In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are separated by a disastrous shipwreck. Viola, believing her brother dead, finds her way to the court of Duke Orsino in Illyria. There, dressed as a man, she becomes the confidant of the Duke under the name Cesario. Orsino is madly in love with Olivia, a wealthy countess. The duke sends Viola to woo Olivia in his name, but Olivia falls in love with Viola and Viola falls in love with the Duke.
While all the wooing and falling in love is happening, Sir Toby Belch, kinsman to Olivia, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a friend of Sir Toby's and suitor to Olivia, pull a practical joke on Olivia's steward, Malvolio. Maria, Olivia's lady in waiting, forges a letter that she drops where Malvolio will find it. The forged letter convinces the steward that Olivia is in love with him. It instructs him to dress and act in a way guaranteed to annoy the Duchess. Upon doing so, Malvolio is thought to be mad and finds himself confined to the cellar.
Sebastian, rescued by the sea captain Antonio, now arrives in Illyria. Antonio gives Sebastian his purse to use while sightseeing. Antonio cannot go with Sebastian because he is a wanted man in Illyria, and so leaves to find lodging. Meanwhile, Sir Toby decides to prank Sir Andrew, convincing him to challenge Viola/Cesario to a duel over Olivia. Sir Toby conspires to convince both would be combatants that a duel is unavoidable. When the fracas begins, Antonio stumbles in and intervenes, mistaking Viola for Sebastian. Antonio is promptly arrested. He asks Viola for his purse, hoping to pay his way out of his legal troubles, but she of course knows nothing about it. Antonio curses the confused Viola.
Sebastian, while wandering about the city, encounters Olivia. The countess takes him for Viola and bundles him off to the church where they are married in secret. Later, Orsino visits the Countess. When he once again proclaims his love, Olivia reveals the secret marriage to Sebastian. But it Viola in attendance, not Sebastian. Viola denies the marriage, but the priest is called in to verify it. Orsino curses Viola as a betrayer and Viola is finally forced to reveal the truth that she is a woman. Orsino falls in love with Viola. Sebastian returns to the court and is reunited with his sister. Malvolio is freed from the cellar. Everyone agrees that his was badly used, but Malvolio remains angry and stalks off at the end of the play.
I rather enjoyed this play. It is certainly not on the level of Hamlet or King Lear, but it was a delight to read. I would recommend it if you have already read Shakespeare's great plays already, but this is not where I would recommend the new reader of Shakespeare begin.
I was disappointed by Steven Lukes Moral Relativism. I had expected an interesting treatise on the philosophical aspects of moral relativism, but instead the book is grounded more in sociology and anthropology, which, by personal taste, I find less engaging.
Lukes makes some interesting points about moral relativism. He asserts that there are two kinds of moral relativism. First is the concept that there are many moral systems instead of a single universal one; Amazonian tribal peoples have a different moral system than suburban Californians. Moral relativism also encompasses the belief that no moral system should be more privileged than another and that the morality of a particular behavior depends on the context. It is this idea that agitates people.
Lukes' discussion of moral relativism made clear to me that moral disputes can be a disagreement over the fundamental facts of the matter in question, rather than a disagreement about a particular moral precept. The prohibition of murder is an example of a fairly universal moral precept. But, how does this relate to the death penalty? I am against the death penalty because I think it is murder, the intentional killing of another human being. I live in the state of Texas where many people are pro death penalty. Does that mean they don't believe murder is immoral? Of course not. We disagree not about a prohibition against murder, but about whether execution of a convicted felon is murder. It seems that many disputes about morality are like this, more about definitions than about actual morality.
During the Carnival in Seville, a young Frenchman, André Stévenol, spots a beautiful young woman. But before he can speak to her she disappears. Fortunately he sees her again in a carriage. He chases it to a house. He knocks on the door but is turned away by the butler. André sees a match seller on the corner, who gives him the woman's name. She is Doña Concepción Pérez, the wife of Don Manuel Garciá. When André returns home, he finds a letter promising a rendezvous with the young lady.
Before his rendezvous, André visits with an old friend, Don Mateo. When Don Mateo finds out that André is meeting Conceptción, or Concha, he is becomes quite agitated. He urges André not to meet Concha. When André asks why, Don Mateo tells him that he was once Concha's lover. Don Mateo relates the story of how, over the course of several years, Concha cruelly teased him. While Don Mateo supports Concha and her mother, she continually led him to believe that she would sleep with him, but for years she never relents to do so.
Will André keep the rendezvous? What will Don Mateo do not that he has learned that Concha is in Seville, the very city in which he resides? You must read The Woman and the Puppet to find out.
This is my third Pierre Louÿs book. I enjoyed reading it, but thought Aphrodite and The Songs of Bilitis were better.
Two Erotic Tales by Pierre Louÿs includes The Songs of Bilitis, which I have already reviewed, and Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the story of Demetrios and Chrysis. Chrysis is a famous courtesan in Alexendria; Demetrios the famous sculptor and lover of the queen. During a chance meeting between the two Demetrios falls in love with Chrysis. But she is disdainful and says she will only bestow her favors upon him if he gets her three gifts. Demetrios must steal a silver mirror from Rhodopis, another famous courtesan; an ivory comb from the wife of the high priest of Alexandria; and the pearl necklace from around the neck of the statue of Aphrodite in the temple. All three are bold crimes which Demetrios commits. After the crimes Demetrios finds that he is indifferent to Chrysis, but she, convinced that his crimes means he loves her, has fallen in love with him. When Demetrios tells Chrysis where he has hidden the three gifts he rejects her loving advances and demands that she put all three gifts on and walk through the middle of Alexandria wearing them. Chrysis, her passion for Demetrios driving her on, does so. She is arrested and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. Demetrios, however, escapes punishment.
