact.

The scenes between Bottom and Titania, the fairy queen, stand out as the funniest in the entire play. In his criticism, ‘Bottom and Titania’, John Allen remarks that Bottom, now as the ass, is “the epitome of common sense. In this guise, he displays a modesty and insouciance which are notable because they are absent from his character elsewhere in the play.” As previously stated, Bottom’s conceited and pretentious manner he displays when the actors are deciding their parts in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ early in the play is tempered when he meets Titania. He is no longer as self-possessed when in the presence of the beautiful fairy queen who has taken a fancy to him under the spell of Puck’s love potion. In fact, he could be described as self-conscious for the first time in his life when Bottom says, “If I had wit enough to get out of this wood, I have enough to serve mine own turn. (Act 3, sc1, 152-154) When Titania declares her love for Bottom, he replies that she “should have little reason for that.” (Act 3, sc1, 149) Despite the absurdity of Bottom’s appearance as an ass, the audience feels an empathy towards the character and laughs with him rather than at him. Shakespeare has crafted the high comedy from the situation and keeps it from turning into straight farce or satire.

Why is ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ such an endearing play? Is it the fantasy element of the fairy world? Is it the absurdity of Bottom being turned into an ass? Is it the fanciful interaction of the four lovers trying to find their intended mates? Is it the vaudeville sketch-like quality of the actors bumbling performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’? As Peter Fisher said in his critique, ‘The Argument of A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, “the play continues to impress both audience and reader alike as high fantasy.” The structure of the play, as in most Shakespearean comedies, revolves around the comic “problem”, and the struggle to resolve this problem is the expression of the argument. Unlike in tragedy, where the problem becomes the dilemma, and the lack of any possible solution precipitates the catastrophe, in comedy the solution is the complete and acceptable ending. (Fisher)

The comic problem in “Dream” involves the four lovers acting irrationally in conflict with the rational, orderly world of the Athenian court. Fisher describes this conflict as having two extremes: “the earthy and grotesquely matter-of-fact world of Bottom and the ecstatic and fantastic world of Oberon, the fairy king. All four worlds collide in the woods and emerge in proper perspective. By the end of the play, “the argument has worked itself out before our eyes as well as our ears and the most rare vision is over.” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be seen as a tribute to the magic of illusion. It allows the audience to laugh at human nature and observe the interaction between actors and audience. Puck’s asides throughout and especially the play’s closing lines illustrate this point. “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.” (Act V scene 1, lines 433-435) Shakespeare’s comic structure can best be described by borrowing a title from the Bard himself, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”


Modern technology has made if possible for people to enjoy the numerous productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream available on video. Recommendations from this writer are the 1999 film version starring Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer, the 1982 Joseph Papp production recorded before a live audience in Central Park, NY, and the 1985 Royal Shakespeare production that aired on the BBC.

Reference Sources

Allen, John A.

Bottom and Titania

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2. (Spring, 1967), pp. 107-117.

Bates, Alfred-editor

The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 13.

Historical Publishing Company, London: 1906. pp. 152-157.

Bloom, Harold-editor

William Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Chelsea House, New York: 1987. Page Number: 15.

Brooks, Harold

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: An Annotated Bibliography (1986)

Fisher, Peter F.

The Argument of a Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3. (Summer, 1957), pp. 307-310.

Hamilton, Edith


Warner Books, New York: 1942. pp. 105-107

Hubler, Edward

The Range of Shakespeare’s Comedy

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2. (Spring, 1964), pp. 55-66.

Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide

McGraw Hill Company, New York 2004

Suncoast Magazine

Broadcast Interview with Geoffrey Owens

WIBQ Radio, Sarasota, FL Oct. 26, 2004

Wyrick, Deborah Baker

The Ass Motif

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4. (Winter, 1982), pp. 432-448.

Yale University Press

Shakespeare’s Plays


Pundits Effect on Presidential Campaigns

Can the pundits affect the outcome of elections? Are voters influenced by what they say? How will political talk programs impact the 2004 Presidential election? The answer to the first two questions is yes. There is evidence of at least a partial correlation between what the pundits said and how voters reacted in previous elections. There is little reason to expect, with the overabundance of political talk on the airwaves today, that pundits will not have an impact on voter perception and opinion this fall. Since the 2000 election was won by a razor thin margin and 2004 is anticipated to be another extremely tight race, both candidates for President will need every edge they can get. Media strategy in addition to 30 and 60-second advertisements, will be crucial in how each campaign uses the political talk programs to get the message it wants out to the voters.

Help Wanted: Pundit for hire

Currently with so many outlets on television and radio there is no shortage of opportunities for a political pundit to ply his or her trade. A pertinent question to ask is, how does someone become a pundit? Do you need to pass a test? Do you attend pundit school? Business Week White House correspondent Richard S. Dunham recently issued his Ten Commandments of Political Punditry while also noting that the press corps’ performance in the past year was bordering on the pathetic. They are:

1. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good sound bite.

2. If it’s not conventional, it’s not wisdom.


3. It’s better to be far right than right.

4. It’s better to be left than left out.

5. When in doubt, guess.

6. It’s better to be feared than respected.

7. The less certain you are, the more emphatic you should be.

8. If you’re not on the “A” List, you’re not a major-league anything.

9. Kick ’em when they’re down.

10. Often wrong. Never in doubt. (Business Week)

Mr. Dunham’s list may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it does make a point that much of what is heard on the political talk shows cannot be taken at face value. Many of the people on these programs are self-proclaimed political pundits who in reality have no more expertise than the local garbage man. What they are spewing out over the airwaves does influence a sizable portion of the audience who believes every word is the gospel truth. While the better news magazines and newspapers have fact checkers to ensure some accuracy, the political talk shows don’t have that luxury. What is said is broadcast virtually unfiltered to the masses. The audience must depend on the program’s moderator to be the gatekeeper of truth. Ideally, the host should challenge the opinions of the panel and insist on facts to back up any and all claims from both sides of the political spectrum. In reality, moderators are often little more than referees in screaming matches between political adversaries.


Political Punditry: Is it Hype, Tripe or Just Right?

The advent of the 24-hour news cycle has created a glut of talk shows, particularly prevalent on cable television, which needs a steady diet of political gabbers to fill all that airtime. A national discussion that might have developed over weeks in the pre-cable world now runs its course in a day or two points out television critic Mark Dawidziak. (Plain Dealer 1). Veteran television journalist Linda Ellerbee said, “The rise of punditry and the 24-hour news cycle has created a news environment in which there’s absolutely no chance for a conversation of substance to take place” (Plain Dealer 2). This trend is illustrated nightly on many of the cable talk programs who book so many panel guests that no one gets more than a few seconds to say anything without getting interrupted. The result is a series of televised shouting matches and very few intelligent conversations. “It’s a kind of dance, with everyone in on the game,” Ellerbee said. “The moderator knows what’s going to happen. The participants know what’s going to happen. And by now the viewer knows what’s going on. And it’s boring” (Plain Dealer 3).

Do Political Talk Shows Serve the Voting Public?

One of the greatest freedoms Americans have is to voice their opinions on who’s running the country. Political dialogue is always healthy for a democracy. The broadcast airwaves, which belong to the public, need to be made available for political discussion. However, the recent drift of political talk shows toward “talk wrestling” as CNN’s Larry King once called it, is not serving the needs of the public. Linda Ellerbee said, “There’s no real exchange of ideas going on. To have an exchange of ideas, you have to listen. And


nobody listens. They just shout what you already know they are going to say” (Plain Dealer 4).

With so many cable talk shows, the battle for ratings supercedes quality. Intelligent discussion of the issues is being replaced by the hot story of the moment. Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication said, “The attention span of these channels, not the American public, is very fragile and truncated. “The proliferation of pundits has a great deal to do with that. Pundits must have some grist . . . You can’t talk about something that happened five hours ago if it has been replaced by something bigger, sexier, more shocking” (Plain Dealer 5). In essence, many of the political talk shows have become just that, “shows”. While viewers have many more choices now, they are also forced to be more discriminating in their efforts to get the most accurate and truthful information on political candidates and campaigns.

The Sunday Morning Scramble

Hardcore political junkies have always known that Sunday morning is their “must see TV”. NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation and ABC’s This Week were for many years, the only games in town for politicians, newsmakers and pundits to get airtime on a national broadcast. Today there are nearly 20 political talk shows broadcast nationally over the four major networks and cable channels ( Many of them air nightly causing a glut of information to be spewed forth by pundits who may or may not have a political agenda.

The line between reporting and editorializing has become blurred in the past 20


years. The original format of the Sunday morning programs was a basic press conference where a newsmaker would be asked a series of rather straightforward questions by a panel of reporters. There was minimal time given to editorializing or commentary by the reporters. This began to change when a new crop of political talk programs began to appear on the airwaves in the early 1980’s.

The first of the new breed of political talk shows was the McLaughlin Group, which premiered on PBS in 1982 ( The program is hosted by conservative one-time editor of the National Review and former speechwriter for President’s Nixon and Ford, John McLaughlin. In what has become his trademark curmudgeonly style, McLaughlin cracks the verbal whip on a panel of pundits practically daring them to disagree with him own opinions. The panel traditionally consists of two pundits from the liberal side and two from the conservative viewpoint hashing out the week’s current events. The McLaughlin Group rewrote the rules of political punditry. Sharp words and high dudgeon were in; gentlemanly debate was out (Hodgins). The program is unique in its total absence of interview guests. It was in 1982, and still is today, strictly a panel opinion program, which designed the template for dozens of similar programs that have followed.

The McLaughlin Group gave political punditry a louder voice through television. Before that, pundits were relegated primarily to the editorial pages of newspapers or magazines. Now political campaigns were being dissected on a weekly basis. Candidate sound bites were starting to be analyzed in depth. Mistakes on the campaign trail were amplified by their discussions on this and other programs. The pundits, whether you


agreed with them or not, were beginning to have a greater impact on the public’s perception of the political system.

The political talk show landscape expanded throughout the 80’s and 90’s as cable television, particularly the news channels, encroached their way into more American households. CNN pioneered the 24 hour news channel highway in June of 1980 and it didn’t take long for them to join the political yak fest with its first political talk program, “Evans and Novak” hosted by columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. Programs like Crossfire and The Capital Gang soon followed and the punditry started to fly (

Fair and Balanced Punditry? You Decide

According to Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenburg School for Communication, conservatives dominated the new era of punditry. “Liberal commentators adapted to the new game less effectively than their conservative colleagues, such as Pat Buchanan, because they were hobbled by their desire to embrace inclusiveness” (Hodgins 2). Kaplan further explains, “They try so hard to be balanced. They’re always saying, ‘On the one hand this, on the other hand that.’ They’re tolerant, which is a weakness in this kind of forum (Hodgins 3).

That weakness was eliminated rather quickly when James Carville began appearing regularly on political talk programs. His aggressive, in-your-face, attack dog style made sure anyone watching knew what his viewpoint was, and it was definitely from the left. Carville was Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist who successfully orchestrated the


Democrats message in 1992 of “It’s the economy stupid.” Carville’s mantra was to focus like a laser beam on the economy under President Bush #1. Liberal pundits picked up the ball and ran with it. Political talk shows were beginning to have an impact on campaign strategy.

Perhaps the most influential pundit is someone who’s used radio more effectively than television. Rush Limbaugh has dominated the conservative radio talk show ratings for more than a decade. Orange County Register media columnist Paul Hodgins wrote, “At a time when America ‘s military and economic might seemed in decline, Limbaugh tapped a new middle-American ethos: self-righteous anger.” Averaging 20 million listeners a week (Brennan), Limbaugh’s daily conservative opinions has garnered him an enormous influence, so much so, that a new liberal radio talk network is currently in development with the goal of counteracting the right wing message. The network known as Air America Radio is scheduled to make its debut in three cities, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles on March 31, 2004. “The object of the programming is to be progressive and make a statement that counters this din from the right, ” said Jon Sinton, its chief executive (Hodgins 4). Ironically, comedian and author Al Franken, who wrote a book titled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot a few years ago, will host a show directly opposite Limbaugh in the noon to 3PM slot called “The O’Franken Factor”, a takeoff on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”. “This territory has been ceded to the right way too long,” Franken said. “We’re going to take it to them” (Steinberg NYT).



CNN has been labeled as having a liberal bias in their news coverage. Critics even called it the “Clinton News Network” during the previous administration. Interestingly, on the most popular of its political talk shows The Capital Gang, the five person panel is always stacked toward the left with three liberals to just two conservatives. Robert Novak and columnist Kate O’Beirne represent the conservative side while host Mark Sheilds, Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson, also columnists, expound the liberal viewpoint. By reviewing The Capital Gang transcripts over the past three years, there is ample evidence of a liberal slant. Pundits Shields, Hunt and Carlson get significantly more airtime for their liberal views than Novak and O’Bierne’s conservative opinions. In recent programs, Pres. Bush has been attacked for his handling of the Iraq situation and his political ads using images of 9/11.

The Fox News Channel conversely, has been branded by many media critics as having a conservative bias. FNC is run by former Republican media strategist Roger Ailes who created campaign ads for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 80’s and 90’s. In Bernard Goldberg’s book Bias, Ailes disputes the conservative label of the Fox News Channel explaining, “There are more conservatives on Fox. But we are not a conservative network. That disparity says far more about the competition.” “In other words, if Fox is alleged to have a conservative bias, that‘s only because there are so few conservative voices on the air at the other networks” (Goldberg). Regardless of the perception pundits appearing on FNC (Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, etc) tend to opine toward the right.


The aforementioned Bill O’Reilly and his O‘Reilly Factor has become the top rated cable news/commentary program on the air averaging nearly 3 million viewers a night ( O’Reilly does not shy away from giving his opinions on current events and politics which range from the conservative to libertarian side. One thing is certain, pundits and politicians are held accountable to the truth in what O’Reilly calls the “No Spin Zone”. His program provides one of the fairest forums for political debate on television.

Talk Radio Does Make a Difference according to one Ex-President

Bill Clinton, for one, was convinced that pundits made a difference, and admitted in a 1994 interview that talk radio was a problem for him and his presidency. From the book Inside Talk Radio, America’s Voice or Just Hot Air?, author Peter Laufer recounts the exchange between President Clinton and interviewer Kevin Horrigan:

“Do you get the sense that the American people are becoming more cynical, becoming less tolerant?” Horrigan asked the president. . . “Absolutely,” said Clinton. “Much of talk radio is just a constant, unremitting drumbeat of negativism and cynicism. . . After I get off the radio today with you, “ he complained, “Rush Limbaugh will have three hours to say whatever he wants. And I won’t have the opportunity to respond. And there’s no truth detector” (Laufer 120).

A few months later, Clinton appeared on Jim Hightower’s radio show and told the host of the left-leaning program “ National talk radio has become dominated by a right-


wing viewpoint that is skewing the national debate” (Laufer 121). The aforementioned liberal talk radio network will be welcome news to those who agree with Clinton and are looking for an outlet to “counter the cacophony that people are hearing in their right ear” (Laufer 121).

The best and the rest

NBC’s Meet the Press is the gold standard of political talk shows. Candidates know that an election cannot be won without running through the gauntlet of television’s longest running political affairs program. Meet the Press is hosted by arguably the best moderator in the business Tim Russert. Despite his pre-broadcast career as counsel to New York Governor Mario Cuomo and as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, both Democrats, Russert’s interviews are generally hard-hitting to both sides of the political spectrum. Putting aside the argument of a liberal bias in major network news which has spawned more than a few best selling books lately, Russert and Meet the Press generate the most political buzz on Monday mornings throughout the beltway and beyond.

