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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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Satire

Shakespeare’s Inventive And Elusive Critique Of The Church During The 16th Century English Reformation

BBC Radio 3 recently presented the podcast “Shakespeare: Religion and Clerics“, featuring the Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London and Professor Ewan Fernie of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

Playwrights, during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-1625), were prohibited by Royal Proclamation from writing about religious matters on the stage. So history’s greatest English writer innovates.

King Lear   Take physic, pomp. Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.

Bishop Chartres recites a passage where “King Lear”, no longer in his castle, calls on powerful men (“the Church”!) to embrace “compassion” and “fairness” in his Orson Welles-like voice:

People were commanded to take sides in the great divide between Protestants and Catholics, or risk death. Chartres discusses Shakespeare’s message, asking the audience to “go beyond those antagonisms” to “search for a truth that is elusive”, “and only is revealed if you look from various angles and perspectives”.

The presenter, Rana Mitter, and Professor Fernie discuss Shakespeare’s use of Falstaff to parody religious actions lacking conviction:

Falstaff  To die is to be a counterfit

To “Counterfeit” is “to stage resurrection on the Shakespearean stage”, “linked to the second life of an actor playing another part”, as in acting the part of a born-again Christian. Hypocrites never “feel what wretches feel”.

“Too Many Notes”: Juggling Comedy, Satire And Social Commentary

  Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes…”
“Amadeus” (1984), Academy Award for Best Picture

    Malcolm Gladwell’s recent (and excellent) “Paradox of Satire” podcast (from “Revisionist History” series) has launched a necessary debate as to the place “Satire” has within televised comedy programming.

…it requires interpretation…”  

Gladwell makes the case that popular comedy shows, such as “The Colbert Report”, and comedians such as Tina Fey, simply overwhelm audiences with humorous “skits”. The Roman satirical poet Juvenal (late 1st – early 2nd centuries AD) echoed this almost 2,000 years ago when he wrote:

Honesty is admired, and starves.”.

Laughter can starve the effectiveness of satire and social commentary in the human brain through a psychological condition called “Cognitive Load“. This mental juggling, or multitasking, can overburden the working memory of most people. Thus, conservatives and liberals alike default to “stereotypes”, seeing their biases reinforced even when negatively portrayed.

The traditional purpose of satire is social criticism of abusive conditions in society, with the hope of bringing about change. And that takes courage. But comedians need ratings and laughs to stay on the air. Satire gives comedy a nice cache, but will wither before the bright lights and cameras.

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