Sunday, 30 December 2007

High Bear Nation

They're culling polar bear populations in the Canadian territory of Nunivat. (A 'Territory' is a state which is too tiny or broke to be a Province.) There are too many polar bears in the area; overall, there are five times the number there were in 1960. The one that keeled over photogenically for Al Gore's movie was doing Canadian park rangers a favour.

I don't care enough about polar bears or climate change to write a whole spiel about it; I really wanted to call this post 'The Winter of Our Discontent', but found out that the hoary phrase has the opposite meaning to the way it's usually used. So I settled for a bad pun and found some news to back it up, hence my first paragraph.
"Now is the winter of our discontent" is taken completely out of context. It really goes like this (my line breaks):

is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer
by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Our bruised arms hung up for monuments; our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,"
RICHARD III the discontent is the active bit, while the winter is just enlisted as an illustration, the weaker part of a metaphor. Instead of saying that the situation is cold and depressing, it says that bad, uncertain times are over. It's the hunchback schemer Richard opening the play by saying, yay, my brother's the king so things will be OK now. (And yes, that says "alarums".)
Laurence Olivier does it best, shown here. He snaps the lines with a clipped, bat-faced bitterness.

My curiosity was piqued, so I went looking for other Shakespearean mis-takes.

"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war."

This is from Julius Caesar, and by itself suggest a kind of gung-ho '300'-style martial enthusiasm. That's not really the case. Here's the context:

"Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial."

Antony gives the speech after Caesar has been assassinated (a word Shakespeare invented). He's horrified by the very real possibility of a hideous, wholesale slaughter in the wake of Caesar's death.

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