Evidence of the impact of political talk programs is President Bush’s appearance on “Meet the Press” in February to answer questions about Iraq after a barrage of Democratic criticism against him during the early primary season. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said that Bush chose to go on “Meet the Press” because “Tim Russert has an enormous amount of respect” according to Howard Kurtz’s story in the Washington Post February 6, 2004. Adam Levine, a former White House aide who portrayed Russert in mock sessions with Bush, said: “There are times for the White House when it makes sense to do a big, high-profile, difficult interview.” He said a Russert


interview “is going to be fair and straightforward, and if you pass that test, you’ve moved beyond those [negative] stories” (Kurtz 2).

Other White House incumbents have used appearances on “Meet the Press” to get their messages out in the past. Bill Clinton did it twice, in 1993 and 1997; Jimmy Carter in 1980; and Gerald R. Ford in 1975. Dick Cheney has appeared on “Meet the Press” 10 times as vice president.

The impact of appearing on “Meet the Press” has been evident during the current 2004 primary season as both Howard Dean’s and John Edwards’ performances on the program were considered shaky at best, causing a noticeable drop in their polling numbers.
Tobe Berkovitz of Boston University’s school of communications further illustrates the importance of choosing the right political affairs program when he said recently, “Bush needs to show he is the commander in chief of substance, and you don’t do that with David Letterman or Jon Stewart or Jay Leno” (Kurtz 3).

Unquestionably the pundits have had a field day these past several months with the Democratic primaries. Just last fall, Howard Dean’s grassroots, internet savvy campaign vaulted him to the front of the pack for the democratic nomination. Liberal pundits and even some conservative pundits were touting Dean as a strong contender to take on President Bush. But once the elections began and Dean uttered his infamous “I have a scream” speech, the pundits jumped off his bandwagon in a hurry. John Kerry’s early victories in Iowa and New Hampshire made him the new frontrunner and the pundits almost immediately projected the Massachusetts senator as the nominee after just

two primaries.


Who’s Got the Juice?

Candidates know that perception is reality when it comes to the media and the influence it has on voters is quantifiable. Knowing who has that influence at the moment plays an important part in campaign media strategy. What programs to appear on, where to advertise and how to counteract any negative portrayals of the candidate are all factors to consider. Who are the influential players in 2004? According to Verne Gay’s Newsday article on January 19, 2004, the consensus from interviews with consultants, journalists and academics culled a list of the top 20 most influential people in the media for the 2004 campaign and some of the names are surprising.

At the top of the list is Jon Stewart host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. A recent study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that eight percent of respondents learned most everything they knew about a candidate from comedy shows like “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live”. Stewart’s expanding nightly audience of over a million viewers wields a heavy axe particularly with young voters.

The aforementioned Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert came in second. His position running NBC’s Washington news bureau makes Russert one of the rare anchor-executive combinations in television.

Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel Hannity and Colmes program and syndicated radio host represents the hard-edged Republican right. Doug McAuliffe, a leading Republican consultant said, “I almost think of Rush [Limbaugh] as more conservative and Hannity more Republican because he is so clearly anti-Democratic.”


That, observers say, is a reason Hannity is considered more influential than Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who’s somewhat suspect in the eyes of the Right, or even Limbaugh, who has no TV berth (Gay 2).

Tom Joyner, a Dallas based syndicated radio host, is the most influential black voice on the airwaves in America, according to George Curry, editor of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “He can say one thing on radio and start a movement.”

News anchors Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings all figure prominently in the list along with Ted Koppel and Katie Couric. CNN political reporters Judy Woodruff, Candy Crowley, Jeff Greenfield, Bill Schneider all have clout as does long time talk host Larry King who‘s program still attracts the political newsmakers on a nightly basis during campaign season.

Conclusions and Recommendations

As of this writing, John Kerry has all but locked up the democratic nomination. George Bush officially started his campaign for re-election by making fund-raising speeches around the country in March. Attack ads have begun airing on both sides and the controversy of using images from 9/11 in the Bush ads has given the pundits early fodder for the political talk machine. With so much time between now and the November election, the Republicans and Democrats are faced with the challenge of keeping voters interested in their respective candidates and not alienate them with overexposure.

As previously mentioned, George Bush’s appearance on Meet the Press was a calculated move to defend himself against the persistent attacks of the Democratic candidates during the primaries. Controversy stirred immediately as liberal pundits were


offended by the two seconds of 9/11 images that were used in Bush’s first re-election ad. One of the President’s biggest challenges will be to counteract the perceptions created by liberal pundits. As far as political talk forums go, there are more voices on the airwaves and in print with a conservative viewpoint in 2004 then there were in 1992. This is an advantage G.W. Bush will have that his father did not enjoy during his re-election campaign.

The initial media strategy for Bush will be to portray John Kerry as a liberal Massachusetts senator who has a history of waffling on critical issues. While the Democrats have had the media spotlight the past four months, the Bush campaign will turn up the volume on their accomplishments and attempt to reap the benefits of conservative pundits in the media talking up their candidate for a change. While 30 and 60 second television ads are intended to deliver the campaign message in short bursts, it’s the residual effects of political talk programs and pundits that keep the political dialogue flowing.

The Kerry campaign will continue to attack President Bush for the Iraq war and the economy. It will have the added challenge of also defending Kerry’s voting record as a senator. During the primaries, Kerry appeared on virtually every news and political talk program. With a much smaller campaign war chest, he will have to rely on as much free media as he can get until matching funds kick in around the time of the Democratic convention. He will be helped by the liberal pundits on programs like The Capital Gang, Crossfire and The McLaughlin Group as well as the startup liberal Air America Radio network will provide an important daily forum for the Democratic party line.


Current polls indicate the 2004 presidential race will be a tight one all the way to November and any edge either candidate can garner from the added influence of the political pundits will be gratefully accepted.


Works Cited

Brennan, Phil. “Rush: He’s Changed the World of Talk Radio.” 13 Aug.


CNN Website

Dawidziak, Mark. “Talking heads run amok 24-hour news channels alter the course of

Discourse.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer 20 Feb. 2004: E1

Dunham, Richard S. “The 10 Commandments of Political Punditry.” Business Week

13 Nov. 2000: Washington Watch

Gay, Verne. “Not Necessarily the News.” Newsday 19 Jan. 2004:B06.

Goldberg, Bernard. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News

Regnery Publishing Washington, DC. Dec. 2001.

Hodgins, Paul. “Energized liberals give conservatives a taste of their own tactics.” The

Orange County Register 25 Oct. 2003: Entertainment Section.

Kurtz, Howard. “Bush to Defend Record on TV; Talk Shows Have Garnered Key Role in Presidential Politics.” The Washington Post 6 Feb. 2004: A12.

Laufer, Peter. Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? Birch Lane Press.

N.Y. 1995. Pg 120-121.

McLaughlin Group Website Television Ratings O’Reilly Factor

Steinberg, Jacques. “Liberal Talk Radio Network to Start Up in Three Cities.” 11 Mar.



The film “Miracle”, now in theaters, recounts the amazing story of a group of college kids that defeated the seemingly invincible Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Olympics. That victory and ensuing gold medal win sparked a national pride and interest in hockey that carried over to where the professionals play, the National Hockey League. Now hockey fans will need another miracle for the NHL to survive after this season, and it won’t take place on the ice.

Hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup, will be put on ice for at least one season and maybe for good if a labor agreement is not reached between the NHL players association and the owners. “The world comes to an end – the NHL as we know it comes to an end on Sept. 15,” said Boston-based attorney Neil Abbott, an agent for numerous NHL players (Harris). On that day, the current CBA (collective bargaining agreement) expires and a speedy resolution is about as likely as Osama Bin Laden turning himself in voluntarily. “From everything I’m hearing, we’re preparing everyone we work with that this will be our last season for a while,” (Harris 2) according to Abbott, who is advising his clients to make alternate plans for next year regarding housing and schools and where they are going to be. This is sad news for a league that’s been in existence for eighty-seven years.

What’s the cause for this impasse? Once again it’s the effects of free agency on professional sports. Like its counterpart, baseball, NHL salaries have skyrocketed in the past decade and a half. In 1991, the average salary for an NHL player was ,000. This season (2003-2004) it is nearly two million dollars (Harris 3). Within the last month, former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt verified that the league lost 273 million dollars last

Miles 2

season and 19 of the league’s 30 teams had operating losses averaging 18 million dollars (NHL.Com). If Donald Trump were in charge he’d say “You’re Fired!” to everybody.

The impasse, as always, is the owners’ insistence that the NHL cannot survive with its current CBA. The players believe the system works fine “when teams’ general managers exercise fiscal restraint” (Harris 3).

The problem with hockey as opposed to baseball, football and to a lesser extent basketball, is that television revenue is not there. Major league baseball, the NFL and NBA all have network TV contracts which pump millions of dollars into their coffers each year. The NHL attracts dismal ratings nationally on television in the United States. A case in point: The average audience watching an NHL game on ESPN (the league’s only national network) is around 300,000 people. More than 750,000 people tune in each week to watch Pro Bowling! (NHL.Com) The NHL’s television contract with ESPN worth 600 million dollars also expires at the end of this season and with such anemic ratings, there is little chance it will be re-upped without a deep discount. This loss of revenue further dooms the league unless drastic changes are made.

The chief issue according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is “cost certainty” which is another way of saying “salary cap” (Toronto Star). The National Hockey League player’s union (NHLPA) is opposed to a cap unless the owner’s can prove that they are really losing money. There is a mistrust of the owners among the NHLPA, which commissioned an independent analysis of four random teams in the league and says it found an inaccuracy of million just among those teams. According to player’s union executive director Bob Goodenow, “It was just one of several inaccuracies the union says

Miles 3

it has found in the NHL’s statistical argument for the need of a cap system. A free-market system can still be controlled by the owners” (Hahn).

Both sides are collecting large war chests in anticipation of a long, drawn-out battle. The owners say they have enough money to withstand a shutdown of the league for as long as two years. The players indicate they have also put aside enough cash to keep their union solvent for two years without games being played (Duff). I say if both sides don’t make significant concessions, the NHL will cease to exist.

If the NHL suffers a work stoppage of any length next fall, they might as well disband the league. Fan attendance is declining and ticket prices are outrageous. This season the average ticket price is just over .00. For dad to take a family of four to an NHL game, it will set him back about 256 bucks (CNN Money).

It will be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” if the NHL goes dark next year. The league cannot survive without the casual fan. Hardcore NHL followers do not make up a large enough pool for the league to sustain itself on their support alone. Some tough decisions need to be made or else the NHL will become as obsolete as the Zambonis that clean the ice between periods.

The first thing the NHL has to do is eliminate teams. As stated earlier, more than half of the league’s 30 teams lost money last season. I say get rid of 14 teams and return the NHL to a 16 team league like it was back in the 1970’s. Hold a disbursal draft for the players on the teams that are cut. Of the remaining franchises, those with the worst records will have the first choice of players giving them the opportunity to become competitive with the stronger teams.

Miles 4

Next, shorten the season from 80 to 65 games. The regular season is too long as it is now and the majority of games are meaningless since 16 teams make the playoffs. I would divide the 16 teams into four divisions of four teams each. The top two teams in each division qualify for the playoffs with the division winners getting a bye in the first round. This will increase the competitive level of the regular season by creating a higher percentage of games with playoff implications. By contracting the league, the quality of play will improve dramatically due to a stronger talent pool.

This plan benefits the owners, players and ultimately the fans. A smaller league keeps only the best players available, but with fewer roster spots, salaries will remain more competitive and be less likely to escalate to stratospheric levels. The star players will still be paid well, but not to the point of bankrupting the team. Ticket prices will come down to attract the casual spectator as well as the hardcore fan back to the game. The higher quality of play and more meaningful games will be more attractive to television and sponsors.

When played at it’s highest level, the NHL is theater on ice. Gentlemen on both sides of this collective bargaining issue, in order to keep this thrilling game alive, “the puck stops here with you”. Get it done.

Works Cited

2003-2004 Standings 24 Feb. 2004

NHL Checks Ticket Prices. CNN Money 8 Oct. 2003

Hahn, Alan. “A Financial Faceoff; Bettman, Goodenow again enrage each other over NHL labor issues.”

Newsday 8 Feb. 2004:B6

Duff, Bob. “Dropping glove in NHL labor wars.” Windsor Star 15 Sep. 2003: C1

Harris, Stephen. “NHL, players feeling labor pains.” The Boston Herald 15 Feb. 2004: B18

“NHL labor negotiations off to rocky start; League and unions can’t even agree on when negotiating actually began.” Toronto Star 3 Oct. 2003: C2

Works Cited

Brennan, Phil. “Rush: He’s Changed the World of Talk Radio.” 13 Aug.


CNN Website

Dawidziak, Mark. “Talking heads run amok 24-hour news channels alter the course of

Discourse.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer 20 Feb. 2004: E1

Dunham, Richard S. “The 10 Commandments of Political Punditry.” Business Week

13 Nov. 2000: Washington Watch

Gay, Verne. “Not Necessarily the News.” Newsday 19 Jan. 2004:B06.

Goldberg, Bernard. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News

Regnery Publishing Washington, DC. Dec. 2001.

Hodgins, Paul. “Energized liberals give conservatives a taste of their own tactics.” The

Orange County Register 25 Oct. 2003: Entertainment Section.

Kurtz, Howard. “Bush to Defend Record on TV; Talk Shows Have Garnered Key Role in Presidential Politics.” The Washington Post 6 Feb. 2004: A12.

Laufer, Peter. Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? Birch Lane Press.

N.Y. 1995. Pg 120-121.

McLaughlin Group Website Television Ratings O’Reilly Factor

Steinberg, Jacques. “Liberal Talk Radio Network to Start Up in Three Cities.” 11 Mar.


Theme of Racism in Othello

By Doug Miles

The theme of race in Othello has fascinated Shakespearean scholars since the earliest productions of the play. Was Shakespeare commenting on racial prejudice when he wrote the characters of Othello the Moor and Iago? Does Iago plot against Othello based on racial hatred? These are questions this essay will explore and attempt to illuminate.

Edward Berry, in his criticism “Othello’s Alienation”, suggests that “there is little question that in choosing Othello for his protagonist Shakespeare sought to create a realistic portrait of a Moor.” Source material used by Shakespeare in writing Othello was Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi, where the Berry notes that “the protagonist was a mere stereotype, noteworthy in Venice only for being black, jealous and vengeful.” Shakespeare developed his protagonist, Othello, as “not only richly complicated but individualized and set apart from Venetian society in almost every respect in his blackness, his past, his bearing and above all, his language, with its unusual rhythms, grandeur and exoticism.”

Berry points out that Othello is also based on characteristics Shakespeare gleaned from reading Geographical History of Africa by Leo Africanus which was published in London in 1600. Berry illustrates in his essay that Leo Africanus’ descriptions of the Moors emphasize many of the attributes that critics have noted in Othello: simplicity, credulity, pride, proneness to extreme jealousy and anger, and courage in war.”

