A Great Reckoning In A Little Room …

It was on the 30th of May in 1593 that one of the most brilliant lights of the starry canopy that was the Elizabethan Literary World was extinguished. The poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in “a tavern in Deptford” allegedly in a fight about who owed how much for a food and drink bill.

In the eight years before he was killed, Marlowe transformed the entirety of the Elizabethan Literary World and the whole of English Theater. Marlowe pioneered blank verse in iambic pentameter (measured syllabic stress) as the correct meter for English dramatic writing. For centuries tortuous efforts to force English into the schemes and structures of classical Latin and Greek poetry had proven unsatisfactory. Marlowe’s genius was to understand that in “Modern” English, the stress rather than the length of a syllable was key.

Marlowe’s impact was so great that one may quite usefully divide English poetry into “Before Marlowe” and “After Marlowe.” And his impact upon the theater is greater still. There basically is no “Before Marlowe” in English drama. His plays, Dido Queene of Carthage, Tamburlaine Part I, Tamburlaine Part II, Massacre at Paris, The Jew of Malta, and above all Doctor Faustus, completely redefined and reset the standards for English drama. They were also terrific box office. The Lord Admiral’s Men made more off of one week of running Tamburlaine I than they had the previous six months. Marlowe was a sensation.

Marlowe was also well-paid for his work: in an age when a Cambridge-educated commoner such as Marlowe might do well to earn 10 pounds a year as a country parson, Marlowe was paid 6 pounds or more per play. But Marlowe was also a spendthrift with a desire for the finer things in life, and he undertook other means to increase his income, including counterfeiting and espionage. And he hung about with a scandalous gang of rakehells, scoundrels, and poets. Marlowe was evidently an epic drinker, an inveterate quarreler, and a libertine who was as unorthodox in his religious opinions as he was in his love affairs. In short, as was said of Byron 200 years later, he was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

For several centuries, it was accepted that such a dissipated wastrel must naturally have come to an untimely end in some sort of divine retribution. But recent scholarship has uncovered a treasure trove of historical information from the archives of Queen Elizabeth I’s secret service and espionage operations, and court records have revealed a great deal about the behind-the-scenes goings on of that age.

In 2004, we saw the re-publication of Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe and in early 2006, Stanfurd English professor David Riggs’ biography The World of Christopher Marlowe appeared. Both books address the very distinct possibility that Marlowe was not a victim of chance violence but was the target of a “hit” arranged by the Royal Court to silence a man who had become too great a liability, and too popular to arrest or imprison. (Nicholl’s book reads like a thrilling whodunnit; Riggs’ biography is more academic and thus a bit drier.) Elizabethan politics were ruthless.

Marlowe died at the very height of his fame and popularity. His plays were sell-outs and his poetry was widely read among the genteel set. Only one thing could possibly unseat Marlowe from his foremost place in English literature: a genius even greater than his own. And, unfortunately for Marlowe, such a figure was beginning to write even as Marlowe was at his zenith: William Shakespeare.

At least one famous “Shakespeare” quotation is Marlowe’s:

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

The line first appear’s in Marlowe’s poem Hero and Leander.

Shakespeare uses this line in As You Like it (III:v) but he plainly was not merely plagiarizing, for he makes allusion to Marlowe (as the Dead Shepherd, Marlowe’s single most famous poem being The Passionate Shepherd) in the line immediately before:

Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

And a more intriguing reference is found earlier in that same play:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit
seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man
more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.

A reckoning is here both a judgment and another name for a bill. Marlowe’s death was attributed to a dispute over a bill in a tavern in Deptford (which is how it’s reported in the entertaining 1998 film Shakespeare in Love.) But what makes this Shakespearean reference so interesting is this: the Queen’s Coroner’s inquest, with unheard-of speed, took depositions from the three witnesses who were with Marlowe that day, including his killer, Ingram Frizer, on the 2nd of June. These proceedings were not public nor were the records open. In the surviving Coroner’s inquest documents, the Queen’s Coroner concludes that Marlowe was killed in a great dispute about the reckoning in a little room in the house of Dame Bull at Deptford. Case closed. Very closed. No further investigation was conducted.

