Tag: Literature

Harvard Classics

July 20 – John Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress

A Cobbler in Jail
John Bunyan, imprisoned for preaching without a license, gave to the world “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the greatest allegory in any language, second only to the Bible.
Read from Bunyan‘s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS Vol. 15, pp. 5969

The narrator defends the story he is about to tell, which is framed as a dream. He explains that he fell asleep in the wilderness and dreamed of a man named Christian, who was tormented by spiritual anguish. A spiritual guide named Evangelist visits Christian and urges him to leave the City of Destruction. Evangelist claims that salvation can only be found in the Celestial City, known as Mount Zion.

Christian begs his family to accompany him, unsuccessfully. On his way, Christian falls into a bog called the Slough of Despond, but he is saved. He meets Worldly Wiseman, who urges him to lead a practical, happy existence without religion. Refusing, Christian is sheltered in Goodwill’s house. Goodwill tells Christian to stop by the Interpreter’s home, where Christian learns many lessons about faith.

Walking along the wall of Salvation, Christian sees Christ’s tomb and cross. At this vision, his burden falls to the ground. One of the three Shining Ones, celestial creatures, hands him a rolled certificate for entry to the Celestial City. Christian falls asleep and loses his certificate. Since the certificate is his ticket into the Celestial City, Christian reproaches himself for losing it. After retracing his tracks, he eventually finds the certificate. Walking on, Christian meets the four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful, who provide him shelter. They also feed him and arm him. After descending the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets the monster Apollyon, who tries to kill him. Christian is armed, and he strikes Apollyon with a sword and then proceeds through the desert-like Valley of the Shadow of Death toward the Celestial City.

Christian meets Faithful, a traveler from his hometown. Faithful and Christian are joined by a third pilgrim, Talkative, whom Christian spurns. Evangelist arrives and warns Faithful and Christian about the wicked town of Vanity, which they will soon enter. Evangelist foretells that either Christian or Faithful will die in Vanity.

The two enter Vanity and visit its famous fair. They resist temptation and are mocked by the townspeople. Eventually the citizens of Vanity imprison Christian and Faithful for mocking their local religion. Faithful defends himself at his trial and is executed, rising to heaven after death. Christian is remanded to prison but later escapes and continues his journey.

Another fellow pilgrim named Hopeful befriends Christian on his way. On their journey, a pilgrim who uses religion as a means to get ahead in the world, named By-ends, crosses their path. Christian rejects his company. The two enter the plain of Ease, where a smooth talker named Demas tempts them with silver. Christian and Hopeful pass him by.

Taking shelter for the night on the grounds of Doubting Castle, they awake to the threats of the castle’s owner, the Giant Despair, who, with the encouragement of his wife, imprisons and tortures them. Christian and Hopeful escape when they remember they possess the key of Promise, which unlocks any door in Despair’s domain.

Proceeding onward, Christian and Hopeful approach the Delectable Mountains near the Celestial City. They encounter wise shepherds who warn them of the treacherous mountains Error and Caution, where previous pilgrims have died. The shepherds point out travelers who wander among tombs nearby, having been blinded by the Giant Despair. They warn the travelers to beware of shortcuts, which may be paths to hell.

The two pilgrims meet Ignorance, a sprightly teenager who believes that living a good life is sufficient to prove one’s religious faith. Christian refutes him, and Ignorance decides to avoid their company. The travelers also meet Flatterer, who snares them in a net, and Atheist, who denies that the Celestial City exists. Crossing the sleep-inducing Enchanted Ground, they try to stay awake by discussing Hopeful’s sinful past and religious doctrine.

Christian and Hopeful gleefully approach the land of Beulah, where the Celestial City is located. The landscape teems with flowers and fruit, and the travelers are refreshed. To reach the gate into the city, they must first cross a river without a bridge. Christian nearly drowns, but Hopeful reminds him of Christ’s love, and Christian emerges safely from the water. The residents of the Celestial City joyously welcome the two pilgrims. In his conclusion to Part I, the narrator expresses hope that his dream be interpreted properly.