Doris Adler further explores the use of racial language in the play in her criticism, “The Rhetoric of Black and White in Othello” (Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2. (Spring, 1974), pp. 248-257). Adler points out that Shakespeare used many meanings for the words black and white both literally and metaphorically. “Within Othello, black is used with five different meanings and white or fair is posed, either explicitly or by suggestion, as the opposite quality. First black is used as a color designation for the darkest hue ‘an old black ram’ (I.1.88). White as the opposite, designates the lightest hue ‘white ewe’(I.1.89). Second, black is used to designate a Moor, a Negro, one of African origin: ‘the black Othello’ (II.2.29). White is suggested for European counterparts, as in Othello’s reference to Desdemona, ‘that whiter skin of hers than snow’ (V.2.4). Adler continues to illustrate Shakespeare’s different connotations of black as describing a brunette in the play as ‘black and witty (II.1.131), the soil of filth or grime, ‘Her name is now begrimed and black’ (III.3.386-87), and as morally foul: ‘blackest sins’ (II.3.334), ‘black vengeance’ (III.3.447). The words white and fair are used to describe a blonde, ‘fair and wise’ (II.1.129) and suggesting that white is clean, unsoiled and virtuous, ‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack, Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.’ (I.3.289-90).

Shakespeare employs these negative stereotypical meanings to black throughout the play sometimes with blunt graphic imagery: ‘Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.’ (I.1.88-89). Adler points out that the black, or brunette, was considered to be less attractive and less fortunate than the fair, or blonde. Iago insinuates that being black is morally unclean when he says, ‘If she be black, and thereto have a wit, she’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.’ (II.1.132-33). In other words, unlike the fair or white, she will have to rely on savvy rather than her looks to find a suitable mate.

Early in the play there are several racial references made to Othello. Adler describes Roderigo’s emphasis on Othello’s Negroid features when he says to Iago, ‘What a full fortune does the thick lips owe. If he can carry’t thus!’ (I.1.66-67) Brabantio reinforces the negative associations when he confronts Othello and uses the word black as a synonym for dirty, (Adler) ‘O thou foul thief’ (I.2.62). Iago even compares Othello to the devil when talking about Desdemona to Roderigo he says, ‘Her eye must be fed; and what delight shall she have to look on the devil?’ (II.1.214-15).

As the play progresses, Adler concludes in her essay, “that Othello himself begins to describe himself in terms of the racial stereotype and Desdemona as metaphorically black. He suggests that their union was unnatural, ‘Her name, that was as fresh as Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face’ (III.3.286-89). “Black and white are used with the confused values of fable and reality: It is a fable that the devil is black, yet black Othello is damned by killing his wife; It is a fable that white is the color of virtue, yet the virtuous Desdemona who is fair, has her life tragically cut short. (Adler)

Studying Othello’s racial identity is not new. Back in 1845, Joseph Hunter wrote in New Illustrations of Shakespeare, “A question has been raised, as to what race Shakespeare intended we should suppose Othello to belong.” Philip Butcher discusses the issue of Othello’s race in his essay Othello’s Racial Identity published in a 1952 edition of Shakespeare Quarterly: “Modern scholars and critics tend to support the view that Shakespeare’s references to his great tragic character as “black” and “thick-lipped” are to be taken literally, but as late as 1941 a major Shakespearean authority asserted bluntly that Othello “is a Moorish noble of royal lineage. Shakespeare conceives him as oriental.”

Butcher points out that Elizabethans made no real distinctions between Moors and Negroes. Historically, the Moors entered Spain from Morocco and ruled for nearly five hundred years. Negro mercenaries were among the invader’s troops and the Spaniard applied the term Moor to Arabs, Berbers, Syrians and Negroes without regard to their racial differences. (Butcher). This lack of distinction was passed on to the Elizabethans who often classified Spaniards as Moors.

As stated earlier, Iago compares Othello to the devil which Philip Butcher points out in Elizabethan superstition that “devils and evil spirits sometimes took the form of Moors and Negroes.” At one point, Iago calls Othello ‘a Barbary horse’ (I.1.112) indicating that he was from northern Africa. Later he refers to him as ‘a lascivious Moor’ (I.1.127). Elizabethans believed that lasciviousness was a characteristic of people born in hot countries. They also thought that Moors were skilled at witchcraft which is suggested by Brabantio’s statements that Othello used charms to secure Desdemona’s love (Butcher) Brabantio says Desdemona could ‘fall in love with what she fear’d to look on.’ (I.3.98). Her love is ‘Against all rules of nature’ (I.3.101)

Iago speaks several times about his displeasure over the alliance of Othello and Desdemona in racial terms saying, ‘a frail vow between an erring barbarian and a super subtle Venetian’ (I.3.361-363). Philip Butcher makes an interesting point that Othello, himself, may have felt inadequate in his union with Desdemona but rationalizes it by saying, ‘Nor from my own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt; for she had eyes, and chose me.’ (III.3.187-189)

Shakespeare’s genius, as Philip Butcher reiterates in his criticism, was going against the literary and social practice of the time in “making Othello undeniably black and in giving this black man heroic stature and showing him to be profoundly human in his strengths and weaknesses.” (Butcher) “His frequent use of ‘Moor‘ as the equivalent of ‘Negro’ falls in line with the practice of the times. “To Shakespeare, a Moor was a Negro” (Butcher)

The complexity of Othello’s character can be attributed to his sense of alienation. In his criticism titled ‘Othello’s Alienation’, Edward Berry said, “It is important to recognize both the concreteness and complexity of his (Othello’s) ‘Africanness’. Paradoxically, however, Othello’s ‘Africanness’ is crucial to his tragedy not because of what he is, innately or culturally, but because of how he is perceived by others and by himself.” Berry illuminates the point that to “fully understand Othello’s predicament, one must appreciate not only his ‘Africanness’ but his position as a black man in Venetian society; he is the Moor of Venice. The fact of Othello’s alienation is the play’s most striking visual effect.” Othello’s skin color, according to Berry, “is not only a mark of his physical alienation but a symbol, to which every character in the play, himself included, must respond.”

As previously noted, the opening scene of the play foretells this theme of alienation as Iago and Roderigo freely spew racial epithets in their description of Othello. Iago calls him ‘an old black ram’, ‘the devil’ and ‘a barbary horse’. Iago describes Othello’s marriage consummation as a ‘making of the beast with two backs’. Roderigo talks about Desdemona’s ‘gross revolt’ and the ‘gross clasps of a lascivious Moor’. Edward Berry points out that “these characters evoke the reigning stereotype of the African on the Elizabethan stage. Othello is black, and his blackness connotes ugliness, treachery, lust, bestiality and the demonic.” This image, according to Berry, shapes Othello who begins to “see himself as his own stereotype.”

Edward Berry observes “the most pervasive sign of Othello’s alienation is shown by the avoidance of using his name by the most racist characters in the play.” Iago, for example, calls him ‘the Moor’ more than twenty times while calling him Othello by name just five times. Roderigo, Brabantio and Emilia never call Othello by name. Berry explains that “characters without racial hostility used Othello’s name more often.”

As for his relationship with Desdemona, Berry remarks that “Othello’s alienation forces him to woo her indirectly and only after she has hinted at her attraction. Desdemona falls in love not with Othello’s self but with his adventures.” ‘She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d’ (I.3.167). Othello is trying to overcome his feelings of alienation by imparting these exciting tales and portraying himself “not as an African but as an exotic Venetian.” Quoting Stephen Greenblatt within Edward Berry’s criticism, “Othello’s identity depends on constant performance of his story, a loss of his own origins, an embrace and perpetual reiteration of the norms of another culture.” (Greenblatt)

Othello’s alienation, argues Edward Berry, is central to the play. “Shakespeare portrays Othello as a Moor because racial tension and anxiety pervade the atmosphere of Venetian society, affecting Othello’s relationship with every character.” Othello ultimately accepted the definition of himself within that racial atmosphere. “In his incapacity to break free of this mental construct, to affirm his own identity, Othello becomes an alien to others and himself.”

Arthur Little explores the theme of racism in Othello in his essay “An Essence that’s Not Seen”: The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello. The primal scene is a derived from a psychoanalytic term which as Little describes, “is the relationship between response and creation and which therefore provides a conceptual field for thinking through the ways in which this relationship manifests itself in Shakespeare’s play.” Specifically, the primal scene of racism in Othello, is the moment when “the audience at one and the same time reactively and proactively constructs the significance of race, in this instance blackness.”

As stated earlier, Othello’s blackness is the subject of conversation right off the bat early in the play. Little notes that “the primal scene is both real and fantastical, both literal and metaphorical. Iago’s description of Othello as “black ram” illustrates the point. “Othello’s blackness is something that the onlooker both responds to, or represses, and creates, or repeats.” In other words, the audience knows the underlying theme is about race, but won’t admit it to themselves. They keep it tucked away, thereby creating a more intense dramatic tension while watching the play. “Throughout Othello the metaphorical repeatedly express and repress each other, defining and denying each other’s evidential presence.”

Arthur Kirsch writes in his essay, “Shakespeare and the Experience of Love”,
“The tragedy of Othello is that finally he fails to love his own body, to love himself, and it is this despairing self-hatred that spawns the enormous savagery, degradation and destructiveness of his jealousy.”

Professor Michael Allen, the Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at U.C.L.A. comments on the theme of race in Shakespeare’s Othello during a panel discussion in a video version of the play recorded in 1994 saying: “Othello is very explicitly racial or racist in that Iago describes the coming together of Othello and Desdemona as “the topping by an old ram of a white ewe”. It’s Iago who emphasizes the blackness of Othello.”

Prof. Allen illustrates his opinion that Iago’s motives for disliking Othello are based more on racism than on jealousy or envy. “Unlike most of Shakespeare’s plays which have many characters and subplots, this is a strangely spare concentrated tragedy. It is a wonderful concentration upon emotion, reason and the destructive ways in which someone like Iago can undermine a love affair. Othello is a very psychological drama and each step in the process is one that the audience can follow with a very psychological intensity. In the conversation with Roderigo, Iago tries to convince him that he has a chance to get Desdemona for himself. In that conversation, Iago demonstrates what I think we would now call a kind of Freudian intensity of feeling about the inappropriateness of Desdemona being matched to the Moor. How could a young white woman ever take this mate? And he says, “eventually she will vomit him out”. It’s a very disturbing and powerful imagery of rejection and expulsion. This is much closer to Iago’s real motives than anything he has explicitly told us before.” (Allen)

Othello deals with many issues with race and racism being the most prevalent. Traditionally, the part of Othello, at least in modern times, is either played by a black actor or made up to appear as black. Recently, however, new interpretations of Shakespeare’s Othello have brought about daring and inventive changes to the way the play is being produced.

In 1997, The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC presented a production of Othello starring well known actor Patrick Stewart (Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek fame) in the title role. Stewart, who is a classically trained actor and studied at England’s prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, had never played Othello in his career. “I’ve been imagining myself playing Othello, and in a sense preparing for it, since I was about 14,” Stewart said in an interview with Ray Greene for Box Office Magazine prior to the play’s premiere in 1997. “It was around then that I experienced a connection with this role that was stronger than any other at that time. When I used to go to class when I was young, I was forever looking for potential Iagos and Desdemonas who would play scenes from Othello with me.”

One of the reasons for Stewart not playing Othello had to do with a cultural shift at the time and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s commitment to modernizing the text. (Greene) “When the time came that I was old enough and experienced enough to do it, Patrick explained, it was the same time that it no longer became acceptable for a white actor to put on blackface and to pretend to be African.” The RSC eventually undertook a daring approach in adapting the play and as Stewart explained in that 1997 interview, “we inverted the racial topography of the original text by playing Othello as the only white character in a society otherwise comprised completely of blacks. I call it a photo negative,” Stewart said. “One of my hopes is that it will continue to say what a conventional production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice. It might even say it in a more intense and possibly provocative way by reversing the usual racial characteristics.”

Patrick Stewart was aware of the possible controversy in taking this approach to Othello. Three acting companies rejected the concept before the artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC took on the challenge of the racial switch. Stewart was hopeful that this new adaptation of Othello would challenge theatergoers to look at race and racial prejudice with new eyes as he prepared to take the stage in 1997. “To replace the black outsider with a white man in a black society, will, I hope, encourage a much broader view of the fundamentals of racism, and perhaps even question those triggers–you know, color of skin, physiognomy, language, culture–that can produce instant feelings of fear, suspicion and so forth.” Stewart discussed his approach to the role of Othello it repeatedly with black actors and to his relief, they were uniformly supportive of the idea. (Greene)

Patrick Stewart garnered outstanding reviews for his performances as Othello in that 1997 production. At the end of the play’s run he commented that “no playwright is more appropriate for such a voyage of rediscovery than Shakespeare. With Shakespeare, even when the actor’s journey appears to be over, it never is. The doors are never finally closed. The solutions, the answers to all of the questions, mostly still exist when the play is over. I always look on every Shakespeare performance as an attempt.”

Ian McKellen, like Patrick Stewart is a Shakespearean trained actor and is better known to film audiences now as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy movies, has acted in several productions of Othello. In his own writing as posted on, Sir Ian commented on the issue of race in casting the part of the Moor: “Every modern, white actor, taking on Othello, feels obliged to explain why he’s not playing him black, which was surely Shakespeare’s intention, when the unspoken reason is that to ‘black-up’ is as disgusting these days as a minstrel show.” In 1995, Sir Ian starred as Iago to Laurence Fishburne’s (an African-American actor) Othello.

McKellen did not approach the part of Iago and his hatred for Othello from a racial standpoint. “Iago is an easy part to bring off and rarely fails to impress. I am not the first to realize that there is no need to act the underlying falsity of the man rather to play “honest Iago” on all occasions.”

McKellen further explains his motivation in playing Iago: “I wouldn’t have known how to play the critical of the man as the embodiment of all evil. So I played the jealous husband who suspects “the lustful Moor hath leaped into my seat” and can urge his boss to “beware of jealousy” because he himself is a victim of it. This plus what he takes to be Cassio’s unfair promotion over him, is more than enough for him to hate.”

Phyllis Natalie Braxton, in her criticism Othello: The Moor and the Metaphor, examines this topic in further detail using the metaphor of the spider and the fly to describe Othello and Iago. “Iago is portrayed throughout the play with features peculiar to the spider, while Othello’s portrait conforms to the characteristics of the fly. From his childhood to his death, Othello corresponds in his development to a fly. He has been a warrior since the age of seven; In other words, from infancy and early childhood, he has assumed the responsibilities of an adult in the same way a fly assumes adult status when emerging from the larval stage.” Braxton compares Othello’s life journey and attitude to that of a fly most significantly when “the Moor is helpless to save himself when in the throes of his enemy, Iago, just as the fly is a helpless victim when it is caught in the web of its natural enemy, the spider.”

Braxton explains through this simile that “Othello’s blackness is revealed as a function of both character and plot. The spider’s victim is typically some kind of wandering insect who blunders into the spider’s web. The spider does not seek out its victim, but when it sees one in its web, it sets out to destroy it.” Othello, according to Braxton, is seen by the audience as “someone outside of his native element, a wanderer.” “A person with black skin in Elizabethan England could generally be classified as wanderers. Othello is depicted with black skin common to these wanderers , the color of his skin conforming to the color of the spider’s most frequent victim the fly.”

Iago, in this metaphor, is depicted with the “protective coloring of one who is native to the environment. He has the white skin of a native of the Italian peninsula. The action of the play dramatizes the manner in which the fly wanders into the spider’s web and is destroyed by the spider.”

