Sunday, November 28, 2004

Why are all of the Russian poems about Persia? Many of the titles and much of these poems discuss Persian ideas, e.g. a description of the (Euphrates?) River in "Iranian Song"? Just curious why Russian poetry would so obsessively mention such a foreign land.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Khlebnikov's "Asia"

I think that the first line of the poem, which recites "Always a slave girl" refers to the girl's status as a sex slave, perhaps even a government slave, for "her ear gleams with a government seal." Then Khlebnikov discusses her "breast bronze"-- perhaps alluding to the fact that she is a popular sex slave-- a winner-- but she isn't the best of the best, for her breast is only bronze (emblematic of 3rd place) and not gold (for 1st).

There is a definite motif of shining in this peom: "your ear gleams," "human beings glitter," and so forth. However, these shining images are juxtaposed against contradictory images-- the ear gleams with a government seal (which perhaps taints its gleaming and decreases the shine of the ear), and the "human beings glitter in its dark ink." This poem also contains another glaring juxtaposition, this time pertaining to the female sex: "a girl with a sword" and "or an old woman"-- a young woman is armed with a symbol of manhood (possibly even a phallus) while an old woman is identified by a very feminine task-- the "midwife of insurgency."


Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

A Close Reading of "Zoo" by Velimir Khlebnikov as Done by Students of Comp Lit R1A 006

  • "O Garden of Animals!" -- nice place to be, positive happy place
  • "Where steel bars seem like a father who stops a bloody fight to remind his sons they are brothers" -- engages different species together in an environment free of clashing, serves as an element of control
  • "Where Germans come to drink beer" -- suggestive of manliness, brotherhood
  • "And easy women sell their bodies" -- prostitutes, perhaps the animals of the zoo are being prostituted or serve as a metaphor for humans
  • "Where eagles perch like an eternity figured by the present day, as yet unfinished by evening" -- perhaps a gargoyle, symbol of unchanging
  • "Where the camel, its great hump riderless, knows the secret of Buddhism and supppresses a smile of China" -- the riderless hump is a symbol of the untameable, freedom, yet there are steel bars present. The camel is possibly representative of a Monk meditating in solitude. Much like the eagle, the riderless camel is alone.
  • "Where a deer is fear itself beneath its branching stone" -- uncertain
  • "Where people's outfits astonish" -- people dress up to go to the zoo to show off for the animals, but then the question of who is on exhibit is raised. Shouldnt the animals be showing off?
  • "Where people stroll with mindless frowns, while the Germans glow with health"-- everything is so bad that they must frown about everything
  • "Where the dark glance of a swan-- wintery all over, its beak orange-black as a thicket in autumn-- is somewhat too hesitant, even for him" -- the swan is a symbol of purity, but the pure symbol gives an evil look, signifying that something is wrong. This serves as a foreshadow.
  • "Where a blue gorgeousness fans out its tail, and a blue net of clouds is cast across the golden fire of leaf-fall and the forest green, and it is all shadowed differently by the roughness of the ground" -- a metonymy for a peacock (e.g. four-eyes for someone with glasses). The animals on exhibit in the zoo are personified and behave like humans, while the people act like animals
  • "Where we want to seize the lyre bird's tail, strike its strings, and sing of Russian heroism" -- the bird serves as an instrument by the humans, how humans are on display by playing the zoo specimens
  • "Where we clench our fist as if it held a sword, and whisper an oath: to defend the race of Russians at the cost of life, of death, of everything" -- the fact that they have to "whisper an oath" suggests that the Germans are oppressed.
  • "Where the monkeys are variously angry and display their variegated bottoms and seem, except for the sad ones and shy ones, eternally irritated by the presence of man" -- the monkeys are perhaps emblematic of people, and the bold enough monkeys are showing their "variegated bottoms" in an attempt to try and show off to their human spectators, who are "dressed to astonish."
  • "Where elephants shivering like mountains during an earthquake ask a child for something to eat, making old meanings ring true: 'Im hungree! Gimme something to eat!' and who kneel as if asking for charity"-- the shivering elephants are large in size, much like the nation of Russia. Clearly the elephants are not being cared for.
  • "Where the agile bears scramble up and look down, waiting for their keepers' orders" -- the bears are almost like soldiers with their keepers serving as generals/sargeants
  • Where bats hang upside down, like the heart of a present-day Russian" -- the Russians are having a hard time, they are upside down and so they must "pump" their hearts even harder just to get blood circulating properly- a metaphor for their difficult times.
  • "Where the falcon's breast recalls ragged clouds before a storm" -- both passages refer to the chest area where the heart/breast are located. While the bat is weak while upside down, the falcon commands power-- a contrast. Also, both are winged animals whose hearts are not free.
  • "Where a little ground bird drags behind it a golden sunset full of embers on fire" -- uncertain
  • "Where we see in the tiger's face the white beard and the eyes of an elderly Muslim, and we honor the first follower of the prophet and read the essence of Islam" -- the tiger with the white beard and "eyes of an elderly Muslim" seems like a fierce image commanding respect
  • "Where we begin to think that religions are the subsiding surge of waves whose dispersion formed the species" -- religion created humanity, presents a positive view of religion
  • "And that therefore the earth contains as many animals as they find different ways of witnessing God" -- discusses evolution as offensive, presents the conflict of evolution versus religion. All of the animals are a different method of witnessing g-d
  • "Where the animals, tired of roaring, stand and look up at the sky" -- they are done roaring- a symbol of anger- and are now trying find another outlet for their feelings that is not anger. Perhaps their upward glances are emblematic of the search for g-d?
  • "Where a caged seal is a vivid reminder of the sufferings of sinners, hurtling back and forth and wailing" -- humans caged the seal and are thus the cause of its suffering, however it is unclear whether humans or animals are sinners.
  • "Where funny fishwingers groom one another with the touching care of Gogol's Old-World Landowners" -- uncertain
  • "O Garden of animals, where the stare of a beast has more meaning than stacks of reread books" -- "o Garden" takes us back to the first line, but now the garden serves as a symbol of difference. This stanza also suggests that natural things have more meaning than manmade constructs.
  • "O Gaden" -- uncertain
  • "Where an eagle broods over something, like a child grown tired of complaining" -- uncertain
  • "Where an Eskimo husky vents its Siberian aggression in a hostile ritual born in the blood, at the sight of a kitten washing its face" -- this is an animalistic portrayal of an animal, the animals are finally depersonified and acting like the animals that they should be.