Harvard Classics

July 18 – Robert Browning: A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon

They Loved in Vain
“Browning’s play has thrown me into a perfect passion of sorrow,” wrote Charles Dickens of “The Blot in the ‘Scutcheon.” Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, Browning’s Mildred plays the role of a youthful lover in a tragic drama.
Read from Browning‘s BLOT IN THE ‘SCUTCHEON Vol. 18, pp. 359368

Thorold, Earl Tresham was a middle-aged, active man, the epitome of courtesy and honor, and extremely proud of his family’s record through the generations. So proud of that reputation was he that he resolved to keep it untarnished throughout his life, and to see that other members of the family bore themselves as honorably.

The earl’s parents had died many years before, leaving a younger sister in his care. Mildred was now fourteen years of age and ready for marriage. She was loved by her brothers and her more distant relatives, who regarded her as an innocent, guileless, and beautiful young woman.

Henry, Earl Mertoun, having seen Mildred, came one day to ask her hand in marriage. Tresham was at first hesitant, but when he had talked with the young man and looked over the Mertoun family record, he realized that no more honorable and personable young suitor could have sought Mildred as a wife. He therefore gave his consent to the marriage if the girl herself agreed. Mertoun left Tresham Castle after promising to return at the end of two days, during which time the Treshams and their cousin were to broach the subject of marriage to Mildred.

In the library, that same night, Tresham, his brother Austin, and their cousin Guendolen acquainted Mildred with Mertoun’s suit, but she seemed indifferent to the nobleman’s proposal. Later, in Mildred’s room, Guendolen continued the discussion, describing the personality and appearance of the young earl. The girl still remained hesitant. When Guendolen left the room she was confident, however, that her cousin would soon look kindly on so desirable a suitor.

Shortly after Guendolen’s departure the clocks struck midnight. Mildred placed a candle in her window. A short time later a man dressed in a long, flowing cloak and a slouch hat entered through the window. The hat and cloak were swept away, revealing Henry, Earl Mertoun. Mildred declared that she could not bring herself to agree to a marriage with him under the conditions known to both, for she and Mertoun had been lovers for many weeks. She said she could not appear at a wedding under the guise of a virgin and a stranger to a man whom she had long since taken as her lover.

Seeing no real sin in what they had done, the lovers felt that their youthful years had betrayed them. They had met when Mertoun had wandered into the Tresham domain after wounded game, and they had fallen in love immediately. Within a short time Mildred had admitted Mertoun to her bedchamber.

After a lengthy discussion the young nobleman left Mildred, with her promise that she would talk to him once again on the following night before announcing her decision to her brothers and cousin.

The following morning one of the retainers went to Tresham and told that he had seen a man leaving Mildred’s chamber window late at night. Pressed by Tresham, the retainer admitted that the man had been there on previous nights and that the nocturnal visitor obviously had Mildred’s aid in visiting her. Tresham was dumfounded and then angry, for he saw the whole reputation of the family about to receive its first blot in generations. He also thought he saw why Mildred had appeared hesitant in giving her consent to marry Mertoun.

After talking over the matter with Guendolen, Tresham sent for Mildred. Accused by her brother, Mildred admitted by her silence that she was guilty of transgression, but she steadfastly refused to acknowledge the identity of her lover. Tresham was furious that she could have even permitted her relatives to consider a match between herself and Mertoun after she had fallen into sin. Mildred’s only defense to her brother was that she had not had a mother’s guiding hand, that she was too young to know what she had done, and that God must have deserted her at a crucial time.

Mildred’s brother, refusing to recognize the defense she offered, disowned her in the presence of Austin and Guendolen. But they, feeling only sorrow and sympathy for Mildred, remained loyal to her. Guendolen took Mildred to her chamber and tried to comfort the girl as best she could. While the two women talked, it became evident to Guendolen that Mertoun was not only Mildred’s suitor but her lover as well. Guendolen realized that Mertoun’s suit was the way taken by the lovers to hide their transgression. As soon as she realized the situation, Guendolen went at once to tell Austin and the earl. Tresham, however, was nowhere to be found; he had gone to the farther reaches of his estates.

Tresham had wanted to be alone while he tried to find some solution to his problems. At last he decided to lie in ambush for the lover, in case the man tried to visit Mildred that night. He was unaware that Mertoun was Mildred’s lover, and Austin and Guendolen were unable to find him in time to tell him what they had learned.