Iago’s Motivation

One could argue that Othello is the most complex character in the play because of his constant struggles with people around him and within his own personality. However, Iago is equally fascinating as a character study when you examine why he acts the way he does. Why does Iago hate Othello? From the very beginning of the play, the audience is made aware that he detests Othello when Roderigo says to Iago, “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.” Iago replies, “Despise me, if I do not.” (1.1.6-7) Iago further explains his feelings toward Othello when he says to Roderigo, “I hate the Moor: my cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him; if thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport.” (1.3.373-377).

As John McCloskey expresses in his critical essay, The Motivation of Iago, “The basic motivation of Iago is hate caused by wounded pride, a feeling of personal injustice and jealous suspicion.” Iago is a proud soldier who is embittered because he was passed over for lieutenancy by Othello in favor of Michael Cassio. In his mind, Iago believes he has lead an exemplary life, particularly as a soldier, and Othello’s slight causes him to “take affairs into his own hands and devote his intelligence and efficiency to obtaining for himself what he interprets as justice.” (McCloskey)

Iago also believes Othello has been unfaithful with his wife Emilia. “For that I do suspect the lusty Moor hath leap’d into my seat; And nothing can or shall content my soul till I am even with him, wife for wife.” (2.1.305, 307-308) It is this jealous suspicion of Emilia’s fidelity combined with his convictions of personal injustice of not being promoted that drives Iago’s passion of hatred toward Othello. As John McCloskey describes, “In pursuit of justice and revenge Iago becomes an Elizabethan Machiavel who is not bothered by moral values in the ordinary sense. He is possessed of a keen intellect and a cold emotional nature with an ability to manipulate men.” (McCloskey) Iago doesn’t care how he attains his revenge, as long as he gets it.

Iago is a professional soldier and has “precisely the qualities best fitted to success in battle.” But, as McCloskey points out, “it is the ethical blindness of Iago which prevents him from seeing that the methods of war, do not apply to the affairs of peace where ethical standards and moral judgments prevail.” Ironically it is his pursuit of justice that causes Iago’s downfall, a demise caused by a “moral evil that corrupts the heart and undermines judgement.” McCloskey concludes that despite his evil ways, Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most compelling characters because he is “consistent in his drawing from start to finish, so plausible in his motivation, and so in character in his actions. He never relents and he never repents.”

On stage, Iago is a prime role for any actor who plays him. As noted earlier, the great Shakespearean trained actor Ian McKellen has played Iago in several productions of Othello and further describes his approach to the role: “Do not smile or sneer or glower try to impress even the audience with your sincerity. As Iago confides the truth to the audience (as always in Shakespeare), they are privy to his deceit and the gulling of Roderigo, Cassio, Desdemona and Othello himself. It is an unfair advantage and early on Willard (his director at the time) accused me of trying to get the audience on my side against him. I explained that I didn’t need to try “ Shakespeare had organized it that the villain’s part should be the audience’s portal into the action.” (McKellen)

To further explore this theme of alienation in Othello, it is necessary to look at how Othello perceived himself. What was his self identity? In her criticism, “Slaves and Subjects In Othello”, Camille Wells Slights illustrates an historical perspective of the play. “In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England became increasingly involved in the slave trade, while at the same time a new form of self identity developed.” “The Disengaged Self”, as it was termed by scholars of the time, “fostered a sense of responsibility and developed a concept of moral and political law which established personal freedom and rights.” Slights further explains that from this concept emerged an autonomous self, “an ideal of freedom with individual isolation.” Whether a conscious choice or not, Shakespeare incorporated this type of self identity in Othello’s character.

Slights points out in act one how Othello “values personal freedom more than family lineage and inherited loyalties as he assumes that his position in society derives from conscious choice and service to the state. Othello’s sense of personal and social identity is based on individual achievement and merit.” ‘My services which I have done the signiory.’ (I.1.18). Despite the slavery and racial division going on around him, Othello was able to maintain a strong sense of himself and self worth while being constantly reminded of his racial identity. Slights concludes that “Othello is a key text in this history because it mixes self-identity, race and slavery in an unstable and explosive combination.” Othello is confident of the respect he commands in Venice despite his skin color.

Martin Orkin in his essay, “Othello and the ‘plain face’ of Racism”, says, “Shakespeare was writing about color prejudice and, further, is working consciously against the color prejudice reflected in the language of Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio” Orkin illustrates that “It is Iago, the white man, who is portrayed as amoral and anti-Christian, essentially savage towards that which he envies or resents and cynical in his attitude to love.”

As Janet Adelman demonstrates in her criticism, ‘Iago’s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello’, “Iago creates Othello as black and therefore himself as white when he constructs him as a monstrous progenitor and he uses that racialized blackness to destroy what he cannot tolerate.” “Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.” (I.3.401-402)

This essay has attempted to shed some light on different points of view on the controversial subject of race in Othello. Actors, both black and white have portrayed this fascinating and multi-dimensional character over the years. Shakespeare’s genius has made it possible for actors to interpret Othello in countless new ways in the years to come.

Sources Cited

Adelman, Janet “Iago’s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello”

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2. (Summer, 1997), pp. 125-144.

#Adler, Doris “The Rhetoric of Black and White in Othello”

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2. (Spring, 1974), pp. 248-257.

Allen, Dr. Michael – Director Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies UCLA

Video – “Othello Moor of Venice” Goldhill Video 1993

Berry, Edward “Othello’s Alienation”

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 30, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. (Spring, 1990), pp. 315-333.

Braxton, Phyllis Natalie “Othello: The Moor and the Metaphor”

South Atlantic Review, Vol. 55, No. 4. (Nov., 1990), pp. 1-17

Butcher, Philip “Othello’s Racial Identity” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3. (Jul., 1952), pp. 243-247.

Greenblatt, Stephen “Renaissance Self Fashioning” (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980) pg. 245

Kirsch, Arthur “Shakespeare and the Experience of Love” (Cambridge Univ Press, 1981). Pg. 21

Little, Arthur L., Jr. “An Essence that’s Not Seen”: The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Autumn, 1993), pp. 304-324.

McCloskey, John C. “The Motivation of Iago” Shakespeare Quarterly (Spring 1941)

McKellan, Ian comments on Othello and playing Iago on

Orkin, Martin “Othello and the Plain Face of Racism”

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2. (Summer, 1987), pp. 166-188.

Slights, Camille Wells “Slaves and Subjects in Othello”

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 4. (Winter, 1997), pp. 377-390.

Stewart, Patrick “Interview by Ray Greene” Box Office Magazine 1997

Mr. Television Scores High Ratings At Van Wezel

By Doug Miles

(Sarasota, FL) Milton Berle brought his 75th anniversary tour to the Van Wezel last night and gave the audience what it came for, lots of laughs.

“Mr. Television” who looks and acts decades younger than his 89 years, entertained the Sarasota audience for more than 2 hours in a raucous performance that filled the hall with constant laughter.

The show opened with a video showing highlights from Berle’s top rated TV show that kept the nation home Tuesday nights from 1948 to 1956. Milton Berle single-handedly paved the way for other comedians to take the plunge in the new medium with his brash, aggressive rapid fire delivery, zany costumes and his knack for getting into everyone else’s act. That style has not changed much over the years as the comic proved Monday starting the show with a barrage of one liners that got the Van Wezel audience rolling in hysterics.

Milton Berle had a few local references prepared for his patrons joking “that a tornado that hit the town of Osprey did over 20 million dollars of improvements.” Berle kidded the Longboat Key Club as “having a membership who’s average age is deceased.”

Showing his mastery of timing, Berle changed the pace and gave the audience a chance to catch its breath by introducing singer Rita McKenzie. Known to television audiences as the “Jenny Craig girl” in commercials, McKenzie’s singing style is reminiscent of Broadway legend Ethel Merman. After a couple of numbers, Berle got in the act and did a comedy duo of “It’s De-lovely” with his girl singer that sent the audience into intermission marveling at the energy of this legendary showman.

The second half started with Milton Berle doing his famous “Man in the Box” routine with famed Broadway comic Irv Benson acting as a stooge in the audience. Benson fired off zingers and hilarious put downs at Berle, who played straight man, proving once again how great a comedian he is.

Berle wound up his Sarasota tour stop with his “In the immortal words” routine (“In the immortal words of Alexander Graham Bell’s wife who said to her husband, your 3 minutes are up. And Ellen Degeneres who said to Kathie Lee Gifford, can I be Frank with you?”)

Milton Berle is the last of a breed of comedians who is a complete master of his craft. He is a brilliant joke teller, showman and entertainer who’s professionalism proved itself once again at the Van Wezel.

Comparing Hobbes Leviathan with Milton’s Areopagitica

The goal of this essay is to compare and contrast the assumptions Hobbes makes in Leviathan with those underlying Milton’s Areopagitica. Before delving into the similarities and differences between these two works, some background information is helpful to understand the context of when each was written.

Leviathan was written in 1651 by Thomas Hobbes (April 5, 1588 December 4, 1679) an English philosopher. While Hobbes is known primarily for his writings on political philosophy, he also contributed to a wide range of fields, including history, geometry, ethics, general philosophy and what we now term political science. In addition, Hobbes’s account of human nature as self-interested cooperation has proved to be a long-term theory in the field of philosophical anthropology. Leviathan, was Hobbes most famous work and it established the agenda for nearly all ensuing Western political philosophy.

John Milton (December 9,1608 – November 8, 1674) was an English poet who devoted his life to writing prose work promulgating the Puritan cause. The Puritans were a group of English Protestants seeking reforms and separation from the established church during the Reformation. In 1644 Milton, published the Areopagitica as an appeal to Parliament to rescind their Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643. This order was designed

Miles 2

to bring publishing under government control by creating a number of official censors to whom authors would submit their work for approval prior to having it published.

Areopagitica is titled after a speech written by the Athenian orator Isocrates in the 5th century BC. (Isocrates hoped to restore the Council of the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and mythical tribunals) Milton did not intend to delivering his speech verbally. Instead it was distributed via pamphlet form which defied the same publication censorship he vehemently argued against. Milton quarreled forcefully against the Licensing Order of 1643, that instituted prepublication censorship upon Parliamentary England noting that such censorship had never been a part of classical Greek and Roman society. Areopagitica is one of history’s most influential philosophical documents defending the principle of a right to free speech and was used as a reference by the American forefathers when they were drafting the United States Constitution.


Leviathan is divided into four books: “Of Man,” “Of Common-wealth,” “Of a Christian Common-wealth,” and “Of the Kingdome of Darknesse.” In Book I, Hobbes outlines the philosophical framework for the entire text. In the other three books, Hobbes details and fleshes out his arguments presented in the initial chapters of the work.

Hobbes begins his text by considering the elementary motions of matter, arguing that every aspect of human nature can be figured out from materialist principles. Hobbes depicts the natural condition of mankind, known as the state of nature, as inherently violent and filled with fear. The state of nature is the “war of every man against every man,” in which people constantly seek to destroy one another. This state is so horrible that

Miles 3

human beings naturally seek peace, and the best way to achieve peace is to construct the Leviathan through social contract. Book II details the process of building the Leviathan. It outlines the rights of sovereigns and subjects, and envisions the legislative and civil mechanics of the commonwealth. In Book III Hobbes compares his own philosophy of the Leviathan and its compatibility with the Christian doctrine of the time. In the last book, Hobbes discredits false religious beliefs and argues that the political implementation of his Leviathanic state is necessary to achieve a secure Christian commonwealth.

Hobbes’s modeled his philosophy in Leviathan in the same way mathematicians use geometrical proof to prove a theory where each step of argument makes conclusions based upon the previous step. Hobbes was influenced to do this after meeting Galileo while traveling through Europe during the 1630’s. He observed that conclusions derived by geometry are indisputable because each steps is certain in itself. Hobbes implemented this idea of a similarly irrefutable philosophy in his writing of Leviathan.


Milton’s argument in this speech, was that pre-censorship of authors was little more than an excuse for state control of thought. He did acknowledge, however, there needed to be a system of accountability to make sure that libelous or other illegal works were kept under control. Milton believed this would be accomplished by placing the legal responsibility on the printers and authors for the content of what they published.

To put into proper context at the time of it’s writing, the English implemented some form of censorship since around 1530. In this speech, Milton’s goal was to shame

Miles 4

Parliament into adopting his views by claiming it was a recent Catholic import (a product of the King’s Star Chamber) which had been abolished in 1641 and which had been the principal opponent of the Protestant Parliament. Milton saw the Licensing Order as a byproduct of the return of state control over publishing in general not as it’s so-called “official intent” of restoring the legal protection of the Stationer’s Company monopoly on printing. Milton had been frustrated with his own experience trying to publish his writings on divorce without license.
The era in which Areopagitica was written notwithstanding, Milton’s ideas are as powerful and relevant today as they were in the mid 1600‘s. He talked about the debate between freedom of speech or thought and societal or governmental control over what is and what isn’t permissible. In a culture becoming more dependent on media for it’s information, Milton’s words are as current as today’s newspaper headlines. Most recently as of this writing, riots broke out in Pakistan during Muslim protests of caricatures that appeared in a Danish newspaper which they believed depicted all Muslims as terrorists. This is a prime example of one government (Denmark) having a freedom of the press and another (Pakistan) having virtually no freedom of speech or expression. (AP 02/19/06)


It is interesting to note, as Hobbes discusses in Leviathan, that the state is the mechanism to control and harness the capabilities of man. Absolute sovereignty as the only kind of government that could resolve problems caused by the selfishness of human beings. David Van Mill notes in his article Rationality, Action and Autonomy in Hobbes’ Leviathan, “the purpose of creating a sovereign is to promote conditions in which fear

Miles 5

of death is radically reduced it is the laws, upheld by the sovereign we have appointed, that make us act against unsocial tendencies and in favor of social reasonableness.”

The objective of Hobbes’s sovereign state is “self-preservation”. Van Mill points out, “Hobbes demands not only that the sovereign must preserve life, but that it must do so in a manner in which the subjects do not become weary of that life. To maintain peace the sovereign treat everyone according to the natural law of equity.” As Van Mill writes, “The sovereign will not abuse its position as the only one holding the full natural right because the riches that accrue to the sovereign come only from the subjects. Self interest shackles the sovereign in a manner that protects the autonomy of the individual.”

Van Mill explains that Hobbes’ pessimism concerning political participation does not invalidate the argument that Hobbes was concerned with producing autonomous beings. Hobbes believed that we be political only to the extent that we recognize our obligations to the sovereign and to each other. He believed, according to Van Mill, that the quest for glory in public life, where the private judgment of the individual can sometimes dominate, has a tendency to lead to war.

Stephen Holmes, in his essay, Political Psychology in Hobbes’ Behemoth, “Hobbes thought that politically ambitious men participated not out of a sense of extending their freedom, but because of a narcissistic and foolish desire to consume the envy of non-participants.

By today’s definition, Hobbes writings would be considered very liberal, as pointed out by Mark Warren in his article Democratic Theory and Self-Transformation, “It is this tension between liberty and autonomy that is the crucial puzzle Hobbes tries to resolve in

Miles 6

Leviathan. For Hobbes, natural liberty is inherently dangerous; it causes fear, destruction and even death. It should be abandoned for the benefits of autonomous living in a peaceful society.”