My Strange Story- Not Supernatural, but Definitely Strange

My good friend Patrick ran into a little trouble with the law last year when he got caught drinking by the Lake Oswego Police Department. Unfortunately for him it was his second MIP (Minor in Possession), and thus he was directed to the Clackamas County probation office and given six month’s probation under the county MIP officer, Michael Luna. Every minor that has been busted twice for drinking (and received an MIP each time) has to see Mr. Luna.
I had met Mr. Luna once before—I was taking a driver’s education class this summer in order to get my license (I’m lazy, I know) and he was a guest speaker at one of my classes to report the consequences of drinking and driving. Mr. Luna seemed like a respectable man—he holds a steady job that he loves and frequently mentioned his adored wife and children. I really enjoyed Mr. Luna’s presentation and thought well of him in his attempts at keeping the youth of Clackamas County safe from binge drinking. That was, however, until Patrick Norris came through Mr. Luna’s office.
My friend Patrick is an alright guy—he’s about six feet two inches with a heavy build and shaggy platinum blonde Kurt-Cobainesque hair—not ridiculously attractive by conventional standards, but by no means bad-looking. Anyway, while serving his six months’ probation in attending classes, performing community service and waiting until the day he got his license back, Patrick was under the watchful eye of Mr. Michael Luna. Unfortunately for Patrick, Mr. Luna began to “take a liking” to my blonde friend. His affection for Pat wasn’t fully confirmed until the day Patrick was released from his six months’ probation service, when Michael gave him a $25 gift card to starbucks. On the backside of this gift card was a note that read: “Call me cutie, or I’ll be forced to open your case.” Patrick and I both agreed that the whole situation was mighty sketchy. Patrick never called him back, and fortunately Mr. Luna never reopened his case, for to this day it remains closed.


I found the website of this magazine that investigates strange occurrences like ghosts, UFOs and the like... Perhaps some Comp Lit students should look into it to solve the strange incidents that were the subjects of their stories (which are now on blackboard).