That night Earl Tresham concealed himself behind a tree to watch. Shortly after midnight a figure wearing a cloak and slouch hat raced across the lawns and clambered into a yew tree which grew just outside Mildred’s window. As the figure started into the tree Tresham seized him and pulled him back to the ground. Mertoun then threw off his disguise and revealed himself. Too angry to realize the implications of Mertoun’s identity, Tresham engaged him in a duel. Mertoun did not even try to defend himself and was quickly run through by Tresham. Seeing his opponent downed and mortally wounded, Tresham lost his anger and became filled with remorse. His regrets knew no bounds when Mertoun revealed how he and Mildred had been led innocently into sin. Tresham realized that haste and anger had undone both of them, as well as Mildred.

The noise of the duel had attracted Guendolen and Austin, who tried unsuccessfully to save Mertoun’s life. After Mertoun died, Tresham went to tell Mildred what had happened. Her dismay at hearing of her lover’s death at the hands of her brother was too much for the girl; she died within a matter of minutes. As she died Guendolen and Austin appeared to see if they could be of assistance, and they saw that Tresham, too, was as white as death. He told them that they came too late, for he had taken poison. His last words before he died were that he left his name, title, and estates to them unblemished; he felt that three tragic deaths had obliterated the sinful blot on his family escutcheon.

Harvard Classics

July 17 – Jean Racine: Phèdre (Phædra)

A Throne for Son or Stepson?
Phædre first persecuted Hippolytus, her handsome stepson, then loved him. Suddenly he and her own son became rivals for the throne. Should she push her son’s claims or let Hippolytus take the crown?
(Racine elected to French Academy, July 17, 1673.)
Read from Racine‘s (morePHÆDRE Vol. 26, pp. 133148

Act 1. Following Theseus’s six-month absence, his son Hippolytus tells his tutor Theramenes of his intention to leave Troezen in search of his father. When pressed by Theramenes, he reveals that the real motive is his forbidden love for Aricia, sole survivor of the royal house supplanted by Theseus and under a vow of chastity against her will. During her husband’s absence, Phèdre has become consumed by an illicit but overpowering passion for her stepson Hippolytus, which she has kept as a dark secret. Close to death and reeling about half-dementedly, under pressure from her old nurse Oenone she explains her state, on condition that she be permitted to die rather than face dishonour. The death of Theseus is announced with the news that his succession is in dispute. Oenone urges her mistress that, since her love for her stepson is now legitimate, she should form an alliance with him, if only for the future benefit of the infant son of her own flesh.

Act 2. With fresh hope for her liberty, Aricia reveals to her maidservant Ismène her feelings towards Hippolytus, who promptly appears to declare his love for her. Their discourse is interrupted by Phèdre, who distraughtly pleads for the rights of her infant son, explaining her coldness and personal despair. Suddenly entering a trance-like state overcome by emotion, she involuntarily confesses her hidden passions to her horrified dumb-struck stepson. Sensing rejection, she leaves in a wild frenzy, demanding Hippolytus’ sword to end her torment. Theramenes brings news to Hippolytus that Theseus might still be alive.

Act 3. In desperation Phèdre sends word to Hippolytus inviting him to share the crown of Athens. However, Oenone brings her the devastating news that Theseus has returned in perfect health. To avert Phèdre’s deathwish and her possible betrayal by Hippolytus, Oenone urges that a story should be concocted around his abandoned sword. Seeing Hippolytus by Theseus’ side, Phèdre grants Oenone free rein. After his long period in captivity, Theseus is surprised by the cold reception from his wife and son, each anxious to conceal their passions: Phèdre, consumed by guilt; and Hippolytus, anxious to distance himself from his stepmother’s advances, but unable to tell his father of his love for Aricia.