In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote a popular science fiction novel titled. Fahrenheit 451. The book struck a chord as a pointed social criticism warning against the danger of censorship. The story revolved around the issue of an oppressive government that burned books it did not want it’s citizens to read. Bradbury also used the story device in his book to protest what he believed to be the invasiveness of editors who, through their strict control of the books they printed, impaired writers originality and creativity. One can infer that Bradbury was influenced by Areopagitica when constructing the plot for Fahrenheit 451. As Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.”

What strikes me as the difference between these two works is that Milton advocated what we term today as the libertarian viewpoint while Hobbes held the liberal perspective when it comes to government. While Milton railed against the government’s censorship of books and freedom of speech in his time, Hobbes even suggests the need for the truth to be suppressed if necessary: “if they tend to disorder in government, as countenancing rebellion or sedition? Then let them be silenced, and the teachers punished but only by the civil authority.” Milton said, “We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned

Miles 7
life of man, preserved and stored up in books.”

Both men wrote eloquently about the need for civil government to maintain order in society. Hobbes’s ideal commonwealth is ruled by a sovereign power responsible for protecting its security and granted absolute authority to ensure the common defense. Hobbes portrays the commonwealth as a gigantic human form built out of the bodies of its citizens with the sovereign as its head. This Leviathan (derived from the Hebrew for sea monster) constitutes the definitive metaphor for Hobbes’s perfect government. For Hobbes, the Leviathan is necessary for preserving peace and preventing civil war. Milton, I believe has the same goal of protective government but with more balance and latitude among its people. “There is yet behind of what I purposed to lay open, the incredible loss and detriment that this plot of licensing puts us to; more than if some enemy at sea should stop up all our havens and ports and creeks, it hinders and retards the importation of our richest merchandise, truth.”

Works Cited

Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory (Lawrence: University Press Kansas, 1990), pp. 120-152

Dietz, M.G. editor

Political Psychology in Hobbes’ Behemoth

Holmes, Stephen


Osgood, Charles G.

Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 89, No. 3. (Oct. 11, 1945), pp. 495-498.

Rationality, Action, nd Autonomy in Hobbes’s “Leviathan”

Van Mill, David

Polity, Vol. 27, No. 2. (Winter, 1994), pp. 285-306.

Democratic Theory and Self Transformation American Political Science Review , 86 (March 1992):9-10

Warren, Mark

Quotes used in Aeropagitica

Miles 1

Doug Miles

Dr. Harrington

British Literature ENL 3230

April 26, 2006

Sarasota: A Circus Atmosphere

It is an anxious time for anyone who has lived in Sarasota for more than a decade to see the drastic changes that have taken place over the past few years. There are more cranes in the sky than there are in a bird sanctuary. And by cranes, I mean the construction kind. The skyline of Sarasota has erupted with concrete behemoths never before seen in what was once a restful, sleepy town on Florida’s sun coast. The cost of living has exploded like an atomic financial bomb sending housing costs skyward, higher than the skyscrapers that are being erected seemingly on a weekly basis. What will become of gentle Sarasota? How will people afford to live and work here? Developers are building condos galore for those who have made money elsewhere and can afford them. But where are the businesses that are going to support the economy of this sudden growth? I submit to you dear reader, there is only one way Sarasota can survive. Bring back the circus!

Sarasota used to be known as the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. For years, a caravan of performers, trainers and animals would embrace this wonderful town as its adopted domain, giving Sarasota a unique and prominent niche in the world. Is it a coincidence that once the circus left town to winter elsewhere, that Sarasota began to change and lose some of its charm? We can reclaim our town and once again make it into

Miles 2

one of the great destination cities in the world and at the same time give all its citizens an opportunity to afford to live here by transforming Sarasota itself into one gigantic circus!

True, we do have a circus that sets up a tent once a year for six weeks in February and March every year. Dolly Jacobs, a circus legend herself and daughter of the famous Ringling Brothers Clown Lou Jacobs, along with Pedro Reis have done a masterful job of bringing back the circus arts to Sarasota. But I say that is not enough. I propose we make every day a circus performance. There’s a hotel in Las Vegas called Circus Circus that has continuous performances all day long above the casino that has been attracting tourists for nearly forty years. Vegas figured it out a long time ago. Give people something unique to look at and they will come and spend money. Lot’s of it!

First we need a ringmaster. I suggest a man who’s been leading a circus in living rooms for years on his wild and crazy show on television. He lives down here a good portion of the year anyway. I nominate Jerry Springer to be the official ringmaster of the city of Sarasota. Hosting a circus will be a huge upgrade from introducing the oddballs that have displayed their wacky behavior on his show. As an assistant, I nominate a man who sports fans know as a wild and crazy guy every year during March Madness, sportscaster Dick Vitale. He also lives here and has never met a microphone or camera he didn’t like. To use his words, he’d be “Awesome with a capital A!”

Next, we need a big top. I suggest we turn city hall into a huge circus tent. Critics of politicians have often said the city is run by a bunch of clowns. Why not have the mayor and city commissioners actually be dressed as clowns? Town hall meetings would become must see events. Instead of using limousines, all city officials would travel around in one

Miles 3

tiny car and make a grand entrance each day. Instead of calling a meeting to order with a gavel, the mayor would honk a horn. Anyone out of order would get a pie in the face. Cotton candy and peanuts would be sold in the lobby. Let’s put on a show and charge tourists admission to see real clowns run the city.

The police department will wear uniforms like the old Keystone Cops from the silent movies. They’ll still have the same authority, but during parades and holidays will perform comedy routines for the public. And just like a three ring circus, each section of Sarasota will have its own unique show going on all the time. From one end of Main Street to the other will be the world’s largest trapeze show. Acrobats will swing from the Hollywood 20 theatres all the way down to the Selby Library. All the shop owners along the way will be a part of the show, dressed in circus costumes and selling their goods.

I suggest we change the road signs on I-75 to say, “You are now entering the Greatest Show on Earth, Circus Town USA, Sarasota!” Toll booth collectors at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge will dress in clown outfits and give out cotton candy to all the cars passing through. Like the St. Louis arch, we will build a gigantic symbol of three rings across the highway as cars enter Sarasota. There will be no doubt that when you drive through this town, you are entering a living, breathing, non-stop, three ring circus.

The world’s longest tightrope will be strung across the Ringling Bridge from downtown to St. Armand’s Circle. Motorists driving around town will have the thrill of seeing a high wire act while stuck in traffic. One of the local radio stations will broadcast continuous updates of shows around town including that famous circus theme music! And what better place to put a sideshow than the county courthouse and jail. That brings us

Miles 4

back to Jerry Springer who’s dealt with his share of freaks on his TV show over the years. Springer, as ringmaster, will hold court every day with the “wackiest show on earth”.

Sarasota has been called a college town. I suggest we turn USF into CUFL, Clown University of Florida. CUFL will offer courses in Clownism, , Clowneology, Clownist Theory and for the women, Feminism in Clownist Studies. After all, where are we going to get our new leaders and civil servants? Each spring and fall dozens of new clowns with CUFL’s BC and MC degrees (Bachelor of Clownism and Master of Clownist Studies) will enter the workforce to ensure the circus tradition in Sarasota continues.

Where are the animals? Everyone in town with a pet will be required to train it to perform some kind of trick. Borrowing from David Letterman, tourists will see the largest “Stupid Pet Trick” display in the world as they drive through Sarasota. The Kennel Club will be home to trained elephants and horses and of course dogs. We’ll do away with taxis and replace them with elephant rides downtown from the airport. What better way to symbolize what Sarasota is when you get off a plane at SRQ Airport and hop on a pachyderm to take you to your hotel.

All the media in Sarasota will be part of the circus theme. SNN will be renamed to SCNN, “Sarasota Circus News Now”. News anchors will dress like ringmasters adding an air of dignity to the broadcasts. Weathermen will dress like clowns. (Many of them act that way anyway). The Herald Tribune will be renamed the “Circus Daily”. The classified section will be filled with high paying jobs like Commissioner of Peanut Vending, Cotton Candy Confectionist, Hot Dog Gourmet Chef and Elephant Sanitation Supervisor.

Miles 5

I modestly proclaim that if Sarasota undertakes my proposal to turn itself into a 365 day a year circus, the economic impact will be staggering. Housing will become affordable to everyone, albeit with a dozen or more to a room, but reasonably priced nonetheless. Anyone who wants a job will find one in Sarasota. It may be with a shovel in hand, but steady employment it will be. People will flock to this place like they did to that baseball diamond in the film “Field of Dreams”. As the voice from the cornfield said in the movie, “If you build it, they will come.” The future of the city depends on it.

Robert Browning’s Use of Dramatic Monologue

Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue. Despite a prolific output of poetry, he was well into his fifties before realizing any success or acknowledgement for his literary work. It was in the second half of his life that Browning began using the dramatic monologue form in his writings which became his forte. In this essay, I will discuss Robert Browning’s use of the dramatic monologue in his written works.

The dramatic monologue is a form of poetic writing invented by and practiced most frequently by Robert Browning. Alfred Tennyson and Dante Rossetti were other writers of the Victorian era who also used the format in their works. The definition of dramatic monologue has been deliberated over the years. Most literary scholars tend to agree that to be a dramatic monologue, a poem must have a speaker and an implied auditor and that the reader often perceives a gap between what that speaker says and what he or she actually reveals. Literary scholar Robert Langbaum saw the form as a continuation of an essentially Romantic “poetry of experience” in which the reader experiences a tension between sympathy and judgment. Many writers on the subject have disagreed, pointing out that readers do not seem ever to sympathize with the speakers in some of Browning’s major poems, such as “Porphria’s Lover” or “My Last Duchess.” Literary scholar Glenn Everett points out that Browningesque dramatic monologue has three requirements:

The reader takes the part of the silent listener.

The speaker uses a case-making, argumentative tone.

We complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination. (Everett)

Although others used the format, the dramatic monologue is most often associated with and attributed to Robert Browning. Browning is considered the master of the genre. Although some critics are skeptical of his invention of the form, Browning’s extensive and varied use of the dramatic monologue had an enormous impact on modern poetry. As Valerie Sorce illustrates in her essay “Dramatic Monologue”, “the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning represent the most significant use of the form in post-romantic poetry.” The dramatic monologue as we understand it today “is a lyric poem in which the speaker addresses a silent listener, revealing himself in the context of a dramatic situation. “The character is speaking to an identifiable but silent listener at a dramatic moment in the speaker’s life. The circumstances surrounding the conversation, one side which we hear as the dramatic monologue, are made by clear implication, and an insight into the character of the speaker may result.” (Sorce)

Browning was frequently criticized that his poems were too emotional. This may have resulted from the characterizations of the dramatic monologue format itself which have certain identifiable traits. The reader takes the part of the silent listener; The speaker uses a case-making argumentative tone; And we, the reader, or audience, complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination.” As Sorce points out in her essay, “critics have interpreted that third requirement, the reader’s interpretation and conclusions, as a suspension of the reader/listener between sympathy and judgment. The reader has a choice regarding the intent of the speaker, but he/she must remain removed until the speaker is done making his argument.”

Conversely, Glenn Everett believes the role of the listener is one of discovery which engages the imagination, but the listener must remain detached and abstain from passing judgment until the work is known as a whole. The role of the listener is passive. He/she cannot help but hear because the position of the listener is exactly a passive receptor of a verbal tour de force that leaves him no opportunity for response.” On the other hand the typical Browning speaker is an eloquent rhetorician whose dramatic situation itself is obviously only created by the presence of the other, the other is identified as the silent listener. The speaker characteristically uses strongly rhetorical language which distinguishes the dramatic monologue from the soliloquy (Everett).

The dramatic monologue is a powerful form of poetry which can also be persuasive. Sorce calls it a form of “poetic propaganda”. The dramatic elements and psychological implications make it a fascinating form to read. It is such an expressive form of poetry that the listener, or reader, can follow the poets thoughts quite easily. Robert Langbaum termed the dramatic monologue a combination of “lyric and dramatic elements” that represent a poetic innovation whose influence could be traced in the work of all the great modernist poets.” “We understand the speaker of the dramatic monologue by sympathizing with him and yet remaining aware of the moral judgment we have suspended for the sake of understanding.” (Langbaum)At his death at age seventy-seven, Robert Browning had produced volumes of poetry and had risen to the heights of literary greatness but received little acknowledgement for his work until he was in his fifties. In his own words in writing the dedication to “Strafford”, an historical tragedy, he analyzed the dramatic monologue this way: “to treat Action in Character, rather than Character in Action”.

Browning used the dramatic monologues as his artistic vehicle. In “My Last Duchess” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s” he presented characters with varying degrees of sympathy or satire as he took incidents from the past and made them come alive through his skillful use of the dramatic monologue. Before delving into examples of the dramatic monologue form Browning used in his works, some insight into the man himself would be beneficial. Using information from a rare interview with the poet, this writer has taken the liberty of creating a dramatic dialogue (if you will suspend disbelief for a few moments) during a radio interview, between Browning and a fictitious interviewer of today (myself) to illustrate his thought process.



































Robert Browning had an enormous influence on writers that followed him. Arthur Symons, who as Karl Beckson and John Munro point out in their essay, “occupied a central place in the development of the modern aesthetic and derived his idea of the symbolic movement from his understanding of Pater, the French Symbolists and Robert Browning.” Symon used Browning’s technique of “revealing the soul to itself” in a single moment to formulate an aesthetic which would in turn have a “profound effect on such writers as Yeats, Joyce and Eliot.” (Beckson)

In his essay, “The Decadent Movement in Literature” (1893), Symons said that Browning’s impact on literature, was particularly evident in the new Impressionists and Symbolists as “they sought not general truth merely but la verite vraie, the very essence of truth–the truth of appearance to the senses, of the visible world to the eye that sees it, and the truth of spiritual things to the spiritual vision.” (Symonds)According to Symonds, Browning use of the dramatic monologue style sought “to flash out the truth at one blow.” In his review of Browning’s work Ferishtah’s Fancies, Symonds wrote: “His drama has all the life of action, but it is not action. It is as if one caught a wave at its poise, and held it for a moment, motionless with all its suspended thrill and fury of movement. In an eloquent pause and silence, when life lived to the fullest culminates in one crisis of joy, pain, passion, or disgust, Browning seizes and possesses his opportunity. Into that one moment he crowds the thought, action and emotion of a lifetime.” (Symonds)My Last Duchess, Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea Del Sarto are widely considered to be Browning’s finest examples of dramatic monologue because of their skillful portrayal of character. In his criticism, “Browning’s Monologues and the Development of the Soul”, David Bergman notes, “it is only when examined as portraits of character that the monologues appear to have notable precision, concentration and subtlety and to teach us the potentials of verse itself.” Bergman illustrates “in the best of Browning’s poems, we can sense the speaker as a wholly autonomous individual.” The object of the dramatic monologue is, “the activity of a person imagined as virtually real whom we understand as we would an other natural person inferring from outward act and expression to inward purpose.” “A dramatic monologue that does not present a highly individual character, an other natural person, will be poor dramatic monologue.” (Bergman)David Bergman makes the valid point that the dramatic monologue is much more effective when it “favors the depiction of failure and corruption rather than sainthood and heroism which are less commonly found on the street.” Bergman states that “even the most cursory analysis of Browning’s statements concerning poetry will indicate how little he was interested in the direct realistic depiction of an ‘other’ natural person.” Browning was quoted as saying that his poems were “dramatic in principle”. His interests, as Bergman describes, were “on the incidents in the development of a soul.” His concern with the “soul”, a word of theological significance and not with “character”, “personality” or even “mind”, terms which were readily available to him. History, the creation of a concrete setting, has never been a major focus for Browning. The “man in the street” is not worth study if he is not caught in a spiritually developing incident.” Browning was mainly interested in the dynamic of the spiritual development rather than the static portrayal of personality. (Bergman)Browning alludes to this in his original preface to Paracelsus where he wrote: “Instead of having recourse to an external machinery of incident to create and evolve the crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to display somewhat minutely the mood itself in its rise and progress.” Bergman explains that “Browning does away with the “external machinery” of setting so that he can render the movement of spirit “minutely”.