Monday, November 15, 2004

Chinese Recipes for Cruelty

Recipes for cruelty
Shanghai Star. 2004-02-19

The Chinese are renowned around the world for their love of food, sometimes strange food. The SARS outbreak last year led to great criticism of Chinese, especially Cantonese, over some of their unique dining "customs". The condemnation centred on the eating of various animals, especially wild ones, that other peoples could never imagine themselves eating - for example, mice and cats.
"However, that doesn't mean that all Chinese do things the same way," said Jiang Liyang, a gastronome in Shanghai who has been studying Chinese history and dining. "But Chinese people really do lack an awareness when it comes to protecting animals," he said.
People in most regions in China today are eating "normal" food but in ancient times a series of "cruel" dishes were created which did involve the torture of animals. Some of them would astonish modern Chinese.
According to the level of cruelty, nine dishes were on this menu. The cruelest one was when a group of diners sat down to consume the brain of a live monkey.
A small table was prepared for the diners with a hole in the centre, the same size as a monkey's head. The live monkey was fastened under the table with part of its head showing through the hole. The hair on its head was shaved and the skull was cut open. The monkey would begin to squeal with pain as seasonings and oil were sprinkled onto the brain and diners around the table ladled sections of the brain onto their plates. It was considered a delicious dish.
"Chinese people trust in the idiom that 'A thing is valued if it is rare,' so that some thought eating strange and precious things showed their wealth and social status," Jiang said.
People today don't have easy access to this dish any more but a very few still try to eat it in secret, Jiang said.
Another "cruel dish" was eating new-born mice, called "san zhi er" (three screams).
The diners would order mice that had just been born and a plate of sauce. The baby mouse would scream first when a diner seized it with a pair of chopsticks. It would scream a second time when it was dipped into the seasonings and its last scream was emitted as it entered the diner's mouth.
Some Cantonese still eat mice because they believe mouse meat is rich in protein. This was confirmed by Jiang, but he said mouse meat was also dangerous because it contained a lot of bacteria.
"SARS was actually not caused by civet cats but by mice," he asserted. "People in what is now East China's Anhui Province in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were the first to eat civets."
He recalled that in his childhood around 1949, a Cantonese vendor came to Shanghai, swapping Cantonese dim sum for mice caught by locals.
Painful but tasty
Another "cruel dish" concerned the carving up of a live donkey, a practice, Jiang said, that still persists among farmers in some villages in Henan and Hebei provinces.
The legs and head of a donkey were held by cords fixed to five poles. The diners could choose meat from whichever part of the donkey they wanted.
A butcher would pour boiling water onto the part selected, remove the hair and cut the meat off while the donkey was still alive. The process was similar to an ancient torture called "ling chi", to put a person to death by slow dismemberment.
It's said that Cixi, the notorious Dowager Empress at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), was fond of eating roasted duck's claws.
The duck would be placed on an iron plate over a fire lit below and the duck would begin jumping as the heat became unbearable. It would also become thirsty and diners would give it soy bean oil to drink so that the claws would be flavoured when cut off for eating.
Cixi's favourite part of the dish was the thin layer of skin on the bottom of the duck's feet. She usually had this dish when eating a hot pot dinner.
Other dishes on the "cruel list" included "zui xia" (shrimps in alcohol) where the "drunken" shrimps were eaten alive and "feng gan ji" (wind-dried chicken) where the belly of a chicken was opened while it was alive and its insides removed and seasonings inserted.
Chinese seemed to be willing to go to any lengths to obtain a delicacy. Jiang said that one ancient dynasty was even overthrown by soldiers lured by a list of delicious food that the rebels would serve them after victory.
"People in Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong and Guangxi in the south are used to eating strange things," Jiang said.
One of the most famous was the Cantonese soup, "long hu dou" (tiger fighting with dragon), made from cat and snake meat which were nicknamed "little tiger and little dragon".
The Yunnan people used to eat a sort of paste made from the eggs of ants. It has been proved that eating ants can be good for the health but the dish looks disgusting.
"We used to believe that wild animals were more tasty than domesticated poultry or pigs. It's not true. There was a greater possible of spreading viruses among people," Jiang said.
However, he believes that the torture of animals was never part of mainstream Chinese cuisine as sometimes alleged by Westerners.
And the West is not entirely innocent either. "Western people who like goose liver are also guilty of badly treating geese, force-feeding them continuously to fatten only the liver," he said.