The odd thing is that this inquest document was sealed and unavailable until 1925. The lines in As You Like It indicate that Shakespeare may have seen the inquest report or talked with parties involved. Some even propose that Marlowe faked his death to escape political pressures and then induced the successful actor William Shakespeare to play the role of celebrity playwright, fronting for Marlowe. That does not seem likely, however. Marlowe’s plays are full of brilliant, immortal poetry, but lack the dramatic deftness and keen characterizations of Shakespeare’s work. But there seem to always be those who look for anyone but Shakespeare to be the author of Shakespeare’s plays.

What new research has been bringing to light is this: Shakespeare himself may have been involved in anti-government plots and espionage! Or maybe not. Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in The World published in 2004 is worth a look, as is Michael Wood’s four part PBS series, In Search of Shakespeare. Things are not always what they seem, And what we “know” is always subject to change.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love,

— Marlowe

The Golden Gate Bridge Turns Seventy Five

Yesterday, San Francisco celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was on May 27, 1937 (a Thursday, interestingly enough) that the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public. Schools and businesses were closed, and the city of San Francisco declared a holiday to celebrate the event. That first day, the bridge was open for pedestrian traffic only. Five years in the making, the bridge fulfilled a vision that had been nurtured for sixty years or more before construction finally started in 1932. Engineer Joseph Strauss was the moving force behind the undertaking, and his initial design of 1927 was the focal point for the effort persuade the politicians and the people that the bridge was not merely possible, but necessary.

It is almost inconceivable that construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was begun even as the country was in the depth of the Great Depression. To add to this astonishing fact, consider that the massive Bay Bridge was being built at the same time! What great courage and confidence, and far-sighted vision it took to do so much at such a period in our history. New construction techniques were developed to address the unique challenges of the project. Unprecedented cooperation among state, county, and city governments was pioneered. And a new “Wonder of the World” was created.

Strauss’ original design was much modified by the time construction began; the famed Art Deco appearance was the work of associate architect Irving Morrow. Strauss made the final selection of “International Orange” for the paint scheme of the bridge, feeling that the bright color would help provide navigational safety for ships and planes. Though the color was chosen for imminently practical reasons, it has proven to be a fortunate choice for the beauty of the bridge as well. Situated in a naturally beautiful setting, the bridge somehow compliments the scene.

Twenty-five years ago, on Sunday, May 24, 1987, my brother Bill, my friend Michelle Gluck, and I braved the crowds to take part in the Fiftieth Anniversary Bridge Walk. Unlike on the opening day in 1937 when foot traffic was permitted all day long, in 1987 the plan was to allow pedestrian access for only two hours in the morning. This relatively short time for pedestrian access was the result of a compromise: Marin County had insisted that bridge not be closed to vehicle traffic at all, while pretty much the rest of the world wanted it closed all day so people could really enjoy the pedestrian experience. Marin County, then-current sentiment held, was just being a spoil-sport (I have always assumed, personally, that the county government was simply showing how powerful it could be, exercising its sovereign authority despite almost universal sentiment to the contrary; the urge to exert power has always been a common governmental trait.) The planners in 1987 had forecast a crowd of between 150,000 and 200,000 people with perhaps 50,000 expected to make the walk across the bridge. They were in for a shock!

