When King Leontes accuses his pregnant wife of adultery, the nobleman Antigonus assumes that Leontes has been “abused and by some putter-on”—in other words, some Iago-like villain has been putting malevolent ideas into his head. In fact, Leontes is the father of his own misconceptions, just as he is the father of his wife’s children. But unlike his children, his ideas might be said to have no mother; they lack corroboration, which is to say, collaboration with a source outside himself. How, then, do we account for the seemingly spontaneous generation of his thoughts? How can false apprehensions arise out of nothing? And what price must one pay for bearing these misconceptions, these “nothings,” into the world? In this episode, the second part of a six part discussion, Wes & Erin discuss one of Shakespeare’s last plays, “The Winter’s Tale.”
When King Leontes accuses his pregnant wife of adultery, the nobleman Antigonus assumes that Leontes has been “abused and by some putter-on”—in other words, some Iago-like villain has been putting malevolent ideas into his head. In fact, Leontes is the father of his own misconceptions, just as he is the father of his wife’s children. But unlike his children, his ideas might be said to have no mother; they lack corroboration, which is to say, collaboration with a source outside himself. How, then, do we account for the seemingly spontaneous generation of his thoughts? How can false apprehensions arise out of nothing? And what price must one pay for bearing these misconceptions, these “nothings,” into the world? In this episode, the first part of a six part discussion, Wes & Erin discuss one of Shakespeare’s last plays, “The Winter’s Tale.”
Wes & Erin continue their discussion of Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.” For bonus content, become a paid subscriber at Patreon or directly on the Apple Podcasts app. Patreon subscribers also get early access to ad-free regular episodes.
Hannah supports her sisters. She’s a source of money, encouragement, and advice, and seems to ask for nothing in return. In fact, she’s so giving and self-reliant that her husband Eliott begins to believe that she has no needs. This seems to be the spark that ignites his infatuation with Hannah’s sister Lee. It also leads her sister Holly to rebel against what might be called Hannah’s regime of care, only to marry another of her dissidents, her ex-husband Mickey. Today we discuss Woody Allen’s 1986 classic, and try to figure out why those closest to Hannah need to escape her goodness to find themselves, and whether a loved one can be too perfect for our own good.
Wes & Erin conclude their discussion of “The Odyssey,” with a focus on Odysseus and Penelope getting re-acquainted with each other in Books 19 and 23. We discuss Penelope asking Odysseus-in-disguise whether she should marry a suitor, but tells him the dream of 20 geese, foretelling their ruin; the test involving the bed post tree trunk; and how we might think of the ending to this epic as a comedy of re-marriage.
Wes & Erin discuss the final 12 books of “The Odyssey.” Having learned the lessons of the murder of Agamemnon, Odysseus does not rush straight home to his wife and children, once he arrives at Ithaca. Athena is impressed–but why, exactly? Why is it that Odysseus feels the need to hide his identity, and put friends and family to the test? And after 20 years apart, how do Odysseus and Penelope reacquaint themselves with each other?
Wes & Erin continue their discussion of the Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. In this episode, part 2 of our 3-part series, they look closely at the heart of the poem, books 5-12, in which Odysseus arrives in Phaeacia and provides the tale-within-the-tale of his adventures after the Trojan War. They discuss the significance of Odysseus’s fantastical encounters and asking what they might reveal both about his character and about the nature of our own progress—through times of safety, complacency, excitement, danger, and loss—as we wend our way back home.
He was famously a man of many ways, whether we interpret these as abilities or norms; designs or deceptions; reasons or identities. Yet despite such resources, he was also famously stuck, making a 10-year odyssey of his attempt to return home from a 10-year war. What keeps the man of master plans from homecoming and domestic bliss? In the first of a three part discussion of Homer’s classic, Wes & Erin try to figure out what Odysseus really wants, and whether the “lord of lies” can master the trick of entrusting his mind to others.
Bonus Episode for subscribers: Wes & Erin discuss “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.”
Before Henry VIII changed history for lack of a son, Henry II had too many. His eldest, Richard, a fierce soldier who controls the wealthy Aquitaine, is the favorite of his mother, Eleanor. The youngest, John, is immature and dull, but his father’s favorite. And the middle son, scheming Geoffrey, is, quite dangerously, no one’s favorite. In the end, there are no winners; competing affections and power schemes serve only to cancel each other out. Is it true then, as this story suggests, that being a favorite amounts to nothing more than a target on one’s back, as its benefits are counteracted by the destructive envy of the disfavored? What drives our own propensities for favoritism? And does occupying any position in the pecking order entail, in Eleanor’s words, learning to live with disappointment? Wes & Erin discuss the 1968 film “The Lion in Winter,” starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.
In Jean Anouilh’s 1959 play “Becket,” the titular character seems at first to be a Saxon collaborationist to the Norman rule of England, and a man who has sacrificed his personal honor to his friendship with King Henry II and, as he puts it, “good living.” This will change when he becomes Archbishop of Canterbury, only to realize that he is enchanted by the “honor of God,” leading him to to defend at any cost the prerogatives of the Church against those of the state. When is honor more important than friendship? Wes & Erin discuss the 1964 film version of the play, with Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, about a 12th-century high-profile bromance-gone-bad.