taken from

Now I Know Where the Term "Chinese Torture" Comes From

The results of an extensive undercover investigation into China’s cruel bear bile farms by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) were revealed in a new report discussed at the recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Nairobi, Kenya.WSPA’s report, Inside China’s Torture Chambers, documents how thousands of bears are kept in horrific conditions in hundreds of farms across China, producing approximately 7000 kg of bear bile every year for the traditional Chinese medicine market.WSPA fears that China will apply to register some of its bear farms with CITES (none currently registered), thereby circumventing the existing international ban on trade in endangered bear parts. Bears from facilities approved by the CITES Secretariat can have their parts sold in global commercial trade while wild bears of the same species ostensibly are protected from such profitable exploitation. Such a move would hasten the demise of bears in the wild, with many taken from the wild each year to restock the farms, and encourage the continued development of this barbaric form of “farming.”The bears kept on these farms endure the most appalling levels of cruelty and neglect, with many wounded and scarred due to the friction caused by being kept in tiny metal cages suspended above the ground. They have no choice but to lie squashed in their cages on a bed of bars, some with a constant stream of bile seeping from their stomachs, where an open wound allows workers to insert a tube or piece of metal to “tap” the bile twice a day. Bears may stop producing bile after just a few years, after which they outlive their usefulness and are left to die or killed for their paws and gall bladders. A single bear paw may sell for several hundred dollars - almost a year’s salary for the average worker in China.

taken from

Not to endlessly attack Chinese culture or anything, but Chinese culture is notoriously cruel to the animal kingdom. Many Chinese herbal remedies incorporate ingredients like Rhinoceros horn (which is ground into a powder and is taken to invigorate flacid erections). The entire animal is then killed just for its horn and the rest is discarded. Bear bile/gall bladders are also considered to possess medicinal use. Shark-Fin Soup, Turtle Soup, wild and Birds-Nest Soup are all considered delicacies-- no doubt cruel acquired tastes. Even during the SARS outbreak of 2003-2004, the Chinese government rounded up thousands of civets (a species similar to the cat) and electrocuted, gassed and beat them to death for potentially carrying the virus.

a link discussing current Chinese (human) torture practices by the government:

The Cruelty of Empress Lu

Why are the Ancient Chinese so barbaric and cruel? They torture their own people!!! I loathe empress Lu, undeniably the most monstrous of them all. Reading about the torture that Empress Chi endures simply makes me absolutely sick:

"Empress Lu later cut off Lady Ch'i's hands and feet, plucked out her eyes, burned her ears, gave her a potion to drink which made her dumb, and had her thrown into the privy, calling her the 'human pig. After a few days, she sent for Emperor Hui and showed him the 'human pig.' Staring at her, he asked who the person was, and only then did he realize that it was Lady Ch'i. Thereupon he wept so bitterly that he grew ill and for over a year could not leave his bed."

Even Emperor Hui recognizes the sickening cruelty of this act: "He [Emperor Hui] sent a messenger to report to his mother, 'No human being could have done such a deed as this!'"

In all actuality, I have never read anything in my life that has made me feel so sick and so distrusting in the notion that humankind is inherently good-natured and kind. I keep running this passage over and over in my mind and envisoning how I would feel if this happened to my own mother, and what I would do to the crazy, twisted bitch (pardon my language) who just turned my beloved mother into a "human pig"! She is absolutely barbaric and horrible. I can't express in words how sick, enraged, violated, etc... I would feel. Although I am not one to seek revenge, in this instance my purpose in life would change-- I would make it my life's mission to inflict incredible misery upon Empress Lu. Merely killing her would not do justice to the punishment that Empress Lu deserves. I would think of a punishment that is even more cruel than the one given to my own mother, and then I would cause Lu to suffer for the rest of her pathetic existence. Let's just say I really love my mother, and would never let anything so horrible happen to her without making her tormentor pay exponentially for the pain inflicted upon her.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

An older illustration Posted by Hello

Another... Posted by Hello

Yet another image of the asp scene... Posted by Hello

Another artist's Interpretation of her suicide Posted by Hello

The same picture, only enhanced in clearer detail Posted by Hello

Michelangelo's Interpretation of Cleopatra's death- taken from Posted by Hello

Artist's Interpretation of Cleopatra's suicide at the conclusion of Antony and Cleopatra Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Debate Over What Species of Snake Was Used by Cleopatra to End Her Life

The website claims that it really was an Egyptian Cobra. This website also states that a bite from an asp (a subspecies of the viper family) would cause a tremendously painful death.