Well over a million people converged on San Francisco that day, and some 750,000 or more were determined to avail themselves of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk across the main roadway of the bridge. (actually there were a surprising number of old-timers planning to do this a second time!) More than a quarter of a million folks actually made it onto the bridge that Sunday morning in 1987 (counts range from SFPD’s low of 250,000 to the bridge’s official engineering report’s high of 800,000!) Bill, Michelle and I had reached into the middle of the span when everything came to a crushing halt. People had poured onto the bridge from the Marin side (which was not planned) and others had decided to turn back. But there were hundreds of thousands still coming in from San Francisco. It was a situation that could have invited panic or worse: there was almost no room to move for well over an hour as officials began to turn people away at the access points, and to clear people off of the bridge from the ends. The two-hour limit had stretched to almost six hours by the time all were cleared out. As things returned to normal, photographs showed that the weight of the massive crowd had actually flattened the gentle arc of the bridge deck by a full ten feet!

I will always be impressed though, that despite the tension of the situation, (no pun intended!) there was no panic, no riot, no calamity. Around our little group, folks began introducing themselves, talking about why they had decided to take the walk, telling jokes, and — with a little sense of gallows humor as we all heard eerie metallic groans and pings emanating from the bridge — making jokes about hurling into the water when the cables started snapping! One young man nearby decided we should all sing, just to keep things calm, and we all joined in on Sweet Chariot and other soothing, mellow tunes. The whole experience was likely an “only-in-San-Francisco” sort of occasion.

The Golden Gate Bridge held the title of the longest span in the world when it opened in 1937 and retained that status for 27 years until the Verrazano Narrows bridge was opened. It is still an inspiring monument to vision, ingenuity, determination, and the can-do spirit. Functional and lovely, it seems to me that no better monument could have been built.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Golden Gate Bridge 16 April 2012

Golden Gate Bridge 16 April 2012

A Day Of Bridges

Today is an anniversary of bridges, both the literal and the metaphorical. I think the both sorts of bridge very naturally command our attention and interest, for these crucial connectors are both immensely practical, and intensely inspirational. Add to that this: physical bridges are often works of surpassing beauty, even when they are at their most elemental and unadorned; metaphorical bridges are works of human genius or human passion and compassion – endlessly fascinating.

It was on this day in 1883 that the renowned Brooklyn Bridge was first opened to the public, with pomp and ceremony the like of which New York had not seen in two generations, since the opening of the Erie Canal fifty-eight years earlier. Fourteen years in the making, the Brooklyn Bridge was the outstanding engineering feat of its day. It was the longest and largest span the world had seen up to that time, and it embodied the very most modern of technological advances.

The bridge was the brainchild of German-born John A. Roebling, a gifted civil engineer who designed many smaller suspension bridges before he proposed the audacious span across New York’s East River. Roebling also introduced the manufacturing of wire rope (or cable) to the United States, and his wire rope company prospered as more and more suspension bridges were built across the nation. Roebling believed that the capabilities of wire rope were far greater than had been realized; he foresaw that suspension bridges could be built where other bridge designs would be impossible due to site limitations or navigational concerns. The East River between New York and Brooklyn was too important a commercial waterway to constrict with a tradition wooden or stone bridge, and the site was unsuitable for such traditional bridge designs as well, with the channel being unusually deep. Roebling realized that this was the ideal location to test his vision.

In the course of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction, twenty-seven men died. Considering the often brutal working conditions for construction laborers in that era, this is a relatively small number. Such was the concern for the health and safety of the bridge workers that one contemporary newspaper accused Roebling of coddling his crew! Yet injuries were many. Workers were killed when cables snapped and when an archway collapsed, but many succumbed to a hideous and previously unknown malady called “Caisson disease.” Today we know this affliction as “The Bends.” When the massive stone towers of the bridge were being built, workers labored deep under water in gigantic, highly pressurized caissons – imagine inverting a bucket in a pool of water: the trapped air will become compressed and pressurized as you push the bucket deeper into the water, but it will be a pocket of breathable air under water. Air was pumped into these caissons to ensure that water would not intrude. But the high pressure created a situation similar to that encountered by deep divers: rapid decompression caused nitrogen bubbles to form in the bloodstream of victims, causing excruciating pain, paralysis, and even death.