Act 4. Theseus has just been told by Oenone that Hippolytus has attempted to take Phèdre by force. Overcome by rage, Theseus banishes Hippolytus and invokes the god Neptune, who has promised to grant any wish of Theseus, to avenge him by his son’s death. Protesting his innocence, Hippolytus discloses his secret love for Aricia to his incredulous father and leaves in despair. Fearing that she might be guilty for Hippolytus’ death, Phèdre determines to reveal the truth to her husband, until she is told of Hippolytus’ love for Aricia. Consumed by jealousy, she refuses to defend Hippolytus further, leaving his father’s curse to run its course. When Oenone tries to make light of her mistress’s illicit love, Phèdre in a towering rage accuses her of being a poisonous scheming monster and banishes her from her presence.

Act 5. Hippolytus takes his leave of Aricia, promising to marry her in a temple outside Troezen. On witnessing the tenderness of their parting, Theseus begins to have doubts about his son’s guilt. He decides to question Oenone, but it is too late: Oenone has thrown herself to the waves. Theramenes brings news of his son’s death: Hippolytus’ departing chariot has been interrupted by a terrifying horned monster rising from the waves; mortally wounded by Hippolytus, its death throes drive his horses into a wild frenzy; in their flight, the chariot is dashed against the rocks and their master dragged helplessly to his death. In the closing scene, Phèdre, now calm, appears before Theseus to confess her guilt and to confirm Hippolytus’s innocence. She finally succumbs to the effects of a self-administered draught of Medean poison, taken to rid the world of her impurity. As an act of atonement and in respect for his son’s parting promise, Theseus pardons Aricia and adopts her as his daughter.

Harvard Classics

July 12 – Henry David Thoreau: Walking (1862)

But He Walked!
Thoreau’s individuality was unique and original. He had no profession; he never married; he never went to church; he never voted or paid taxes; he never smoked; he never drank wine. His amusement was walking, to observe and meditate.
(Henry David Thoreau born July 12, 1817.)
Read from Thoreau‘s WALKING Vol. 28, pp. 395405

dis·cur·sive (dĭ-skûr′sĭv)
adj. Covering a wide field of subjects; rambling.

Proceeding to a conclusion through reason rather than intuition.
[Medieval Latin discursīvus, from Latin discursus, running about; see discourse.]

inhabitant of nature vs member of society

art of Walking // sauntering – idle people who rove about the country [a la Sainte Terre, Sainte-Terrer, Saunterer, Holy Lander] [sans terre – without a home // no particular home, but is home everywhere]

Every walk a sort of crusade

Most walks require that half the walk be retracing of steps

I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, as if the legs were made to sit upon

Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!

You may name it America, but it is not America: neither Americus Vespucius, nor Columbus, nor the rest were discoverers of it.

The Old Marlborough Road: The road likely originated as an Indian path, being the “shortest course through the domain of Tantamous (Maynard) to Occogoogansett (Marlboro).” Colonists settled along the road in the seventeenth century. During the Revolutionary War, ammunition wagons traveled along Old Marlboro/Concord Road to provide George Washington arms for his defense of Trenton. In the nineteenth century, Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau lived near the disused road in Concord, and frequently walked along it, before writing a poem entitled “The Old Marlborough Road.”

The best part of this land is private property

Harvard Classics

July 8 – Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Cenci

Italy’s Fair Assassin
When the monstrous Cenci forced his daughter Beatrice into a horrible situation, she revolted and boldly struck for freedom. Shelley tells her pitiful story in one of his best works.
(Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned, July 8, 1822.)
Read from Shelley‘s CENCI Vol. 18, pp. 288300

The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts (1819) is a verse drama in five acts by Percy Bysshe Shelley written in the summer of 1819, and inspired by a real Italian family, the House of Cenci (in particular, Beatrice Cenci, pronounced CHEN-chee). Shelley composed the play in Rome and at Villa Valsovano near Livorno, from May to August 5, 1819. The work was published by Charles and James Ollier in London in 1819. The Livorno edition was printed in Livorno, Italy by Shelley himself in a run of 250 copies. Shelley told Thomas Love Peacock that he arranged for the printing himself because in Italy “it costs, with all duties and freightage, about half of what it would cost in London.” Shelley sought to have the play staged, describing it as “totally different from anything you might conjecture that I should write; of a more popular kind… written for the multitude.” Shelley wrote to his publisher Charles Ollier that he was confident that the play “will succeed as a publication.” A second edition appeared in 1821, his only published work to go into a second edition during his lifetime.