The Asp and its Role in Cleopatra's Suicide

A Symbolic Death Suitable for a Queen: An Analysis of Snake Symbolism in Cleopatra's Suicide Scene
by Cathy Schieffelin

An asp bite creates a particularly awkward, excruciating death. The asp venom causes blood poisoning and an intense burn at the site of the wound. This burning is quickly forgotten, however, as the bite victim fades into a state of giddiness accompanied by nausea and extreme thirst. Blood clots form as the skin becomes speckled with purple spots, and there is usually a considerable amount of swelling. The victim then goes into convulsions, vomiting, urinating, and defecating uncontrollably (Hughes-Hallet 106). This is not a death suitable for a Queen, let alone Queen Cleopatra. Nonetheless, writers throughout history have designated the asp to be Cleopatra's suicide weapon. Her death is described as either an ecstatic orgasm or a serene slip into eternal slumber. Analyzing her death with an eye for accuracy, we can see that it is highly unlikely that Cleopatra would have chosen to kill herself with an asp. "Asp" is an imprecise term, which referred to many various African vipers, all of which would have left her corpse looking less than beautiful. The death that Cleopatra is described to have experienced resembles the death caused by a cobra sting, not an asp bite. A cobra would have had to be at least four feet long to excrete enough venom to kill Cleopatra and her two maids (Hughes-Hallet 107). Since writers have taken liberties with their descriptions of Cleopatra's death scene, representing the asp in various ways, we should ask, "What does the snake symbolize in Cleopatra's suicide, and how does this representation affect the overall portrayal of the Queen and her suicide?"
* * *
The snake has acted as a diverse symbol throughout history, representing immortality, evil, femininity, and masculinity. In the book Dream Animals, Marilyn Nissenson and Susan Jonas further reveal the awe that the snake has inspired throughout the centuries, "They [snakes] were believed to mediate between life and death, earth and sky, this world and the next" (19). The snake slithers through our subconscious, evoking varying associations. Cleopatra identified with the snake during her life, and it becomes even more highly symbolic in her death. By examining three movies (DeMille's Cleopatra, Mankiewicz's Cleopatra and the ABC version of Cleopatra) and two dramas (Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Mary Sidney's Tragedy of Antonie) different symbolic representations of the snake emerge along with contrasting depictions of the Queen of the Nile. These varying representations of the asp and slightly contrary portrayals of Cleopatra prove to us that we know very little about the enigmatic ancient Queen. Cleopatra is a product of myth.
Throughout history, the snake has been an especially diverse symbol, representing immortality, sin, protection, and femininity. In Animal Dreams, writer, James Hillman discusses the multiple symbolic functions of the snake. The snake has long been a symbol of immortality because it constantly renews itself and is reborn as it sheds its skin. In the shade, the lethargic snake looks dead, yet it comes back to life in the sun. From the Indian subcontinent to the Mediterranean basin, a coiled snake has come to represent the navel of the universe. Similarly, a snake swallowing its tail is a common symbol of eternity, an "endless cycle of life and death" (Nissenson and Jonas 20). Whereas the snake can represent immortality, it is also an omen of death. The snake is associated with death because of the toxic poison that it secretes (Hillman 25). This prophet of death has long been linked to original sin and evil because of its role as the betraying, seducing villain in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In Genesis 3:1, the serpent is described as "more crafty than any other wild animals" (The Holy Bible 3) as it cruelly tempts the ignorant Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hence, the snake has been seen as partly responsible for the fall of man. Many critics of the bible have read the snake's interaction with Eve as kind of sympathetic relation to the original woman. Therefore, the snake is also a feminine symbol because of the strong bond that it shares with the earliest matriarch. Since the snake has such a strong association with woman, it also represents fertility. Snakes were often found beside wells and springs as a promise of life and fertility. The snake is also a contrary symbol of the negative mother because it wraps around, smothers, and swallows things whole. Whereas the snake is a feminine symbol, it is also an undeniably phallic symbol associated with man (Hillman 25). Vedic mythology describes a "cosmic serpent" as the creator of the universe that agitated and stirred the primal oceans (Nissenson and Jonas 20). The snake is more simply a phallic image because it has a long shafted body that stands erect with a stiffened head, secreting fluids from its tip (Hillman 25). We have seen that the snake represents many various, sometimes contrary, things. It seems only appropriate that this diversely symbolic animal would prove highly emblematic in the death of the enigmatic Cleopatra.
