One of the most eventful times in my young life was listening to lectures by a 68 year old (going on 120) old maid school teacher, Mabel Wicker at Central High School in St. Paul, the fall of 1948. If she did weigh 100 pounds, every pound was distant and cold. She had apparently one and only one drive in life…… to teach Shakespeare, Dickens, George Elliot and the like.
I was 14 that late September. I was impaired as a reader. I couldn’t read fiction whether five pages or five hundred. Earlier in my life I had trouble recognizing letters, but strangely, I was never bothered when ‘reading’ encyclopedias and newspapers, or scanning and studying atlases.
By second grade I knew the population of St. Paul in 1930 was 271,606, according to my memory at age I am writing this note. And I could read many wonderful lines of Shakespeare after beautifully toned by this red-wigged relic, Miss Wicker, once she had pronounced them in lecture.
“Let me have men about me that are fat…….Sleek-headed men, and as such men as sleep a-nights. ……Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”
I found reviews similar to the following Julius Caesar guide at GrAde Savers. Do read the following to put Caesar’s comment about Cassius in context:
“A soothsayer approaches Caesar and calls out for attention. Caesar allows him to speak, and the man tells Caesar, “Beware the ides of March” (1.2.25). Caesar ignores this warning and calls the man a dreamer. Caesar then leaves with his assembled men.
Brutus and Cassius remain on the stage. Cassius tells Brutus that he has noticed Brutus acting more serious lately. Brutus tells him that he is “with himself at war” (1.2.48) and that Cassius should not worry about it. After a shout and cheering from offstage, Brutus remarks he is afraid the people will crown Caesar king. Cassius is thrilled to hear this, and tells Brutus that they were both born as free men the same way Caesar was. He tells Brutus a story in which he and Caesar were holding a swimming contest across the Tiber river, and Caesar started to drown. Cassius claims that he rescued Caesar and carried him to the shore. He then complains that Caesar has become so powerful that even though he once saved Caesar’s life, he must now bow before him.
Cassius then tells Brutus that “Brutus” is just as good a name as “Caesar”, and that both names could just as easily rule Rome. He invokes the image of Brutus’ ancestor who founded the Roman Republic and expelled the former kings. Brutus, afraid that Caesar will become a king, struggles to decide whether to join Cassius in taking action against Caesar, but ultimately decides against it.
Caesar returns, accompanied by his followers. He turns to Antony and remarks, “Let me have men about me that are fat, / Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep a-nights. / Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. / He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous” (1.2.193-196). Antony dismisses Caesar’s concern, but Caesar is not convinced that Cassius is completely trustworthy. He tells Antony to come with him and let him know if there is anything to be worried about.
Casca remains onstage with Brutus and Cassius and tells them that the three shouts they heard were because Antony offered Caesar the crown three times, but he turned it down each time. Casca then says that Caesar swooned and fell down with his mouth foaming at the lips. (Caesar was considered to be epileptic, called the “falling sickness”.) When Caesar awoke, he begged to be forgiven for his infirmary. Casca adds that the people forgave Caesar and worshipped him even more for turning away the crown. He also explains that Murellus and Flavius, the public tribunes, were removed from office for pulling the decorations off of Caesar’s statues. Cassius, hoping to lure him into the conspiracy against Caesar, invites Casca to dinner the next night. Brutus also takes his leave, but agrees to meet with Cassius the next night as well. In a soliloquy, Cassius informs the audience that he will fake several handwritten notes and throw them into Brutus’ room in an attempt to make Brutus think the common people want him to take action against Caesar.
Act One, Scene Three
Casca meets with Cicero, one of the great Roman orators, and tells him he has seen many strange things on the streets of Rome that night including a slave with a burning yet uninjured left hand, a lion loose in the streets, and an owl hooting in the daytime. Cicero tells him men interpret things in their own way, and takes his leave.”
Or how about this quote from Julius Caesar which I haven’t forgotten: Again from GrAdeSaver:
“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Caeser complains about the public masses around him.
“Julius Caesar opens with the tribunes of the people chastising the plebeians for being fickle. They refer to the masses as “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!”(1.1.34). This imagery of the masses as stones will continue throughout the play. They are in fact a fickle group of people, easily swayed by whoever is speaking to them, as evidenced later in the play when Antony turns a hostile crowd into a mob against Brutus and Cassius.
Miss Wicker’s teachings of Shakespeare’s lessons of life and society overwhelmed me emotionally, educationally, and I think, spiritually. My Church told me Man was flawed. I understood murder and theft as a child. Now I was beginning to understand conspiracy, jealousy and intrigue.
I believe Abraham Lincoln received most of his early learnings from the Bible and Shakespeare, taught to him by his step-mother. One cannot go far wrong in life when nursed into learning from such ‘primary’ readers.
In “Merchant of Venice”, I learned when Miss Wicker expressed Shylock’s questions: “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”
I remember to this day the tears which covered my eyes as she continued her “lecturing” simply by reciting the play hilights by memory.
I learned that “the quality of mercy is not strained …….it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the Earth below. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that giveth and him that receiveth…….as mercy’s ‘attorney’ Portia pleaded on his behalf…..or as I remembered the verse more than 60 years later….but I looked it up at found this:
“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is mightiest in the mightiest,
It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
An attribute to awe and majesty.
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
Where mercy seasons justice.
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us should see salvation,
We all do pray for mercy
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.
I have spoke thus much to mittgate the justice of thy plea,
Which if thou dost follow,
This strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentance gainst the merchant there.”
(Oh damn….I forgot to continue….”It is the mightiest in the mightiest, It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. This I remembered but could go not further in memory.)
Art, when made beautiful is the greatest teacher of all. I was lucky, so lucky in my learning life that these wonderful old maid school teachers loved beautiful art so much, they became artists themselves in their knowledge and its delivery.
It all died my senior year when the Liberal Educators squelched the classical curriculum. No grades were to be given beyond pass-fail. No Shakespeare, nothing classical. “We are going to teach you how to think.” the principal Mr. Lenander declared in an assembly to the seniors.
In social studies that year we were supposed to learn how to plan cities.
That eventually was changed to “We are going to teach you what to think”, a few years before the Obama Era by the intellectually sterile Left who gained control of learnings in America…..the Bill Ayers crowd.