It is worth noting that among the casualties of the Bridge was John A. Roebling, who had the vision and the ability to conceive and undertake the project, and who personally oversaw it inception and continuation. John Roebling was injured during an inspection of the Bridge site in mid 1869, two years into the tremendous undertaking. The injury seemed almost slight: his right foot had been caught between the dock and the boat he was boarding. The injury, however, led to the amputation of his toes, and developed into a life-threatening infection. Less than a month after the accident, he was dead.

Roebling’s son Washington next took the helm of the Bridge project. Washington Roebling would live to see the Bridge completed, and far beyond. He observed, shortly before his death in 1926, that few seemed to be able to separate his identity from that of his father: “Many people think I died in 1869.” Washington Roebling was himself a victim of the Bridge: working to control a fire in the Brooklyn caisson he developed a severe, debilitating case of The Bends. Though he later made a partial recovery, Washington Roebling was permanently crippled by the injury. He moved into a house which overlooked the construction site, and his wife Emily assumed the active duties of managing and supervising construction.

The Brooklyn Bridge was a marvel of engineering, of materials science, and of shear courage: the courage to commence the undertaking, and the courage to see it through to completion despite setbacks and personal tragedy. The Bridge so closely connected the cities of New York and Brooklyn, that less than fifteen years after the Bridge opened, the cities merged into Greater New York. And it served as an inspiration to countless other bridge projects which employed the suspension design. Other bridges have long since exceeded the dimensions of the Brooklyn Bridge, but few have ever had its impact.

There is so much to say about the creation of this “Wonder of the World.” The astounding engineering feats that made it possible to build the huge masonry towers deep under water are worth a book of their own. To delve deeper, consider a couple of resources: filmmaker Ken Burns made a wonderful documentary about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge that periodically airs on PBS. It is also available on DVD, and is well worth a look. For a definitive and wonderfully enjoyable history of the Bridge, read David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1972: ISBN: 067145711X) This comprehensive book (577 pages) never fails to hold one’s attention, and McCullough’s engaging writing and energetic narrative style make the text more entertaining than many a fictional novel.

As for the metaphorical bridge associated with this day, it was on this day in 1844 that Samuel F. B. Morse publically demonstrated a practical telegraph, transmitting a message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, and receiving the same message in reply. While in today’s world the distance between Baltimore and Washington is trivial indeed, in 1844, it still took a fast courier half a day to carry a message between the two cities. Telegraphc, instant communication created, in effect, a communication bridge between the two cities, and later this “bridge” spanned the globe, connecting New York to London and beyond, Hong Kong to San Francisco, Sydney to Capetown.

Morse was not the originator of the notion of using electrical signals to communicate over great distances; the idea had been around for more than three decades when Morse made his demonstration. Morse, however, was the first to build a practical, commercially viable implementation of this idea. Still, because the notion was so novel, and practical applications of electricity were all but unknown, Morse had difficulty attracting investors to his plans. He was finally able to interest the United States Congress in the potential of the telegraph, and Congress voted the funding for the construction of the world’s first data-com network between Washington and Baltimore. (DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and ARPA, The Advanced Research Projects Agency, the forebears of the Internet we know today, therefore descend from a long and fruitful tradition!) Morse also developed his Morse Code, which made rapid transmission of information possible, despite the inherent limitations of the day’s technology.

Morse Code, a series of “dots” and “dashes” used to represent alphabetic characters, numerals, and punctuation, would prove to be the most enduring remote communication standard the world has yet seen. The simplicity of the code, and its suitability for a broad range of media — electric telegraph, flashing light, most any audible percussive method, and even the human voice, (as “di-dah-dah-dit”) as well as print and other visual representations — made the code widely useful. Though the code underwent several modifications between Morse’s famous first demonstration and its designation as an official international standard in 1865, it remained in official use internationally until it was formally superseded for navigational purposes by the International adoption of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System on 1 February 1999. Thus this first “network protocol” endured for more than 150 years. And it remains in wide use today, especially among amateur radio enthusiasts.