The play was not considered stageable in its day due to its themes of incest and parricide, and was not performed in public in England until 1922, when it was staged in London. In 1886 the Shelley Society had sponsored a private production at the Grand Theatre, Islington, before an audience that included Oscar Wilde, Robert Browning, and George Bernard Shaw. Though there has been much debate over the play’s stageability, it has been produced in many countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. It was included in the Harvard Classics as one of the most important and representative works of the Western canon.

Act I

The play opens with Cardinal Camillo discussing with Count Francesco Cenci a murder in which Cenci is implicated. Camillo tells Cenci that the matter will be hushed up if Cenci will relinquish a third of his possessions, his property beyond the Pincian gate, to the Church. Count Cenci has sent two of his sons, Rocco and Cristofano, to Salamanca, Spain in the expectation that they will die of starvation. The Count’s virtuous daughter, Beatrice, and Orsino, a prelate in love with Beatrice, discuss petitioning the Pope to relieve the Cenci family from the Count’s brutal rule. Orsino withholds the petition, however, revealing himself to be disingenuous, lustful for Beatrice, and greedy. After he hears the news that his sons have been brutally killed in Salamanca, the Count holds a feast in celebration of their deaths, commanding his guests to revel with him. Cenci drinks wine which he imagines as “my children’s blood” which he “did thirst to drink!” During the feast, Beatrice pleads with the guests to protect her family from her sadistic father, but the guests refuse, in fear of Cenci’s brutality and retribution.

Act II

Count Cenci torments Beatrice and her stepmother, Lucretia, and announces his plan to imprison them in his castle in Petrella. A servant returns Beatrice’s petition to the Pope, unopened, and Beatrice and Lucretia despair over the last hope of salvation from the Count. Orsino encourages Cenci’s son, Giacomo, upset over Cenci’s appropriation of Giacomo’s wife’s dowry, to murder Cenci.


Beatrice reveals to Lucretia that the Count has committed an unnameable act against her and expresses feelings of spiritual and physical contamination, implying Cenci’s incestuous rape of his daughter. Orsino and Lucretia agree with Beatrice’s suggestion that the Count must be murdered. After the first attempt at patricide fails because Cenci arrives early, Orsino conspires with Beatrice, Lucretia, and Giacomo, in a second assassination plot. Orsino proposes that two of Cenci’s ill-treated servants, Marzio and Olimpio, carry out the murder.

Act IV

The scene shifts to the Petrella Castle in the Apulian Apennines. Olimpio and Marzio enter Cenci’s bedchamber to murder him, but hesitate to kill the sleeping Count and return to the conspirators with the deed undone. Threatening to kill Cenci herself, Beatrice shames the servants into action, and Olimpio and Marzio strangle the Count and throw his body out of the room off the balcony, where it is entangled in a pine. Shortly thereafter, Savella, a papal legate, arrives with a murder charge and execution order against Cenci. Upon finding the Count’s dead body, the legate arrests the conspirators, with the exception of Orsino, who escapes in disguise.

Act V

The suspects are taken for trial for murder in Rome. Marzio is tortured and confesses to the murder, implicating Cenci’s family members. Despite learning that Lucretia and Giacomo have also confessed, Beatrice refuses to do so, steadfastly insisting on her innocence. At the trial, all of the conspirators are found guilty and sentenced to death. Bernardo, another of Cenci’s sons, attempts a futile last-minute appeal to the Pope to have mercy on his family. The Pope is reported to have declared: “They must die.” The play concludes with Beatrice walking stoically to her execution for murder. Her final words are: “We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.”

Harvard Classics

July 7 – Sheridan: The School for Scandal

Scandal That Lurked Behind Lace and Powder
The painted lips of the eighteenth century ladies and gallants vied with one another in whispering scathing gossip, in gleefully furthering the destruction of a good name. Sheridan depicts this gay world with a brilliant spicy pen.
(Sheridan buried in Westminster Abbey, July 7, 1816.)
Read from Sheridan‘s SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Vol. 18, pp. 115128

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) was an Irish satirist, a politician, a playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre RoyalDrury Lane. He is known for his plays such as The RivalsThe School for ScandalThe Duenna and A Trip to Scarborough. He was also a Whig MP for 32 years in the British House of Commons for Stafford (1780–1806), Westminster (1806–1807), and Ilchester (1807–1812). He is buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His plays remain a central part of the canon and are regularly performed worldwide.