Although the snake is symbolic in Cleopatra's suicide scene, the Egyptian Queen constantly identified with snakes throughout her life also. The snake was the emblem of the royal house of Egypt and was the Egyptian goddess Isis' sacred animal. Cleopatra was even called the "viper of the Nile" as a result of her evil, serpentine nature and tendency to smother men. Nissenson and Jonas describe the inherent aversion that we have for snakes: "They inspire an atavistic hatred…They are mysterious, remote-the Other" (19). This depiction of the snake could easily be mistaken for a description of Cleopatra who was detested by Rome because of her exotic allure that destroyed Rome's two great leaders, Caesar and Antony. Cleopatra is the Queen of Snakes. She is like the original woman, Eve, whom patriarchal religions have condemned for her interaction with the evil snake. Nissenson and Jonas reveal the biases of these patriarchal religions-according to them, "demonic sexuality was the essence of Eve's female nature…women were dominated by their sexual desires. The phallic snake offered Eve what she most wanted" (51). We see that the snake gives Cleopatra, too, what she most wants, death, and in doing so, symbolizes her immortality, her sinful nature, and her maternity while adding a sexual charge to her suicide scene.
When we analyze Cleopatra's death scene in DeMille's film Cleopatra starring Claudette Colbert, we cannot help but notice an explicitly sexual tone. The director focuses on the emasculation of Antony, the poisoning of him by the Egyptian snake. Antony is drawn to the overtly fertile, maternal, sexual Cleopatra. In this film, the sexual symbolism of the phallic snake is evoked. It is especially important that Cleopatra presses the asp to her breast, because this action expresses Cleopatra's maternal nature and explicit sexuality. Writer, Mary Hamer, describes the sexually charged moment of the prick: "When she [Cleopatra] puts it to her breast, her thrill of anguish is transposed into a piercing vibrato on the sound-track, as she sits with eyes closed and head thrown back, in an image of ecstatic intensity" (130). At this point, Cleopatra has attained a kind of sexual victory, revealing a lack of sexual restraint that she had never displayed in the film until then. Nineteenth century English poet and critic, Algernon Charles Swinburne describes the sexual side of her suicide,
the subtle and sublime idea which transforms her death by the aspic's bite into a meeting of serpents which recognize and embrace, an encounter between the woman and the worm of the Nile, almost as though this match for death were a monstrous love-match…so closely do the snake and the queen of snakes caress and cling (qtd. in Hughes-Hallet 240).
Cleopatra forms a final sexual union with the serpent that she had identified with throughout her life. The scene is explicit, but it is not pornographic, for at the exact moment when the Romans bash the doors in, Cleopatra's body erects itself as if by some mysteriously foreign force--she is reborn as Isis, the ultimate mother figure.
In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra's suicide scene is still sexual, but the regal snake is transformed into the "worm." The clown scene preceding her momentous suicide scene is bawdy and explicitly sexual, an attempt to disparage and humanize the great Queen. Throughout the play, Shakespeare presents Cleopatra as the titanic goddess, in stark contrast to her pitifully human lover, Antony. Before her death, she attempts to unsex herself so that she may charge unflinchingly into death. She declares: "I have nothing/Of woman in me-now from head to foot/I am marble constant; now the fleeting moon/No planet is of mine" (Shakespeare 5.2.239-241). Cleopatra must rid herself of her femininity, which brands her as capricious and equivocal. The clown, however, reminds her that she is a woman who must obey her sexual desires as he lewdly wishes her "all the joy of the worm" (Shakespeare 5.2.259). Cleopatra struggles to remain stoic and retain her dignity in death, but the clown continues to make bawdy jokes and even refuses to leave the scene. The presence of the clown certainly humanizes Cleopatra, but upon his exit, she regains all the poise and nobility that has characterized her throughout the play. As she boldly declares, "I have/Immortal longings in me" (Shakespeare 5.2.279-280), we again see her as the monumental goddess. She initially applies one asp to her breast and then applies the other one to her arm. The snake, therefore, is still a sexual symbol, but this symbolically phallic image does not dominate her death scene. Cleopatra is also the mother as she asks her maids, "Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, that sucks the nurse asleep?" (Shakespeare 5.2.308-309). The main symbolic aspect of the snake that is evoked, though, is the theme of immortality. Cleopatra will remain forever as one of the greatest lovers that ever lived. She seems to shed her earthly skin so that she may be reborn to live eternally with Antony. In this representation of Cleopatra's suicide, the snake is an especially diverse symbol. The multiple layers of symbolism seem only appropriate since Shakespeare sought to portray Cleopatra as an enigmatic, titanic Queen.
In Mankiewicz's film version of Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, the snake also represents immortality as Cleopatra prepares to rejoin Antony in eternity. In contrast to Shakespeare's Cleopatra, the Cleopatra played by Taylor is not a goddess. She is a noble but extravagant human. Unlike other representations of Cleopatra as the sinful temptress, this representation of Cleopatra is sympathetic; she genuinely loves her men. Death is "one last embrace" (Mankiewicz). Hence, to present Cleopatra as a dignified, yet defiant woman, the director incorporates the snake as a symbol of immortality. The camera angles are clever, since they never allow us to actually see the snake. We detect movement beneath the figs in the basket, but we never catch a glimpse of the slithering murderer. By not allowing us to see the snake, the director refuses to incorporate the snake as a phallic image, which would add an explicit, sexual nature to her death. In this scene, we again see Cleopatra figuratively shed her skin. She refers to life being like a dream: "How strangely awake I feel…as if living had been a dream. Someone else's dream…Now I will begin a dream of my own that will never end. Antony. Antony, wait!" (Mankiewicz). Cleopatra's death is a momentary slumber from which she will awake renewed, in the arms of her lover. The director prohibits us from seeing Cleopatra apply the asp to her breast, and instead, we see her eyes flutter as she falls into a peaceful, eternal slumber. The noble Cleopatra will be reunited with her love in the afterlife.