Morse’s demonstration was a success, and the commercial telecom business was born. Within a decade, more than 24,000 miles of telegraph line crisscrossed the nation, utterly transforming society. The telegraph was a natural companion to the rapidly expanding railroad network. This pairing opened the vast spaces of North America to settlement, and permitted a vast swath of the continent to be truly and effectively integrated into a functioning nation.

In April of 1844, information moved at the rate of the fastest horse, the swiftest ship; by late 1858, information could be transmitted from New York to London in seconds! The world was forever changed, and pace of life increased with the speed of information. It is therefore fitting that the choice of the first text to be sent over the telegraph seemed to presage this impact: “What hath God wrought?”

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

We can communicate an idea around the world in seventy seconds,
but it sometimes takes years for an idea to get through
a quarter-inch of human skull.

— Charles F. Kettering

A Modest Proposal To Truly Defend Marriage

In light of North Carolina’s vote yesterday, I’ll assert once again that simply denying access to marriage for some citizens is NOT a proper Defense Of Marriage. Sure, it feels good to discriminate against people whom we personally dislike or who otherwise do not appeal to us, but that is not in and of itself a Defense Of Marriage.

So, Friends,I have a modest proposal: we must put some real teeth into these various and sundry bills around the country inspired by the ideal of a “Defense of Marriage” (DOM) Any constitutional defense of marriage must be a true defense of marriage, plain and simple. Yes, it can surely discriminate against homosexuals, because the interests of small groups need not be considered in the political process, nor in matters of governance. But that clearly is not enough. We must strive to ensure that the sacred institution of marriage will be genuinely strengthened by any such constitutional amendment.

First, to truly defend marriage, which has been under assault from heterosexual couples for the past 50 years, at least, we need to start with a sound, biblically-based foundation: NO DIVORCE, ever, except, possibly, in cases of the wife’s infidelity. No true Christian can argue against this stand, for Jesus himself notes in Matthew, 19:9 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Refer also to Mark, 10:11-12, Luke, 16:18, and finally First Corinthians, 7:10. They all agree that there cannot be divorce for almost any reason (and only Matthew reports that the woman’s transgression may be acceptable cause.)

So there we have it: three times from the very mouth of Jesus, once from Saint Paul. If we are to preserve the sanctity of marriage, NO DIVORCE. God said it. I believe it. That settles it. And prohibiting divorce would surely make the Pope happy, and I just know that all true American Christians would be overjoyed to comply with the pleasure of Rome!

However, Friends, some may point out that in the modern world it may be impractical to expect that a man and a woman, especially a young man and woman, can always be relied upon to make one choice which will rightly and fruitfully govern the entire rest of their lives. Yet we surely cannot have divorce, as I have conclusively demonstrated above. The answer? Establish a MINIMUM MARRIAGE AGE.

I suspect that men and women in their middle twenties could be counted upon to make reasonably wise choices in selecting a mate, though some may plausibly hold out for early thirties. But I feel a minimum marriage age of 25 would be a tolerable hurdle. Note that I would never be a sexist and impose different age limits based upon gender (though I would guess this would be more salable if the minimum male age were 25 and the minimum female age were 18. But I digress …)

Finally, a MEANS TEST: no one may be married who cannot demonstrate a minimum property/earnings requirement. I would say, again without reference to gender, that no one should be matrimonially conjoined who is not able to earn a minimum of $24,000.00 per annum, or possesses property above a minimum of $72,000.00.

These last two notions do not come from God’s law, but are based upon the practical experience of several Western European legal traditions which were in place until modern times. I add these to God’s clearly stated and unambiguous prohibition, because they would help assure that the men and women who do choose to marry will be more readily able to bear the burdens that God presents them. And plainly our nation cannot enforce God’s indisputable law without supporting those who marry with strict measures to ensure success.