Act I

Scene I: Lady Sneerwell, a wealthy young widow, and her hireling Snake discuss her various scandal-spreading plots. Snake asks why she is so involved in the affairs of Sir Peter Teazle, his ward Maria, and Charles and Joseph Surface, two young men under Sir Peter’s informal guardianship, and why she has not yielded to the attentions of Joseph, who is highly respectable. Lady Sneerwell confides that Joseph wants Maria, who is an heiress, and that Maria wants Charles. Thus she and Joseph are plotting to alienate Maria from Charles by putting out rumours of an affair between Charles and Sir Peter’s new young wife, Lady Teazle. Joseph arrives to confer with Lady Sneerwell. Maria herself then enters, fleeing the attentions of Sir Benjamin Backbite and his uncle, Crabtree. Mrs. Candour enters and ironically talks about how “tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.” Soon after that, Sir Benjamin and Crabtree also enter, bringing a good deal of gossip with them. One item is the imminent return of the Surface brothers’ rich uncle Sir Oliver from the East Indies, where he has been for sixteen years; another is Charles’ dire financial situation.

Scene II: Sir Peter complains of Lady Teazle’s spendthrift ways. Rowley, the former steward of the Surfaces’ late father, arrives, and Sir Peter gives him an earful on the subject. He also complains that Maria has refused Joseph, whom he calls “a model for the young men of the age,” and seems attached to Charles, whom he denounces as a profligate. Rowley defends Charles, and then announces that Sir Oliver has just arrived from the East Indies.

Harvard Classics

July 5 – Thousand and One Nights: The Tailor

A Tailor Entertains a King
Here is another of those fanciful Oriental stories that proclaims the democracy of Eastern despotism. A tailor might talk with a king and receive either a death sentence or the office of Grand Vizier as a reward.
Read from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Vol. 16, pp. 149-162

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition, which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.

The main frame story concerns Shahryār (Persian: شهريار‎, from Middle Persian: šahr-dār, ‘holder of realm’), whom the narrator calls a “Sasanian king” ruling in “India and China.” Shahryār is shocked to learn that his brother’s wife is unfaithful. Discovering that his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her killed. In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Shahryār begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonor him.

Eventually the Vizier (Wazir), whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade (Persian: شهْرزاد‎, Shahrazād, from Middle Persian: شهر‎, čehr, ‘lineage’ + ازاد‎, āzād, ‘noble’), the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins another one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that tale as well, postpones her execution once again. This goes on for one thousand and one nights, hence the name.

The tailor tells this story to the king of China.

The day before meeting the hunchback, he attended an early morning banquet. One of the guests, a lame man, refused to enter when he recognized a barber in the group. The man blamed the barber for his lameness and other misfortunes that had caused him to leave his native Baghdad. Guests begged to hear the story.

In Baghdad the young man fell in love with a woman he saw in a window. His desire made him ill. An old woman noticed his distress and convinced the young woman, a judge’s daughter locked in her chamber, to let him visit. The young woman reluctantly allowed the young man to enter in secret on Friday before the noon prayer.

Friday came, and the man eagerly prepared for their meeting. First he summoned a barber to shave his head. Instead of cutting the man’s hair, the barber took out an astrolabe—an instrument used to calculate the positions of the stars and planets. He claimed the heavenly conditions were unlucky for meeting another person. The barber then bragged about his skills in medicine, scholarship, Muslim doctrine, and other fields. He praised his own discretion, saying his nickname was “the Silent One.” Impatient, the young man insisted the barber just cut his hair. But the barber kept bragging and only shaved a few hairs at a time. Certain the man was in danger, the barber wouldn’t let him leave.

At noon the man sneaked off to his meeting with the woman, unaware the barber was following him. When the barber heard a scream from inside the house, he mistakenly thought the man was being murdered and caused a commotion in the streets. The man was forced to escape in a chest. He broke his leg jumping from the chest, then ran away. The barber ran after him, claiming he had saved the man’s life. Certain the barber wouldn’t leave him alone otherwise, the man sold his goods and moved to a new country.