Bergman demonstrates in Pauline’s footnote to the poem bearing her name, how she interprets the poem’s conclusion as a discussion of spiritual development.

“I think that in that which follows (the poet) alludes to a particular examination which he once made of the soul, or rather his own soul, to discover the sequence of objects that it would be possible for him to achieve, each of which, having been obtained, was to form a kind of plateau. What resulted was that unconsciousness and sleep would put an end to everything.”

This footnote clearly confirms Browning’s statement that he was always interested in the development of the soul. “Browning has envisioned a dynamic that moves from self-consciousness to unconsciousness, from smaller concerns to wider ones. The soul is not static, but ever changing its conditions and goals.” (Bergman)In Paracelsus, a poem about the alchemist, Browning uses dramatic monologue to speak about the process of spiritual development:

“See this soul of ours! How it strives weakly in the child, is loosed

In manhood, clogged by sickness, back compelled

By age and waste, set free at last by death:

Why is it, flesh enthralls it or enthrones?

What is this flesh we have to penetrate?

Therefore, set free the soul alike in all,

Discovering the true laws by which the flesh

Accloys the spirit!”

“For Paracelsus, the soul develops by successively detaching itself from the material world which blocks if from its true and real self.” (Bergman) Some historical perspective on how Browning developed his dramatic monologue style is provided by Robert Preyer in his criticism, “Robert Browning: A Reading of the Early Narratives”. Preyer points out in Paracelsus, written in 1835, “we have a more successful drama which suffers from the fact that the hero’s identity is clearly meant to include that aspect of mind personified by the character Aprile but evidently does not include that of the two other leading characters, Festus and Michal.” (Preyer)While Paracelsus, according to Preyer may not have entirely hit the mark as Browning’s best work, “it is to Pauline that we must turn if we want to see in its “purest” state the sort of poem and poetic with which Browning began–and if we wish to explore the relations between the early work and later dramatic monologues here is the obvious point of departure.” The reason, according to Preyer, is Browning seems to be modeling Pauline on Shelley’s subjective tradition. “A subjective poet, because he is excluded from action, is enabled to achieve a special form of cognition which amounts to a direct insight into the structure of reality.” Browning substantiated this in 1850 when he wrote: “Not what man sees, but what God sees–the Ideas of Plato, seeds of creation lying burningly on the Divine Hand–it is toward these that he (the subjective poet) struggles.”

While Browning’s use of the dramatic monologue is the primary focus of this essay, it is interesting to note the different styles Browning used in his verse. Robert Preyer in a second criticism he wrote, “Two Styles in the Verse of Robert Browning”, categorizes those styles as “simple” and “difficult”.

Browning’s “simple” style can be found in what Preyer terms “the fast-paced, pounding and jiggling narrative style of “Cavalier Tunes” (1842), “The Flight of the Duchess” (1845), “Christmas Eve and Easter Day” (1850) and “Holy Cross Day” from the “Men and Women” volume (1855) just to name a few examples. There is, according to Preyer, “a playful insistence on the formation of curious linkages between images rarely associated elsewhere in English literary tradition.”

Not since the time of Shakespeare has another poet used imagery in quite the same way as Browning. In his poem “The Englishman in Italy” (1845), the following lines show Browning’s unique use of metaphors and similes:

“And pitch down his basket before us,

All trembling alive

With pink and grey jellies, your sea-fruit;

You touch the strange lumps,

And mouths gape there, eyes open, all manner

Of horns and humps,

Which only the fisher looks grave at.

Preyer explains, “the images are invariably precise no matter how unexpected the simile or how surprising the juxtapositions (horns, humps, jellies, sea-fruit).” Browning used colloquial phrases and technical terms with detailed accuracy giving his dramatic monologues a high degree of realism. As Preyer sums up, Browning’s “simple” style “exhibits an overall rational consecution (logic) while at the same time employs occasionally irrational flights of free association.” (Preyer-Styles)The “difficult” style of Browning can be seen in this stanza from “Saul”:

“And behold while I sang but O Thou who didst grant me that day,

And before it not seldom has granted thy help to essay,

Carry on and complete an adventure,-my shield and my sword

In that act where my soul was thy servant, thy word was my word,-

Still be with me, who then at the summit of human endeavour

And scaling the highest, man’s thought could, gazed hopeless as ever

On the new stretch of heaven above me-till, mighty to save,

Just one lift of thy hand cleared that distance-God’s throne from

Man’s grave!”

As Preyer describes, “Browning conveys a breathless forward-rushing movement to a climactic moment of supreme religious awareness-even as he carries us back in time and then forward and around the visionary moment he is driving hard to reach.” The “difficult” style encompasses what Preyer calls “a gathering of fragments”, not a consecutive narrative. The difference between the “simple” and “difficult” style is best summed up this way: “When the reader hears the verses and almost simultaneously comprehends their narrative meaning we have the “simple style”. When syntactical and temporal (time) displacements slow down the process of comprehension and when the rhythmical pace does not slacken so that we are allowed time to get our bearings, we are experiencing the “difficult” style.” (Preyer-Styles)In Preyer’s criticism, he remarks that while some of Browning’s poems may have been cryptic and may not have lead to “an inevitable conclusion”, there can be no question of the value and usefulness of his stylistic procedures. Browning opened up new ground for English poetry “demonstrating with finality that the novelist had not superseded the poet.” Browning renewed the “expressive potential of verse and proved that it is not only useful but necessary to have two modes of literary art available for the exploration of experience.” (Preyer-Styles)Arguably the best example of Browning’s dramatic monologue style is found in his work “The Ring and the Book” The poem is based on a real-life case. Under Roman law at the time, trials were not held in open court but rather by correspondence, where each witness was required to submit a written statement for future adjudication. Browning bought a large volume of these written statements relating to this case on his travels through Italy. It was not until eight years later that he actually wrote this poem.

Browning used two poetic techniques in “The Ring and the Book”, authorial detachment and imagery. As Gordon Thompson describes in his criticism “Authorial Detachment and Imagery in The Ring and the Book”, Browning used detachment out of necessity. “He could either ponder the variety of human perception himself, or he could portray it dramatically. For each character to convincingly argue his case, and in doing so reveal his vision, it would be essential that all traces of authorial control be removed.” The most effective device for removing himself from the poem is the dramatic monologue form. (Thompson) This is not to say there is no control by the author. There is indeed, but in the dramatic monologue it cannot be seen. “The reader sees the speaker and his situation, his mind, his perception and his character.” (Thompson)Robert Hartle, in “Gide’s Interpretation of Browning”, says “the writer renounces his individuality to assume the personality of his characters. Further the poet renounces the divine attitude: through his diverse creatures he looks up at God instead of assuming the position of God and looking down upon his creatures.” This is the basis for dramatic monologue. As Thompson notes, “it would be impossible to write one without giving up one’s own individuality. The form assures the apparent absence of the author’s manipulation.”

As A.G. Drachmann interprets in his criticism “Alloy and Gold”, the withdrawal of the author is further emphasized by the ring metaphor itself in “The Ring and the Book”. In the poem, Browning “refrains from speaking in his own person, but tells us the facts in ten different ways, leaving it to ourselves to find out the truth.”

Gordon Thompson demonstrates what he terms “the absence of the passionate poet” in this stanza from “The Ring and the Book” “It is absolutely factual, without the slightest touch of emotion:

“Count Guido Franceschini the Aretine,

Descended of an ancient house, though poor,

A beak-nosed bushy bearded black haired lord,

Lean, pallid, low of stature yet robust,

Fifty years old,-having four years ago

Married Pompilia Comparini, young,

Good, beautiful, at Rome, where she was born,

And brought her to Arezzo, where they lived

Unhappy lives, whatever curse the cause,-etc.

(I. 772-780)

In addition to stressing the author’s absence, according to Thompson, the events of the case are presented without the alteration of a particular speaker’s perception. While Browning does inject color and shading for dramatic purposes throughout the poem, he deftly manages to remain objective and let the characters speak for themselves.

It is interesting to note, as Thompson points out, Browning’s hesitancy to reintroduce himself at the end of the poem. “The Browning of Book XII, like the one who ended Book I, is willing to speak only of artistic matters.” He says “that art can tell truth, even though human testimony is false, making the point that “art is perhaps the only way open to man for speaking truth.” However, Browning refuses to comment on the events of the poem at the end staying consistent to his withdrawal at the beginning of the work.

Imagery is widely used throughout “The Ring and the Book” by Browning. As Thompson points out, “imagery is truth”. Browning uses it “to express what the characters have seen in their souls. He escapes the need to enter his own persona within the poem to explain the unconscious vision of every speaker. Browning’s imagery has meaning on two levels to create dramatic monologue. One is the “obvious meaning the speaker gives it through it’s application, the other a higher and more truthful meaning that the poet provides. The two levels represent first the speaker’s level of perception and secondly the level of apprehension gained by one with soul-sight. (Thompson)The dramatic monologue is a powerful form of poetry with the potential to be quite persuasive. It is an effective format for poets to express themselves. The dramatic elements and psychological implications within the form enhance its fascination to the reader. As stated earlier in this essay, it is such a vivid form of poetry that the reader is able to follow the designs of the speaker automatically. The perspective of critic Robert Langbaum sums up the conclusion to this essay succinctly: “the dramatic monologue a combination of lyric and dramatic elements that represent a poetic innovation whose influence could be traced in the work of all the great modernist poets.” (Langbaum)

Sources Cited

Beckson, Karl and Munro, John M. Symons, Browning, and the Development of the Modern Aesthetic

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 10, No. 4, Nineteenth Century. (Autumn, 1970), pp. 687-699.

Bergman, David Browning’s Monologues and the Development of the Soul

ELH, Vol. 47, No. 4. (Winter, 1980), pp. 772-787.

Cundiff, Paul A. The Clarity of Browning’s Ring Metaphor

PMLA, Vol. 63, No. 4. (Dec., 1948), pp. 1276-1282

Drachmann, A.G. Alloy and Gold

Studies in Philology XXII (July 1925), p. 423

Everett, Glenn

Hartle, Robert W. Gide’s Interpretation of Browning

The University of Texas Studies in English, XXVIII (1949), p. 253

Honan, Park Browning’s Poetic Laboratory: The Uses of “Sordello”

Modern Philology, Vol. 56, No. 3. (Feb., 1959), pp. 162-166

McCormick, James Patton Robert Browning and the Experimental Drama

PMLA, Vol. 68, No. 5. (Dec., 1953), pp. 982-991

Phelps, William Lyon A Conversation with Browning

Johns Hopkins University Press (June, 1944), pp. 154-160

Preyer, Robert Robert Browning: A Reading of the Early Narratives ELH, Vol. 26, No. 4. (Dec., 1959), pp. 531-548.

Preyer, Robert Two Styles in the Verse of Robert Browning

ELH, Vol. 32, No. 1. (Mar., 1965), pp. 62-84.
Sorce, Valerie Dramatic Monologue

Symonds, Arthur The Decadent Movement in Literature

Harpers New Monthly Magazine LXXXVII (Nov., 1893), p. 858.

Thompson, Gordon W.Authorial Detachment and Imagery in The Ring and the Book

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 10, No. 4, Nineteenth Century. (Autumn, 1970), pp. 669-686.

Themes and Symbolism in Moby-Dick

By Doug Miles

In this essay I will discuss the themes of racism, revenge and religion and Herman Melville’s use of symbolism in Moby-Dick.

The plot of Moby Dick deals with continual conflicts between good and evil and of nature’s indifference to man. Melville uses symbolism throughout the novel to represent the many themes underlying the plot. The white whale, Moby-Dick, symbolizes nature as complex, enigmatic and dangerous. For Ahab, however, the whale represents only evil. His overwhelming obsession to kill the whale which had crippled him is the conceit driving the entire storyline. Ahab transforms into evil himself in his thirst to destroy evil. Although Moby-Dick is not explicitly about race or racial issues, there are many different representations of race throughout the novel . As Randy Bass describes in his criticism “Moby-Dick’s Racial Unconscious”, examples are “the cross-cultural homoeroticism of Ishmael and Queequeg’s relationship, the presence of Fedallah and his men as Ahab’s personal crew, the presence of Pip–at first as a Shakespearean Fool, and later as the image of “weak madness” that contrasts to Ahab’s towering monomania.”

The term “racial unconscious” Bass refers to is “the chain of associations that continuously build linkages among images of blackness and darkness, primitivism and savagism, danger and predation, devilishness and evil.” (Bass)

Bass outlines examples where a “racial unconscious” forces its way into the text and explains that “this unconscious reveals the context of the 1840’s, when Melville was authoring Moby Dick, including not only the growing abolitionist debates, but the growing sectional tension (resulting the Compromise of 1850), the use of an ethnic and racialized underclass in building projects of an industrializing America, as well as the racial dimensions of Manifest Destiny, especially as they arose from the U.S. war with Mexico.” (Bass) It is noteworthy to point out how the historical background of the time obviously influenced Melville in the writing of Moby Dick.

John Leinhard further amplifies that point in his criticism titled “Coffin Wharf”. Paraphrasing Leinhard: “As Ishmael, the narrator in the novel, walks through New Bedford in the 1840’s looking for a place to stay, the inn he comes to is run by a man named Peter Coffin who offers him half a bed already occupied by a wild tattooed native of New Guinea named Queequeg. They soon become friends. Two other harpooners then join Ahab’s ship, Tashtego, an Indian, and Dagoo, an African. Three quarters of Ahab’s whaling team are of other races.” As Leinhard explains, “That matches what history says about New England Whalers. In the 1840’s, one citizen of New Bedford or Nantucket in fifteen was a free black who were mostly craftsmen in the shipbuilding trade.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave who rose to become the great abolitionist orator went to New Bedford to work in the shipyards. Finding that blacks were “better off” in whaling towns than anywhere he’d been. Douglass addressed his first white audience in Nantucket. As Leinhard describes, “Here the Moby Dick connection rises unexpectedly. The person who extended that invitation was William Coffin, a well-known name in New Bedford and there was a Coffin Wharf.” One can speculate that Melville knew of Coffin and used the name in the novel to make a point.

Some further historical context by Leinhard: “In 1836 a blacksmith named Lewis Temple set up shop on Coffin Wharf. Temple was one of many black inventors among the whalers. In 1848 he invented the toggle harpoon. It had a toggle device that latched into the flesh of a whale and anchored a line connecting back to the whaleboat.” Moby Dick is “rich in technological metaphors” according to Leinhard. “The lines that bind the whalers to the whale are woven through the story. The problem of anchoring lines in the whale is a central motif. In the end Ahab is tied to Moby Dick by tangled lines and carried down into the sea. Only Ishmael survives the encounter with Moby Dick. And how is he saved? Well, Queequeg had seen death coming and built his own coffin. As the ship sinks, that coffin bobs to the surface and becomes Ishmael’s lifeboat. The tale begins and ends with coffins.”

