Thoughts On Veterans Day, Shakespeare, And John Lennon

By Stuart Mitchner

book rev 2On Veterans Day 2021, I used to be excited about my Uncle Bob, who was killed when his B-52 went down in a freak accident in February 1944. I used to be additionally coping with the truth that each my uncle and my maternal grandfather had been named for Robert E. Lee. On my uncle’s canine tag, which I maintain shut at hand, he’s recognized as REL Patterson.

Though my paternal ancestors fought for the Union, a conspicuous exception is Gen. Jubal Early, referred to as Lee’s “Dangerous Outdated Man” in keeping with numerous biographers due to his “quick mood, insubordination, and use of profanity.” A Potomac River ferry was named for him till June 2020 when it was renamed Historic White’s Ferry. So far as I do know, there are nonetheless streets named for him in Texas, Florida, and in 9 totally different cities in Virginia, together with his birthplace Lynchburg, the place there’s a Jubal Early memorial that was restored after being knocked down by “a wayward driver” in 2013.

Identified to his males as “Outdated Jubilee,” Early had an opportunity to rewrite the final act of the battle. In accordance with Frank E. Vandiver in Jubal’s Raid: Normal Early’s Civil Struggle Assault on Washington (McGraw-Hill 1960), “The dying Confederacy heaped vilification on him” as a result of he and his 10,000 veteran troops might effectively have captured Washington had he not wasted “treasured time” combating Sheridan within the Shenandoah Valley, thereby giving the town time to shore up its defenses. Says Vandiver, “He had simply missed in a race with future.” Even so, he enjoys “an honored place within the ranks of Accomplice generals,” and had he been in a position to surmount “the militia at Washington’s battlements, he may need modified the course of historical past.”

Troopers and Shakespeare


Probably the most fascinating anecdotes in James Shapiro’s anthology Shakespeare in America (Library of America 2014) issues a U.S. Military manufacturing of Othello in Corpus Christi, Texas, during which Ulysses S. Grant, the eventual commander of the Union forces and future president, performed Desdemona. In January 1846, over “half of the U.S. Military” had gathered in “that almost all murderous, thieving, playing, cut-throat and God-forsaken gap” to “provoke a battle with Mexico after Congress had annexed Texas as a slave state.” Grant’s rival for the position of Othello’s spouse was James Longstreet, who later served as “a distinguished Accomplice common.”

Longstreet recalled that Grant seemed “very like a woman dressed up” and “actually rehearsed” however “didn’t have a lot sentiment.” The 5’8” 135-pound Grant bought the half as a result of the six-footer Longstreet’s Desdemona towered over the Moor, performed by Lt. Theodoric Porter, who was killed three months later in a skirmish with “Mexican irregulars.” We’ll by no means know the way Grant’s efficiency was obtained, since knowledgeable actress needed to be referred to as in after Lt. Porter complained of being unable to “pump up any sentiment” with Grant as his Desdemona.

Shakespeare’s play, given its focus on army life, rivalry, honor, and race, had been enlisted as a method of distracting the troops from the evils of Corpus Christi; to that finish, future Accomplice Normal John B. McGruder oversaw the constructing of a theater massive sufficient to carry 800 spectators, the place Othello reportedly performed “to full homes.”

You can write a movie or tv sequence round American troopers (and future adversaries) performing Othello on the eve of the Mexican-American Struggle, which was “pushed partly to increase the attain of slavery.” As Shapiro factors out, the staging underscores the extent to which Shakespeare’s works had been accepted as “a cultural touchstone” in mid-Nineteenth century America. As for a way playgoers within the South would reply to a drama about “a black common eloping with a white lady,” Shapiro notes that Othello, which presumably would have been “unpopular, if not taboo, in slave states,” was “commonly staged within the South the quarter century earlier than the Civil Struggle.” For instance of the conflicting feelings aroused by the play and the problem of race, Shapiro cites John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president, who hoped to be remembered as “the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed,” whereas insisting that the ethical of Othello was “that the intermarriage of black and white blood is a violation of the legislation of nature.”
“Unusual Days Certainly”


In Jubal Early’s residence state, Virginia, the Spotsylvania County College Board just lately voted to have books with “sexually specific” materials faraway from college library cabinets. In accordance with Michelle Goldberg’s Nov. 12 New York Instances op-ed (“A Frenzy of E book Banning”), two members of the college board “needed to see the books incinerated.” Goldberg considers this only one instance of a “broader push to purge college libraries of books that affront conservative sensibilities relating to race and gender.”

book rev1Goldberg’s reference to guide burning in “the combat about who controls college libraries” jogs my memory of the burning of Beatles albums within the South, set off in 1966 when John Lennon’s comment concerning the relative reputation of the Beatles and Christ was taken out of context by political and evangelical opportunists, who helped foment a media frenzy, the mid-sixties equal of “going viral.” What Goldberg refers to “because the combat about who controls America” was already below method, and then, as now, the best was “on the offense.”

Lennon’s phrases and music nonetheless resonate within the fall of 2021, notably in “No person Instructed Me,” the place he sings of “unusual days certainly” when “everyone’s speaking and nobody says a phrase”; “there’s at all times one thing cooking however nothing within the pot”; and “everyone’s crying and nobody makes a sound.” Actually, traces from the post-Beatles Lennon pop up on a regular basis, particularly in songs like “Think about,” “Prompt Karma,” and “Gimme Some Reality,” with its references to “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians” and “uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded, hypocritics.”

Lennon’s passionate singing of “Gimme Some Reality” is underscored by “former Beatle” George Harrison’s blazing slide guitar solo. By now we all know — who ever actually doubted it? — that there’s no such factor as “a former Beatle.” Subsequent week, November 29, will mark the twentieth anniversary of the loss of life of George Harrison. 9 days later, December 8, will probably be 21 years since John Lennon was killed.


You’ll be able to go to YouTube for his or her final reside efficiency on the rooftop of Apple headquarters, January 30, 1969. Thanksgiving weekend, Disney Plus is screening Get Again, Peter Jackson’s three-part documentary. As John sings “Dig a Pony” up there together with his mates, his hair blowing within the wind, you possibly can “have a good time something you need, penetrate anywhere you go, and radiate every thing you might be — as a result of every thing has bought to be identical to you need it to.”


Final 12 months James Shapiro printed Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Performs Inform Us About Our Previous and Future (Penguin 2020), which was named one of many New York Instances Ten Greatest Books of the 12 months. The passages I’ve quoted all come from the Library of America’s Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now.

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