After hearing the story, the guests at the banquet asked the barber if it was true. The barber maintained his actions had saved the man’s life. He said he’s the wisest of his six brothers and would tell a story to prove his good character.

The lame man is one of several characters whose unrequited love, or separation from his beloved, renders him physically ill. Most of the love poems in The Arabian Nights combine love and sorrow. This love affair seems like it may lead to disaster; the reader already knows the lame man didn’t get a happy ending. What’s more, the judge’s daughter seems to have no interest in him.

However, the story takes an unusual turn and becomes an over-the-top comedy. It resembles a burlesque—a comic treatment of a serious subject—by sidelining the dramatic, earnest love story for the barber’s antics. The contrast between the barber’s incompetence and his pride, and between his constant chatter and his image of himself as “The Silent One,” provide humor. His misadventures were turned into an 1858 comic opera by German composer Peter Cornelius (1824–74) called The Barber of Baghdad.

In medieval times barbers were often multidisciplinary professionals. European barbers didn’t only cut hair. They also functioned as both surgeons and bloodletters. This barber, on the other hand, doesn’t do much professionally other than read the signs of the stars.

The comedy escalates with the time constraints—the haircut has to happen before noon. Days in medieval Islamic countries were structured around the five daily calls to prayer.

As the plot descends into comic chaos, the barber reveals the story’s central situational irony. He insists God sent him to save the lame man from the destruction the barber caused himself. Nevertheless, the lame man still attributes the chain of events to divine foresight, believing God planned to ruin his life in the city by sending the barber.

Harvard Classics

June 29 – Shakespeare: Macbeth

“Is That a Dagger I See Before Me?”
Macbeth, spurred on by the ambitious and crafty Lady Macbeth, committed murder to secure the crown of Scotland. But he paid dearly for his gain. Ghostly guests appeared at his banquet and threatened him with dire threats. (Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned June 29, 1613.)
Read from Shakespeare‘s MACBETH Vol. 46, pp. 357365

Character “Fleance” – Fleance is Banquo’s son. The Witches predict that Banquo’s children will be kings, but this doesn’t happen during the play. Macbeth wants Fleance killed because he knows it is he who will inherit the crown not his own children.

Character “Lennox” – is a young Thane attending on Duncan. He accompanies Macduff the morning of Duncan’s murder, and notes that he cannot remember as stormy a night as the preceding one. He joins Macbeth’s court, but is soon convinced of the usurper’s guilt, which he cautiously exposes to similarly-minded lords in ironical phrases.

Character “Macduff” – is a young Thane attending on Duncan. He accompanies Macduff the morning of Duncan’s murder, and notes that he cannot remember as stormy a night as the preceding one. He joins Macbeth’s court, but is soon convinced of the usurper’s guilt, which he cautiously exposes to similarly-minded lords in ironical phrases.

Character “Hecate” – Hecate is the Witches’ mistress. She appears briefly to scold them for dealing with Macbeth without her say so. She thinks Macbeth is ungrateful and doesn’t deserve their help. She warns the Witches that she will set up illusions to confuse Macbeth and give him a false sense of security.

Character “Duncan” – King Duncan is a fictional character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He is the father of two youthful sons, and the victim of a well-plotted regicide in a power grab by his trusted captain Macbeth.

Macbeth: Thou are the best o’ the cut-throats; yet he’s good That did the like for Fleance. If thou didst it, Thou are the nonpareil. (the one without equal)

  • 1 Witch. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
  • 2 Witch. Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whin’d.
  • 3 Witch. Harpier cries; ’tis time, ’tis time.
  • 1 Witch. Round about the cauldron go;
    In the poison’d entrails throw.
    Toad, that under cold stone
    Days and nights has thirty-one
    Swelt’red venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 2 Witch. Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the cauldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
    Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
    Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 3 Witch. Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
    Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
    Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
    Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
    Liver of blaspheming Jew,
    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
    Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
    Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
    Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
    Make the gruel thick and slab.
    Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
    For the ingredients of our cauldron.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 2 Witch. Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.