Whereas Mankiewicz forbids us from seeing the snake, Mary Sidney (in her Tragedy of Antonie) completely eliminates the snake from the suicide scene. Sidney paints Cleopatra as a noble, virtuous, Victorian woman with a wild streak, who is willing to take her life to join her dead "husband." The absence of the snake makes her death seemingly pure as Cleopatra suffers a lamentable death, passing away from grief. The tone is noticeably melodramatic as we see Cleopatra's poor heart break. "The sharpest torment in my heart I feel, /Is that I stay from thee, my heart, this while;/Die will I straight now, now straight will I die" (Sidney 42). We see that Cleopatra is eager to die and rejoin Antony. As in the previous examples that we have seen, Cleopatra strives for immortality. In this depiction of her death, we even see the gradual withdrawing of Cleopatra's soul from her body. Sidney shows us that Cleopatra's immortal soul will join Antony. She can see herself with an astonishing degree of objectivity, and, stepping outside of herself, she wails, "Die Cleopatra then! …No longer stay/From Antonie…Go join thy ghost with his and sob no more" (Sidney 41). This heightened objectivity is only possible in death as Cleopatra's soul gradually slips away from her mortal body. This ironic representation of Cleopatra's death shows us that the absence of the snake can still invoke a sense of immortality.
When we look at a modern film depiction of Cleopatra's suicide scene, the symbolism of the snake is over-the-top and laughable. In the ABC made for television film version of Cleopatra, the snake is digitally imposed to keep up with the technology of our times. This cobra erects itself and holds Cleopatra in a trance as it hisses and then lunges at her breast as she screams out, "Take me to Isis!"(Halmi). The snake becomes a ludicrous, overtly phallic symbol. Cleopatra does try to express a desire for immortality, but her plea to "take her to Isis" seems too falsely overdramatic. The director also intends to portray Cleopatra as an exemplary maternal figure who cares for the welfare of her son and the future of Egypt. In a pretentious, histrionic tone, she declares, "One night more and the son will be reborn and the waters of the Nile will rise and fall" (Halmi). By trying to pack so much symbolism into Cleopatra's death, the director fails to capture any valid symbolic aspects in her suicide. Because her death is so ridiculous, we are not able to take Cleopatra seriously. She is not an immortal mother figure-she is farcical.
This absurd made for TV movie was based on the novel The Memoirs of Cleopatra, written by Margaret George, who portrays Cleopatra slightly more practically. George depicts Cleopatra's life and death with an air of stark realism. The death scene in this modern novel is strikingly different from the death scenes that we have analyzed thus far. The snake is much less symbolic, and the only sense that we gain of Cleopatra's immortality is from her conviction, "Isis will not fail me" (George 943). The starkly realistic descriptions of the scenery and the snake itself diminish any symbolism that could be invoked. The snake is not the asp that we have seen before, but a four-foot cobra. Cleopatra, in the first person, describes it as: "thick, cool, mostly dark with a lighter underside. Its tongue flicks out. It seems very docile" (George 944). This realistically "docile" cobra has no interest in killing Cleopatra; she must viciously slap its head to enrage it, thereby controlling her own destiny. Interestingly, although George portrays Cleopatra's suicide scene practically, she chooses to include a Romantic image of an asp on the cover of the book, slithering away in the first "A" of the name CLEOPATRA. This simple snake conjures up images of the original serpent that seduced Eve, the manifestation of all evil and sin. The snake also acts as a symbol of immortality, in contrast to the background of the cover, which shows Egyptian wall paintings, evoking a sense of timelessness. Although the novel refuses to portray the snake as a crucial symbol in Cleopatra's death, the cover of the novel ironically provides the symbolism that we have seen in the other representations of Cleopatra's death.
By examining various interpretations of Cleopatra's death scene and the diverse symbolism of the snake in the scenes, Cleopatra has emerged as a seemingly unfathomable Queen. Like the snake, she is the immortal lover who sheds her earthly skin. She is the fertile mother. She is the embodiment of sin and evil. She is overtly sexual. Shakespeare most accurately captures Cleopatra's multiple roles when he portrays her as the immortal goddess, the nurturing mother, and the sexual woman. Shakespeare cannot even do her justice though, for Cleopatra has become ultimately unknowable. She is the product of the numerous writers and artists who, entranced by her mysterious allure, have sought to justifiably portray her. By combining all of the various representations of Cleopatra's death, we do not gain a fuller understanding of the Queen; rather, we are confounded even more. We must acknowledge that Cleopatra is a product of the imaginations of the various artists throughout history who have "created" her. Artists and the public alike have been attracted to Cleopatra because she is so foreign, so Oriental--she presents no boundaries, giving our imagination free reign to mould her to our own desires. The riddle of Cleopatra is timeless.