As Leinhard outlines in his criticism, “Melville’s use of language of deep-running metaphors — like Queequeg showing us nineteenth-century racism, not just as it was, but also turned upside down and inside out. Out of the metaphor of the harpoon, and the coffin, and the metaphor of Queequeg, emerges the very real blacksmith, Lewis Temple, on Coffin Wharf. Melville has summoned up an important early port on the long, still-unfinished voyage — toward racial equity in America.”

Roslyn Siegel, in her criticism, “The Black Man and the Macabre in American Literature”, describes how Melville used race and underlying racism in his characters in the novel. “The Negro, therefore, often becomes the a symbol of evil incarnate in the works of white American writers. Melville presents us with an evil black figure…Fedallah in Moby Dick, who worships fire, hides beneath the deck, is an incarnation of the devil himself, and who literally beckons Ahab to his death. “

Siegel makes the point, “Since the Puritans believed the body was a reflection of the soul, and black skin was regarded as a punishment from God, it is not surprising that many Black figures in literature are represented as physically deformed and grotesque.” The character of Queequeq, for example, who is highly regarded is described as “having a body horribly disfigured by tattoos, and Pip, the cabin boy, is made grotesque by his madness.”

Paul Lauter, in his criticism, “Melville Climbs the Canon”, outlines how Melville should be given credit in literary circles for his descriptions of race and racism particularly in Moby Dick. Melville is seen as evincing the correct relationship of a true American artist to “primitive” life and peoples precisely at a time in which the United States is developing its career of imperial expansion among the darker people of the world and thus is deeply in need of an appropriate ideology.” To paraphrase Lauter, despite the prevalent thought on race of that period, Melville broke new ground when he wrote about how races could get along when striving for a common goal like capturing the white whale.

Another theme of Moby Dick is revenge. F.O Mattheissen in his book “American Renaissance” called the novel “The Revenger’s Tragedy”. Donald Weeks in his criticism, “Two Uses of Moby Dick”, described how a novelist “may oppose action with opinion, with philosophy, with poetry, with information on whaling. Moby Dick seems conceived in these terms: against the tragedy of the revenge of Ahab certain themes will be developed at such length and with such authority that they will constitute an antagonism to the forces of evil.”

Within this theme of revenge are two underlying themes according to Weeks that “balance the evil represented by Ahab.” One is “an aggregate of ideas of peace, patience, dignity, joy and delight. It describes a center in Ishmael beyond the reach of trouble.” Weeks points out that Melville “uses the sea as a symbol of this center” in several chapters in the book including “The Masthead” (35), “The Pacific” (111) and “The Grand Armada” (87) where Ishmael says: “And thus, surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments;…. But even so, amid the tornadoes Atlantic of my being, do I myself for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.” (Melville p. 365)

The second underlying theme, according to Weeks, is fellowship. “The meetings with different ships are made symbolic of brotherhood until all is ended in Ahab’s refusal to help the captain of the Rachel hunt for his lost son. Melville shifts the focus of this theme of fellowship from Ishmael to Ahab, who pervertedly finds a friend in Pip and, as the novel closes, turns too late to Starbuck.”

Weeks explains that these sub-themes “constitute the essential questioning of Ahab’s purpose. They establish a clear sense of what is right, against which Ahab’s fall can be measured.” Weeks says, “they involve us (the reader) in that fall, of themselves, and by reason of the contemporary nature of the catharsis in Moby Dick.”

Recalling the topic of revenge, Week’s proposes that Moby Dick is a book about dictatorship, “irresistible dictatorship”, as Melville calls it. As Weeks points out in the first chapter of the novel, “Ishmael asks, Who ain’t a slave?”. In this passage from Chapter 33, Melville talks about the captain’s authority:

“Nor, perhaps, will it fail to be eventually perceived, that behind those forms and usages as it were, he sometimes masked himself; incidentally making use of them for other and more private ends than they were legitimately intended to subserve. That certain sultanism of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained unmanifested; through those forms that same sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship. For a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always in themselves, more or less paltry and base.” (Melville)

As Weeks depicts, “Melville houses Ahab in the magnificence of the sea and gives him the trappings of fate. But he also makes him consciously cunning in trapping his crew.” Ahab’s dictatorship over his crew is fueled by his overwhelming goal of revenge against the white whale. “Much of the story of Ahab is given to his effort to enlist the cooperation of his crew, to create excitement in them, to inflame them with his madness.” (Weeks)

“Here, then, was this gray-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals…How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man’s ire–by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs: the White Whale as much as their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be…” (Melville)

As Melville wrote, “It is the “cool, collected dive at death and destruction, and the devil fetch the hindmost,” that according to Weeks, “leads to the catharsis of Moby Dick: the terrifying sight of the impotence of good in the face of determined evil.” The tragedy of revenge manifests itself “when the forces of good admit their mistake.” Starbuck who is a religious man is loyal to Ahab despite his misgivings about him. “I misdoubt me that I disobey my God in obeying him.” (Melville). Weeks writes, “it is difficult to see what other catharsis is possible in the tragedy of revenge, for the revenger must die unconverted, fighting and wrong.”

Another theme in Moby Dick is religion. In his criticism, “The Three Stranded Allegory of Moby Dick”, Allen Austin describes how the relationship between Ishmael and Ahab can be interpreted three different ways: “that Ishmael rejects Ahab’s view, that Ishmael shares Ahab’s view, and that Ishmael sympathizes with Ahab’s view but does not share it.” Austin subscribes to the third interpretation which characterizes Ishmael as “a philosophical naturalist or atheist.” According to this philosophy, Ishmael would believe, “the natural universe constitutes the whole of reality and therefore cannot symbolize spiritual reality.” On the other hand, Ahab, believes “that material objects possess spiritual significance” and his quest to capture the white whale is based on that assumption. The differences between Ishmael’s atheistic beliefs and Ahab’s supernaturalism constitute the basis of what Allen terms the “three allegorical strands” in Moby Dick : (1) its expression of a naturalistic, pessimistic philosophy; (2) its satire of transcendentalism and individualism; and (3) its satire of Christianity.

Without delving too heavily into the various philosophies he writes about in his criticism, Austin does point out how Ahab’s quest for the white whale is based on a supernaturalist belief: “Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ‘tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.” (Melville) Austin states, “Ahab pushes this idea of “intelligent malignity” to the point of madness, accepting wholeheartedly the belief of the transcendentalists that the outward world is a symbol of spiritual reality.” (Austin)

As Austin discusses, “The White Whale symbolizes to Ishmael the destructive principle at the core of existence, the inevitability of personal annihilation. On one level, Ishmael’s identification with Ahab’s quest expresses anger that the universe is not differently constituted, that the hope of immortality is a vain hope. On another level it goes against the Christian view that Ishmael rejects.” According to Austin, “Ishmael, although he cannot defy a God that he does not believe in, he can express horror at the fact of death, and he can defy those who have religious faith.” Ishmael, unlike Starbuck (a religious man as stated earlier) said “Let faith oust fact.” (Melville) Austin writes, “He is too much aware of the “remorseless fang” concealed in the “velvet paw” of the “teeth-tiered sharks” beneath the “golden sea”.

Other examples of religious themes within the subplots and characters in the novel are pointed out by Austin. For instance, Queequeg, when he insisted on giving half his money to Ishmael, “an action in sharp contrast to the practices of the ‘wolfish world’ in which Ishmael lives.” When Queequeg saves a man from drowning who had taunted him, “he did not seem to think that he at all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies.” Queequeg says, “We cannibals must help these Christians.” (Melville Ch. 13, p. 66-67) Austin explains that these scenes show a religious or at least spiritual humanity within these characters that cause them to act this way. “This practical fellowship, based on actions, is the opposite of empty sentiments of brotherly love.”

Melville satirizes religion within the book in various ways according to Austin. “When Ishmael is squeezing sperm with his fellow laborers, Melville takes the opportunity to satirize the transcendentalist idea of the relationship between individuals and the all encompassing One: ‘Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, ‘Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness…In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.’ (Melville Ch 94, p. 323)

The religious theme continues with the example of the sermon delivered by the ship’s cook which as Austin writes, “reveals the contradiction between the doctrine of brotherhood and the practice of self-aggrandizement: ‘Don’t be tearin’ de blubber out your neighbor’s mout, I say. Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale? I know some o’ you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders; but then de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de brigness of de mout is not to swaller wid, but to bite off de blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can’t get into de scrouge to help demselves.” (Melville Ch 44, p. 236) Although satirical, the philosophy here, according to Austin, is Christian.

Austin’s thesis stresses that “the basic allegorical meaning of Ahab’s quest is its defiance of the doctrine that personifies and worships the destructive principle of the universe as a God of love.” Ishmael is motivated by the fact that “Christian faith, as he sees it, is capable of ousting fact, of inverting evil into good, and of finding salvation in falsehood. If one must personify the destructive principle of the universe, then Ahab’s defiance is the only right worship.”

Some further examples of Melville’s use of religious thematic are the character of Fedallah, an almost supernaturally skilled hunter who serves as a prophet to Ahab, and who’s name means “the sacrifice or ransom of God. He is a Christ symbol who promises Ahab immortality, ironically referring to himself as Ahab’s ‘pilot’. (Austin) In the chase for the white whale, Fedallah, as Austin recounts, “appears entirely unafraid, fatalistically accepting his pre-ordained death, which he foretells in the riddle of the hearses. When Moby Dick grabs hold of Ahab’s boat, Fedallah appears unconcerned. “With unastonished eyes Fedallah gazed and crossed his arms (Melville Ch 133, p. 413) Finally Fedallah is crucified on the back of Moby Dick and “rises” on the third day (Ch. 135, p. 427) allegorically representing the Christian story of Easter resurrection.

Austin sums up his thesis by illustrating the novel’s contrast “between the hope of immortality and the finality of death.” The book begins with the “forebodings of death”. The final scene where the crew of the Pequod, like the servants and children of Job, is destroyed. “Ishmael, like Job’s messengers, is the reporter of this destruction, the bringer of an anti-Gospel, of evil news.” Ishmael, takes the place of Fedallah (the symbol of Christ) in Ahab’s boat and is miraculously saved, ironically buoyed by a coffin. Austin concludes, “Like the spirit-spout of Moby Dick, religious faith beckons man on and on, but death turns round upon him and rends him “at last in the remotest and most savage seas.” (Melville Ch. 52, p. 191)

SYMBOLISM, or, Moby Dick has eaten of the Grapes of Wrath, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

The Ecological Turtle

And the Transcendental Whale

Were symbolizing Cosmos

When a class got on their trail;

Students studied them with interest,

And then took a second look,

And they asked with doubting voices,

“Is that really in the book?”

-Stuart A. Selby

That short verse by Stuart Selby illustrates the richness of symbolism within Moby Dick. The remaining portion of this essay will illustrate some examples of that symbolism and how it pertains to the themes previously discussed.

In his essay, “Sun and Fire in Melville’s Moby Dick”, Paul W. Miller describes the significance of these two symbols throughout the novel. The character of Fedallah, as discussed earlier, is a Parsee (Persian fire-worshipper) whom Ahab brought to his crew on the Pequod. As Miller points out, “fire and sun worship had been devoted considerable attention in the Parsee religion administered by the Magi prior to the time of Zoroaster. Eventually Zoroastrianism evolved and fire and sun worship came to be regarded as the purest symbols of the creator.” Melville incorporates this belief into the storyline through Fedallah as “a representative of the last major surviving religion involving sun worship. He is given the trappings of Zoroaster so that the fire and sun symbols of the novel might not seem out of place.” (Miller)

Miller points out how Melville juxtaposes “sun worship against the conventional god of Christianity and Judaism where even the whales appear to partake of this worship of the sun god in defiance of those conventional gods.”

“Standing at the mast-head of my ship during a sunrise that crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw a large herd of whales in the east, all heading towards the sun, and for a moment vibrating in concert with peaked flukes. As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers.” (Melville)

Miller suggests that fire and sun “have been taken to symbolize in Moby Dick rejection of conventional deity and acceptance of the primitive, pagan life force. Ahab comes not only to reject the conventional god, but to defy the pagan god whose deity he recognizes.”

“Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and e’en for hate thou can’st but kill; and all are killed. (Melville)

Miller illustrates the fact “that since Ahab has conquered his fear of pain and extinction, he loses his fear of his god. “Thou canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes.” (Melville) Ahab carries that defiance to his death. A few seconds before his final destruction he cries out, “I turn my body from the sun.” (Melville)

Melville uses name symbolism as a structural device as illustrated by Louis G. Heller in his criticism, “Two Pequot Names in American Literature”. Staying within the theme of religion, Melville used the biblical names Ishmael, Ahab and Elijah for his main characters. But, as Heller notes, while much has been written about those symbolic names, what has been vastly overlooked is the meaning behind “what well may be the most important name in the novel–Pequod, the title of the vessel on which the voyage of destruction takes place.”

In chapter sixteen of the book, “The Ship”, Melville writes that “Pequod…was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes.” The word “Pequod” also had a meaning according to Heller who recounts the story of investigators finding an aged Indian woman in 1904 who provided a list of several hundred Pequot words from an essentially dead language. “Pequots….was the name given to the Muhhekans of eastern Connecticut by neighboring tribes and it meant “destroyers”. Heller poses the question, “Did Melville know this meaning when he wrote the book? Scholars have presented opposing views as to which was the real agent of destruction, Moby Dick, which personified the blind forces of nature, or was it Ahab and the crew who personified man and his stubborn will?”

Louis Mumford in his book on Melville written in 1929 writes:

“The white whale is the symbol of that persistent force of destruction, that meaningless force which now figures as the outpouring of a volcano or the atmospheric disruption of a tornado or again as the mere aimless dissipation of unused energy into an unavailable void…”
Heller makes the point that Mumford’s statement at first may seem to contradict the view that “the whale rather than the men, is the destruction symbol”, but proposes it is entirely possible that “both the whale and the men are destruction symbols, that they represent just one among a whole series of deliberate antitheses which appear and reappear throughout the novel.”

Howard P. Vincent in his book, “The Trying-Out of Moby-Dick”, sees the white whale as “Life itself with its good and evil.” He also writes, “at the same level the ship with its crew must also symbolize life, human life; the passengers of the ship, Ahab, Ishmael, Starbuck and the others, would symbolize the good and evil in mankind.” Heller clarifies further, “If one finds life, the abstraction, contrasting with life, the concrete realization, God against godlike creature, Christian opposed to ‘Christian’, it should hardly surprise one to find two destruction symbols rather than one: the whale representing a blind, impersonal, unpurposeful, macrocosmic type of destruction, and the Pequod and her crew representing a deliberate, personal and defiant microcosmic type, opposed to the other.” The final scene where in effect two destroyers converge and destroy each other exemplifies the powerful symbolic nature of Melville’s use of the name Pequot as the vessel of destruction.