Thus, my modest proposal is a Defense Of Marriage amendment that truly defends marriage: Marriage only between a man and a woman, NO DIVORCE, a MINIMUM AGE of 25, and a MINIMUM FINANCIAL MEANS. This would defend marriage. And if the gender discrimination issue be unjust, then at least the other elements are sure to fly. Labor tirelessly for this goal at home, my friends; the nation will be the better, stronger, more moral, more Godly for it.

If this modest proposal succeeds, dear ones, then the setting will be ripe for another idea whose time has come: the return of slavery! Not that old, pernicious and malicious race-based slavery, but a modern, compassionate slavery that is based simply upon a means test. The Bible clearly and unambiguously endorses slavery, so we have no need to worry that it contradict Christ’s teachings. Yes: bring back slavery; I feel sure we can convince the average American to be all for it!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Marriage may be compared to a cage: the birds outside despair to get in and those within despair to get out. — Michel de Montaigne

A Day Of Protests And Deadly Response

Today marks the anniversary of two landmark events in the history of political protest, civil disturbance, and official response in the United States.

On 4 May 1886 in Haymarket Square in Chicago, a force of some 200 police officers attempted to shut down a protest rally. The rally was organized by labor “radicals,” mostly foreign‐born immigrants, to protest the killing of a striking laborer by Chicago police the day before. In the face of the massive police presence and their use of extremely violent tactics to disperse the crowd, the rally began to dissolve almost immediately, but as the crowd dwindled, an unidentified terrorist threw a homemade bomb at the police squad.

The bomb killed at least a dozen people and injured hundreds. The surviving police began firing their weapons into the crowd, killing or wounding many more. Within minutes, the crowd disappeared into the side streets, and the police began to gather up the dead, which included several police officers.

The Chicago papers immediately dubbed the incident “The Haymarket Riot.” A dragnet of the city’s poorer districts rounded up more than 300 “known‐radicals,” almost all immigrants. More than 30 were indicted by a grand jury, despite the fact that in most of the cases, there was no evidence to tie the suspect to the Haymarket rally. After a highly controversial trial, which focussed more on the evidence of the defendants’ political beliefs than on their criminal culpability, 7 men were sentenced to death. Four of these were hanged the following year, one committed suicide in his cell, and the remaining two were eventually pardoned by the Governor of Illinois. The pardon was based upon evidence which showed that the police officers who had been killed at Haymarket Square had been felled by police bullets. That evidence had not been admitted at the trial.

And it was forty-two years ago on this day in 1970 that another pivotal clash in the history of American political protest and governmental response occurred. At Kent State University in Ohio, troops of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd, killing four people and wounding at least a dozen others. The event shocked a nation already rent by widespread unrest and riot.

In May of 1970, protests erupted across the United States in the wake of the United States’ bombing of Cambodia (a country with which we were not at war, but which had been an open safe‐haven for Viet Cong forces.) The National Guard had been called in to Kent State a few days earlier to help control protests that had turned riotous. Earlier protests had turned destructive and had resulted in property damage, and the school ordered a ban on protest rallies.

At noon on 4 May 1970, depsite the ban on rallies, a large crowd appeared on the campus to resume the protest. National Guard troops advanced on the crowd to disperse it. The Guard had bayonets fixed and fired teargas into the crowd. Some in the crowd responded by throwing stones and tossing the teargas canisters back at the Guard. Then, for reasons that have never been clearly established, the troops opened fire with deadly effect.

A photograph of a young woman in anguish over a prone body, her hands stretched out as if imploring someone for an explanation, became the iconic image of that era.

Subsequent investigations, military, Federal, and State, resulted in no prosecutions for the incident. In its aftermath, however, riot control and response became a specialized area of police work, and the use of deadly force for crowd control has become an option of last resort, though recent experiences show that the use of potent force against non-violent protesters is on the rise. It is a disturbing trend in a representative democracy.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

What experience and history teach is this –
that people and governments
have never learned anything from history.

— Hegel, 1801