Taken from

Shakespeare Festivals Throughout the Western United States

taken from

Shakespeare Festivals: Western USGuide picks
Inside is information on the best Shakespeare festivals in the west, from Alaska to Washington.

Alaska: Fairbanks Shk. TheatreThe world's northernmost Shakespeare company, founded in 1993.
Arizona: Grand Canyon FestivalAnnual summer theatre festival located on the Campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.
California: African-American Shakespeare FestivalShakespeare's plays in Latino and African-American contexts. You can purchase your tickets for the upcoming season online.
California: Bard In The YardLocated in Long Beach, this non-profit theater company specializes in staging Shakespeare both indoors and outdoors. They also perform works by other classic writers.
California: Coronado Playhouse The Coronado Playhouse presents their annual Free Outdoor Shakespeare Festival, August 18-September 10, 2000. This year's show: "Hamlet", directed by Keith A. Anderson.
California: Lake Tahoe ShakespeareThis site features a photo diary and information about upcoming and past performances. You can order your tickets online.
California: Marin Shakespeare Company Artistic director Robert Currier has helped this company's productions of Shakespeare become extremely popular in the Marin area. The company is North Bay’s sole professional Shakespeare troupe.
California: Pacific Repertory TheatreSince they began in 1982, this theatre located in Monterey County has presented plays from the world stage. Their Carmel Shakespeare festival runs August-October.
California: San Francisco Shk. FestivalIn addition to their regular productions this festival goes on tour to reach thousands of students, inmates, and seniors who could not otherwise see performances of Shakespeare's plays.
California: Shakespeare L.A.Award winning productions of Shakespeare’s plays. Each spring, noted actors donate their time and star in a staging of a Shakespeare play to raise funds for the festival.
California: Shakespeare Orange CountyA Shakespeare festival that has been staging the works of Shakespeare in Orange County for eight years.
California: Shakespeare Santa CruzNow in its 19th season, Shakespeare Santa Cruz has gained an international reputation as one of the premier theatre festivals in the country.
California: Sonoma Shakespeare FestivalThe Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1992 by Odyssey Theatre Company. The plays are presented in an outdoor theatre surrounded by acres of vineyards.
Colorado Shakespeare FestivalThis festival was named one of the top three Shakespeare festivals in the nation by TIME Magazine in 1992 and received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Montana: Shakespeare in the ParkStarted in the summer of 1973 with 12 performances of Shakespearean scenes and has since played to a cumulative audience of over 434,000.
Nebraska Shakespeare FestivalThis Nebraska festival has gained national recognition for its consistently high-quality productions and its great audiences.
Nevada: Shakespeare at Lake TahoeNamed one of the top 100 Festivals in North America for 1999.
Nevada Shakespeare FestivalUpcoming productions include "King Lear" and more.
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalWeb site provides information about the festival and an excellent gift shop where you can purchase fun items relating to Shakespeare.
OSF Looks Beyond the BardOver six decades, the Bard's enduring texts have been the mainstay and main draw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
OSF: Where Shakespeare ReignsA report on the world-class Oregon Shakespeare Festival and "Shakespeare in Love"'s impact on ticket sales.
Utah Shakespearean FestivalThe USF is committed to entertain, enrich, and educate audiences through professional rotating repertory production of Shakespeare and other master dramatists.
Washington: Seattle Shakespeare FestivalThe Seattle Shakespeare Festival is the only professional theatre in Washington State dedicated to the work of the world's greatest dramatist.