The symbolism of Melville’s use of “whiteness” for the whale is worth a brief discussion as a conclusion to this essay. G. Thomas Tanselle, in his criticism “A Further Note on ‘Whiteness’ in Melville and Others”, points out that “The Whiteness of the Whale” (Chapter 42) is a key chapter in the book. “It’s whole drift (both in itself and in terms of the context in which it is set) is to emphasize the emptiness and neutrality of external nature.” The following passage from that chapter illustrates the point further:

“Is it by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows–a colorless, all color of atheism from which we shrink?” (Melville Ch. 42)

Tanselle goes on to write, “atheism and annihilation are two of the analogies by which nothingness may be partly defined–the nothingness against which each individual projects his own prejudices or attitudes, just as his eye creates colors out of neutral white light.” Interestingly, the “whiteness” relates to the religious and revenge themes that intertwine throughout the novel.

In her criticism, “Melville and the Sublime in Moby Dick”, Barbara Glenn writes, “whiteness in nature terrifies, Ishmael surmises, perhaps by unnatural contrast, by its presentation of extremes. It is associated with death, with ghosts, with solitude.” “It shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation.” (Melville Ch. 42, p. 169) Glenn makes the point that “Whiteness is spiritual and clothes the object with which it is coupled with divineness.” “Though commanding worship, at the same time enforces a certain nameless terror.” (Melville Ch. 42, p. 166) And, “ultimately, the terror of whiteness resides in instinct.” “The instinct of the knowledge of the demonism of the world.” (Melville, Ch. 42, p. 169) The symbolism of whiteness is eloquently characterized by Ishmael “as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? (Melville Ch. 42, p. 169)

Some concluding thoughts: This is the second time I have read and studied Moby-Dick. The first time, as it was for most students, was in high school. Now a few years later, it has been a fascinating journey to revisit this novel and acquire a deeper appreciation for the many layers and subtexts Melville incorporated in the story. The conflicts between good and evil and of nature’s indifference to man. Melville’s heavy use of symbolism as briefly outlined in this essay made this conflict come alive for me. Melville was able to combine racism, religion and revenge within an action packed adventure tale that continues to captivate and motivate further study of this great work of literature.

Works Cited

The Three-Stranded Allegory of Moby-Dick

Allen Austin

College English, Vol. 26, No. 5. (Feb., 1965), pp. 344-349.

Melville and the Sublime in Moby-Dick
Barbara Glenn
American Literature, Vol. 48, No. 2 (May, 1976), pp. 165-182

Two Pequot Names in American Literature

Louis G. Heller

American Speech, Vol. 36, No. 1. (Feb., 1961), pp. 54-57.

Melville Climbs the Canon

Paul Lauter

American Literature, Vol. 66, No. 1, New Melville. (Mar., 1994), pp. 1-24.

Sun and Fire in Melville’s Moby Dick

Paul W. Miller

Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 13, No. 2. (Sep., 1958), pp. 139-144

Herman Melville

Louis Mumford (New York, 1929), p. 185.


Stuart A. Selby

The English Journal, Vol. 48, No. 6. (Sep., 1959), p. 325

The Black Man and the Macabre in American Literature

Roslyn Siegel

Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 10, No. 4. (Winter, 1976), pp. 133-136.

A Further Note on “Whiteness” in Melville and Others (in Notes, Documents, and Critical Comment)

G. Thomas Tanselle

PMLA, Vol. 81, No. 7. (Dec., 1966), p. 604.

The Trying-Out of Moby Dick

Howard P. Vincent (Cambridge, Mass., 1949), p. 180.

Two Uses of Moby Dick

Donald Weeks American Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Summer, 1950), pp. 155-164.

Published in the Sarasota Jazz Festival Program 2009

Carol Welsman

The Sarasota Jazz Club welcomes internationally acclaimed singer and pianist Carol Welsman whose expressive vocal styling and dynamic stage presence have captivated audiences around the world.

A native of Canada, Carol was an award Winner for “Album of the Year” at the 2008 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, and nominee for “Best Female Vocalist”. She has released seven CDs to date, four of which have received Juno Award nominations, the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy Award.

Fluent in French and Italian in addition to her native English, Carol blends languages and rhythms with a versatile repertoire including Latin, R & B, pop and swing. She delivers a mix of classic standards and original compositions in a style that ranges from sensuous and warm to infectiously energetic. An elegant and sophisticated performer, this six foot strawberry blonde beauty exudes charm sure to delight the Sarasota audience.

Bill Allred Jazz Band with John Allred

Now in its 19th year of existence, Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band evokes memories of classic jazz bands such as Matty Matlock, Billy Maxted and Red Nichols. The Classic Jazz Band features it’s own unique style using the charts of such jazz legends as Maxted, Bob Haggart, legendary writer and performer Joe DeWeese, Dave Wolpe, Scott Whitfield, John Bambridge, Terry Waddell and Dave Mackenzie, as well as the band’s own John Allred and Bob Pickwood. Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz band has recorded 12 CD’s of music and appeared at Jazz Festivals throughout the world.

John Allred knew at a young age that he wanted to carry on the jazz legacy of his grandfather and father. Born in Rock Island, Illinois and growing up in a musical environment, John developed a deep appreciation for jazz.

He’s performed with the likes of Woody Herman and The Young Thundering Herd as lead trombonist and featured soloist. During his engagement with Woody’s band, John played in hundreds of clubs, concert halls and colleges across the nation, including Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. Based in New York City, John Allred can be found performing with groups such as Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Big Band, The Woody Herman Orchestra under the direction of Frank Tiberi, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, as well as productions for Dick Hyman, and George Wein for the JVC Jazz Festival. John has also appeared on many recent jazz recordings ranging from traditional to modern.

Canamger Dixieland Jazz Band
The Canamger Dixieland Jazz Band is a unique traditional jazz band made up of musicians from three countries: Canada, the U.S. and Germany. The band is dubbed “CANAMGER” (CANadian AMerican GERman jazz band). The band’s musical arrangements draw from the best ideas of the four very different traditional-style bands represented in CANAMGER: the Buck Creek Jazz Band , the Charivari Jazz Band, the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, and the Toll House Jazz Band. One of the appealing aspects of the Canamger Jazz Band is its spontaneity and fresh approach to traditional jazz music which is sure to entertain the Sarasota audience. James Moody

The Sarasota Jazz Festival is honored to present James Moody, saxophone master and one of the true legends of jazz. Moody‘s long association with Dizzy Gillespie‘s seminal bebop big band beginning in 1946 provided him with worldwide exposure as an improvisational genius. Moody’s now legendary 16-bar solo on Gillespie’s “Emanon” alerted jazz fans to an emerging world-class soloist.

James Moody has worked with just about everyone on show business from Dinah Washington and Brook Benton to Bill Cosby, Ann-Margaret, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell and Lou Rawls just to name a few. He received a Grammy Nomination for his work on the Manhattan Transfer’s “Vocalese” album in 1985 setting the stage for his re-emergence as a major recording artist. Whether Moody is playing the soprano, alto, tenor, or flute, he does so with deep resonance and wit. Moody has a healthy respect for tradition, but takes great delight in discovering new musical paths, which makes him one of the most consistently expressive and enduring figures in modern jazz today.

Duke Ellington Alumni Band, Barrie Lee Hall conductor, with John Lamb and Buster Cooper

The Sarasota Jazz Club has developed a tradition of presenting classic big bands as part of its festival lineup. This year the club is proud to feature The Duke Ellington Alumni Band. under the direction of Barrie Lee Hall, a former member of the Ellington Orchestra. The Alumni Band will be playing many of the Ellington timeless standards using the original arrangements. Other Ellington alumni performing in the band include virtuoso bassist John Lamb and jazz trombonist Buster Cooper.

Barrie Lee Hall has an extensive background in both contemporary and traditional gospel music and has performed Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert as bandleader of the Duke Ellington Orchestra with a two hundred-voice choir. For the last six years Barrie has been going to Switzerland every April where he is a guest soloist with a big band that is made up of top musicians from all over the United States.

John Lamb’s extraordinary musical talent can be heard on most of the Duke’s major works from the mid-‘60’s, including “The Far East Suite” which earned a Grammy.

Florida native Buster Cooper played trombone in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He’s worked with Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman and currently is the leader of the Buster Cooper Trio based in St. Petersburg, FL.

(Program information written/edited by Doug Miles)

(Review of Gala)

4th Annual Ray Eberle Scholarship Gala a Resounding Success

by Doug Miles

If the enthusiastic reaction from the patrons attending The 4th Annual Ray Eberle Scholarship Gala last night at the Bradenton Elks Lodge was any indication of the popularity of big band music, then the love of the big band era is definitely alive and well.

From the first downbeat of orchestra leader Tony Benade’s right hand, dozens of couples hit the dance floor to relive the glory days of the famous dance band ballrooms so popular during the big band era. The Tony Benade Orchestra, made up of local musicians who love playing the classic big band charts, kept the energy flowing throughout the night playing such chestnuts as “Take the A Train”, “In The Mood” and “Tuxedo Junction”. Jan Eberle, the daughter of Ray Eberle, who sang with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in its heyday, moved the audience with her renditions of songs in the Miller mood such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “Humpty Dumpty Heart”. Ray’s son, Ray Eberle Jr., brought back memories of his Dad singing a poignant rendition of “At Last”, one of the band’s biggest hits of all time.

The Gala raises money each year for a scholarship awarded to students pursuing a musical education. One of the first donations to the scholarship fund was made by legendary comedian Bob Hope who was a big admirer of Ray Eberle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Jan and Ray Jr. are now teaming up with Tony Benade in an exciting new show that will bring back memories of the big band era to audiences around the country.

Graham Kerr Still Galloping After All These Years

By Doug Miles

Graham Kerr is one of the true legends in the culinary arts and television. His “Galloping

Gourmet” television show in the late 60’s and early 70’s set the standard for cooking shows and the eventual formation of the Food Network. Graham Kerr, now living in Washington State with his wife of 54 years Treena, continues to write, educate and make radio, television and public appearances around the world extolling the virtues of healthy cooking. I spoke with Graham in July for my radio program on WSLR in Sarasota about his love for food and healthy eating.

Your cookbook “Day by Day Gourmet” that came out last year has been a great success. What are you working on now?

During my life, I’ve cooked just about everything somebody else has grown. But I have never, ever grown a single thing, apart from some straggly parsley, that I have ever cooked. Now here I am having dug up our south lawn about the same time the Obama’s were digging up theirs on the east coast, we were doing ours on the west coast. It was really serendipitous. I’ve got a little green house and some special grow boxes going in about a tenth of an acre and about 38 different plants growing vigorously at the moment. I’m just out of my socks about it. It’s a wonderful experience. I just had no idea.

There’s nothing like growing and cooking your own food. You feel like you’ve done something.

It feels to me like a relay race where I’ve always been the last guy to get the baton and run it across the line. And now I’ve been germinating seeds and watching them come up and actually see it and pick it. The thing that is so cool about it is that I’m well known for having galloped and now I’m getting better known as someone who is literally waiting for seeds to germinate. We call this now “the speed of life”. Everything seems to be valued because it’s either big or fast. Life is quicker and quicker. You have to spend more money buying things that are bigger and it seems like we as a nation are turning this wonderful corner where we’re going to celebrate time and a bit more peace and not necessarily the largest thing on the block. This is really fun. It’s good.

The technology these days with people texting and emailing, it’s such a fast pace, people are saying let’s stop for a minute and take a breath, relax a little bit and enjoy life.

I’ve found that my friends have a tendency to say we really don’t have time to be able to have friends in for meals or cook for them. I think what it is that things are so much faster today and it takes so much energy, that by the end of the day we’re just exhausted and wrung out and what we really want to do is just throw something up on television and watch it. We actually got rid of our television. We haven’t seen TV for about 5 years.

I don’t think you’re missing much Graham.

(Laughs) We do have a DVD player.

You of course being a big part of daytime TV back in it’s heyday with “The Galloping Gourmet” show, it’s sad to see what’s on television now during the day, so you’re not missing anything at all.

We don’t even have a web connection coming into the home. We do have one at the office, but not at our home. That’s all part of the slowing down process. We’re actually filming a whole process of doing the garden for a kind of 4 minute video blogging that we’re going to start at the end of this year and run throughout next year. It’ll run like a real chronology of a person wrestling some food out of the ground for the very first time in his life. I want to take it from seed germination to putting the food on the plate and make it a weekly experience for people to drop in on me and see how we’re doing.

The internet has to be an advantage to you now that you can put up your recipes and get out your information.

I’m not sure I see myself as an educator so much as a person who is experiencing life and is prepared to let it flow. If our life is a cup, then the cup overflows and the stuff goes in the saucer. The saucer would be the web. The thing that we want so much is that if we’re learning some ways to be able to live our life more enjoyably, to get more joy and life out of life, then it’s kind of sick in a way to be able to say we’re having such good times, let’s hide it. We can share it without having to say there’s a load of advertising. We just wanted to let it spill over and the web is a convenient way of doing that.

It has to be gratifying to you now to see the growth of healthy food markets and farmer’s markets where people are getting back to healthier eating.

I think every single time there’s been a downturn in the economy, there’s been an upturn in people home gardening. It’s intuitive really. It’s sort of saying, hey if everything really fell apart, everything that I would want to have that’s edible is in my backyard. I’m not saying people are doing it out of fear, but, the thing that we love about this idea that we committed the first 25% of our product to our local food bank. The second quarter goes to our neighbors. The next quarter goes on our table and the last one goes in jars and we bottle the food to give as gifts to people. I grew this myself. I bottled it myself and I’m giving it to you. That seems so much nicer than just going to a local restaurant. It’s sweat equity, sharing something that you’ve done out of your own hands, your own labor to make your own community to live a little better. It’s not exactly like swine flu, but this idea should be communicable (laughs).

That would be a healthy virus (laughs) The “Galloping Gourmet” TV show that you did, you looked like you had so much fun, do you still get as much of a kick out of cooking today?

It has not become dull. My wife Treena had a stroke, a heart attack, diabetes and hypertension, so every meal that I cook for her, and I’ve cooked about 40 thousand meals for her, I make a contribution to her health. But I’m also setting out to delight her at the same time. Now I can wander into the garden and pick stuff and invent things and I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. This is a wonderful time. I find it relaxes me. Many people have told me the same, especially men who’ve been very busy in their lives and probably still are. To be able to get in the kitchen and put some ingredients together in 20 or 30 minutes like that and wind up with a dish that’s really delicious and serve it someone they really like, these days it’s awfully hard to get that kind of satisfaction in a short period of time.

Do you still use clarified butter? You always had that on the TV show.

If I’m going to have any saturated fat, I prefer to have it in about 2 ounces of ice cream or a nice piece of cheese. I use a Mediterranean style butter made from olive oil. I find that a very acceptable alternative.

There are alternatives aren’t there?

In my book “Day by Day Gourmet”, wrote about how you can thoroughly enjoy your food every day. The only way to do that is by cutting out certain foods that may do you in if you eat too much of them. One of the things I did, I came up with 36 foods as a list that if we have too much of them, we may cause damage to ourselves in the long run. I put a chart in the back of the book that a person could go to and assess how much they have of each of these different foods and come up with an alternate amount that they could eat. It sounds a little dull, but it takes about an hour, but it is an absolute lifesaver.

Graham it’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

Thank you Doug. Thanks for the time.
For more information on Graham Kerr and healthy eating recipes, visit

Doug Miles is a writer and broadcaster for radio/television and internet. He hosts radio program on WSLR 96.5 FM in Sarasota, FL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Interviews: Sports, News, Authors, Celebrities, Politics