Louÿs' poetic language made it a treat to read Aphrodite and The Songs of Bilitis. Aphrodite has more of a narrative; The Songs of Bilitis is a series of prose poems with a looser narrative arc. I really like the plot of Aphrodite. The crimes and their consequences, while horrifying, were riveting. Demetrios' eventual rejection of Chrysis followed by her execution lend the story a sense of tragedy. Aphrodite is a great story, but with its erotic themes, it is not for everyone.
Pierre Louÿs was a nineteenth century French author known for lesbian and classical themes in his writing. His short work The Songs of Bilitis includes both of these themes. It is a sensual collection of prose poems that were originally published as translations from the ancient Greek. Louÿs alleged that Bilitis was an actual lesbian poetess from Sapphic antiquity. But this was a hoax; Bilitis and the poems are the creation of Louÿs.
Many of the short prose poems are very beautiful. Some are erotic, but in a subtle rather than graphic or lascivious way. I rather enjoyed the short work. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I read two translations of The Songs of Bilitis. One by Michael Buck published by Capricorn Books in 1966. The other by Mary Hanson Harrison published in 1995 by Evanston Publishing. Buck's translation is more archaic, a thee and thou kind of translation. Harrison's uses more modern language. Both are beautiful in their own way, but Harrison's is often easier to read. Harrison's translation is part of Two Erotic Tales by Pierre Louÿs, which includes The Songs of Bilitis as well as Aphrodite, a better known work by Louÿs.
I have had a long time interest in Hellenistic Philosophy. I admire the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Sceptics. Over the last few years, I have read several to learn more about them. I looked forward to reading A. A. Long's survey of Hellenistic Philosophy for some time. So, I was highly disappointed when I found it nearly unreadable.
I am sure that for someone with more technical knowledge of philosophy this book is an excellent overview of Hellenistic Philosophy. However, I don't have that technical knowledge. I was looking for a book written for the lay audience. Hellenistic Philosophy is not that book. So, unless you are ready for a slog through a dizzying array of technical topics on Hellenistic philosophy, find another book to read.
In Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement Kathryn Joyce covers three distinct but related pieces within the growing patriarchy movement in fundamental Christianity.
Once piece concerns the complete surrender of a wife to the "headship" of her husband. Called Titus 2 after the scriptural justification of this surrender.
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
Titus 2 wives do not work outside the home. Instead they engage in homemaking activities, which the Titus 2, or complementarian, philosophy sees as the more naturally female endeavors. These women are to be unquestionably obedient to their husbands. Titus 2 wives must also be sexually available to their husbands at all times.
This sexual availability supports the second piece of the patriarchy movement. Quiverfull families eschew any kind of contraception, surrendering to God the question of conception.
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5
Quiverfull families have and raise as many Christian children as God sees fit for them to have. Many see their large families as growing armies in a cosmic war between Christians and non-Christians.
The final piece of the Christian patriarchy movement, discussed only briefly by Joyce, is the surrender of daughters to the "headship" of their father as well. This surrender is seen as a kind of preparation for the daughters immanent surrender to her future husband.
Kathryn Joyce does a wonderful job of covering the Titus 2 and Quiverfull movements, but the third part about daughters seemed to be a late and hasty addition to the book. Joyce's opinion of the Christian patriarchy movement is clear from the beginning, but she shows a great deal of respect for the men and women adhere to what the author thinks are mistaken ideals. If you have any interest in the Christian patriarchy movement, or just in fundamentalist Christianity, you would do well to read this book.
As both an atheist and stay-at-home-dad, I find these patriarchal ideals to be fascinating but anathema. The idea that women are unable or unfit to work outside the home; that only men without any masculinity can be nurturing and do housework, is ludicrous. I admire the convictions of the Titus 2 and Quiverfull families that can follow these ideals without harm. But it seems to me that these ideals can be dangerous. One only has to read about the spousal abuse and abject poverty suffered some by some of the families in Joyce's book to see the danger.
Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth is about the abstinence movement championed by fundamentalist Christians. She justly questions the way this movement fetishizes feminine virginity. This fetishization of virginity constructs a social reality where virgins are seen as pure and good and non-virgins are seen as corrupt and bad. It reduces women's value to their sexuality alone, completely discarding the whole of their behavior in favor of a single item by which to measure their morality.
Valenti also questions the wisdom of abstinence-only sex education, which is clearly ineffective and dangerous. Statistics show that abstinence-only education programs do not reduce the likelihood of sexual activity but do reduce the likelihood of condom or other contraception use. Too often abstinence-only education efforts are riddled with mistaken information, at best, but more likely outright lies.
One of the more disturbing components of the abstinence movement is the purity pledge. A purity pledge is undertaken when a young woman, a girl really, pledges to her father that she will remain a virgin until she is married. The father pledges in turn to "cover" his daughter, providing a moral "shield" to protect his daughter, her virginity above all, from the immorality of the world. These pledges, which often take place at "purity balls" are eerily reminiscent of wedding ceremonies. These ceremonies seem to me, and Valenti's father, to have an almost incestuous overtone.
Valenti's book is an interesting contrast to Kathryn Joyce's Quiverfull. Both books are about the ideals of patriarchal Christianity. Unlike Joyce, Valenti makes no attempt to be respectful to the other side. The Purity Myth is, at times, a feminist rant, albeit quite justified. I agree with all of Valenti's criticisms of the Christian obsession with sexual purity, and I am strongly opposed to abstinence-only education. I liked this book, but found it less enjoyable than Quiverfull.