Jack, a Canadian soldier recuperating in a European hospital during World War I, begins a correspondence with Louisa, the librarian in his hometown whom he has only seen and loved from afar. Their letters turn romantic. But when the war ends and he returns home, Jack never shows his face to Louisa and marries another woman, leaving Louisa to wonder if she’s been the victim of some diabolical trick. Then Jack becomes the victim of an accident at the local factory. Wes & Erin discuss Alice Munro’s short story “Carried Away” and asking how the unforgiving machinery of a factory might mimic the so-called machinery of courtship, and how being carried away, whether by love or by ideas, might prove dangerous.
In the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall, Doc Brown plans to use his Delorean time machine to head 25 years into the future and see, as he puts it, “the progress of mankind.” But like the license plate on the Delorean, Doc is out of time. Through his absent-mindedness—and angering some terrorists—Doc has failed to provide a future into which he or his friend Marty McFly can progress. Meanwhile, Marty’s own options and possibilities have been foreclosed by the mistakes of his parents, whose inaction and passivity have failed to secure happy lives for themselves or their children. Out of time and without a viable future, Marty’s only way forward is back. Wes & Erin discuss the 1985 film, “Back to the Future,” and how securing the provisions for one’s own future depends on two modes of confrontation: one in the present and one with the past.
In “Holy Sonnet 14,” John Donne would like his “three person’d God” to break instead of knock, blow instead of breathe, and burn instead of shine. This vision of redemption is about remaking rather than reform. And it seems to be motivated by a sense that reason and the typical rhetoric of faith are not enough to bridge the mortal and the divine—what’s needed is God’s violent intervention. Wes & Erin discuss Donne’s surprising and paradoxical use of war and rape as metaphors for salvation.
A recusant Catholic turned Protestant, a rake turned priest, a scholar, lawyer, politician, soldier, secretary, sermonizer, and of course, a poet— John Donne’s biography contains so many scuttled identities and discrete lives, perhaps its no wonder that his great subjects were mortality and death. His Holy Sonnets, likely composed between 1609 and 1610, and published posthumously in 1633, are a collection of 19 poems written after the sea change in Donne’s subject matter from the secular to the sacred. They reflect his anxiety over his conversion to Anglicanism and his eventual decision to enter the priesthood, and meditate on salvation, death, and the wages of sin. Erin & Wes discuss Sonnet 10 in this series, “Death Be Not Proud,” an address of Death personified, whose power gradually diminishes beneath the force of Donne’s dazzling poetic rhetoric.
Roman Polanksi’s 1974 film “Chinatown” seems to have little to do with its titular neighborhood, which is the setting for only one horrible and final scene. Chinatown functions instead to represent the traumatic moment that drives this story just because it is hidden from view—a place indecipherable even to the hard-boiled private investigator who has seen it all … the place he doesn’t go … the place that bothers him to talk about … the place where inaction and evasion are the only ways to avoid causing harm. Wes & Erin discuss what Chinatown has to do with “Chinatown,” and how the theme connects the seemingly disparate themes of police work, political corruption, water rights, and incest.
It’s a play full of contradictions, secrets, lies, and unspoken rules. It’s a play decidedly for adults, but about a child—an imaginary one, no less. It takes place on a college campus, but it is absent of students. And it’s about “fun and games” and “playing pretend,” but its games are harsh and shocking, and playing pretend involves vengeance and even murder. Wes & Erin discuss Mike Nichols’s 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, adapted from Edward Albee’s 1962 play, and ask what it has to say about the nature of game and play itself, as well as what might be generative on the one hand or contraceptive and inhibiting on the other about our relationships with our spouses, our parents, our children, and our work.
Wallace Stevens was an ungainly insurance executive, but his poetry is serene and secularly reverential. In particular, his poem “Sunday Morning” seems to suggest that the rhythm of the natural world—if we give it enough rapt attention—is as good as any chant or prayer. But can a return to nature worship solve the problem of nihilism, once monotheism has been eclipsed by modernity? Are memory and desire as permanent heaven, and can the poet become their high priest? “Sunday Morning” is a poetic dialogue about these questions. And whether or not we’re satisfied with its conclusion that the world is nothing more than an “old chaos of the sun,” the poem itself is an orderly and beautiful form of communion. Wes & Erin discuss.
Howard Hawks’s 1940 film His Girl Friday knits together two plots from two very different genres. One is a romantic comedy that intends to reunite its main couple in something like wedded bliss. The other is a dark drama of murder and corruption, complete with a gallows lurking just outside the window and a suicide attempt that takes place on screen. Yet Earl Williams and Hildy Johnson’s fates in their respective plots are twinned. Both are, in a sense, looking for their own reprieves. And Hildy has her own production-for-use dilemma. What was she made for—the life of a newspaperman, or the life of a housewife? To what kinds of production should we devote our own lives? What are we made for—risk and adventure or security and insurance? Wes & Erin discuss.
Dr. Faustus expected more from his education. After a lifetime of study, his professional options—philosophy, medicine, law, and theology—all seem disappointingly ordinary. He is of course not the first to have this experience. At a societal level, the promise of knowledge is power, especially once it has become technology. At an individual level, what education seems to make us is an insignificant part of a formidable machine. For Faustus, the only way to make book learning great again is to extend it to the domain of black magic. And yet all this seems to earn him is an all-expenses-paid European vacation—notwithstanding the perk of having Mephistopheles as tour guide—to be followed by eternal damnation. What’s the point of selling your soul to the devil? How do we avoid subordinating our own search for meaning to the desire for power? Wes & Erin discuss Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.”