Bells, Runways, Stark Reunions, and Love Scenes

Nearly all of us, whether in television or in a movie, have watched a situation in which two actresses are running lines from a love scene, and after uttering professions of passion, devotion, and everlasting fidelity, one or both of them will collapse into laughter. Shaking her head, and finally catching her breath after her fit of giggling, she wonders what sort of imbecile can write such nonsense and how they can possibly recite such drivel in front of an audience without ruining their careers. I remember one scene just like this from one of the later seasons of Mad Men in which Don Draper’s second wife, an aspiring actress, mocks the pages she’s been sent and despairs of ever performing anything so ridiculous?

Going through these derided scenes, word by word, line by line, what exactly is so terrible? Show, don’t tell is one of the few really useful maxims applied to writing, so are these passages are full of adjectives like: steely, piercing, ravishing, or irresistible. No, in the instance just mentioned and most others, the prose is quite lean. Furthermore, there are no obvious solecisms or mistakes in usage. Then what is it that is so mediocre or contemptible in these scenes that the actresses shudder to perform them? In every case, the scene is read all by itself, and it consists of two names, names without faces, names of complete strangers, names that don’t bear the weight of any regret, pain, loss, or confusion. These two phantoms sigh out their passion, swear to be true forever, weep to be parted, and every word of it is dreary.

Tender love scenes, sweet reunions, and anguished partings don’t twist and tear our hearts because of the beauty and precision of the language. There are no insights into the human condition, no observations on love, no profound wisdom in what the characters are saying. Nothing needs to be said. When Jon Snow walks out and sees Sansa Stark standing in the courtyard, he rushes down the stairs and she runs to him, throwing herself in his arms. As Jon picks up his sister and holds her, grown men and their less stoic wives and girlfriends alike weep together. We are so deeply moved by what is happening only because what has already happened. We have seen these two mocked, held captive, manipulated, beaten, stabbed, fleeing from certain death. We have seen them suffer so much that if they somehow live, they may survive but they can never again find happiness. That hug lasts for only a few seconds. It takes fifty some hours of superb storytelling to buy those few seconds.

A story needs to build up an enormous emotional charge to allow such a huge, and yet brief release. That flash of joy is the result of hours of despair, fatigue, pain, grief, loss, regret, and every other shadow that has ever darkened the human soul. Has anything ever been more silly and mawkish than the ending to It’s a Wonderful Life? It should be laughable but instead it’s devastating. That ending exhilarates us because of the dark story that’s just unfolded. The film has its lighter moments, high school seniors jump into a swimming pool, Donna Reed huddles naked in a bush, Sam Wainwright can’t refrain from incessantly blatting ‘hee-haw’.

Yet there is far more darkness than light, and the most frivolous and light-hearted moments are haunted by death. One moment, George is holding an empty bathrobe, relishing a very interesting situation, the next he’s rushing to his father’s deathbed. One moment, children are sledding on a hill, the next one of them nearly drowns in an icy pond. We sometimes forget that a grief-stricken pharmacist nearly poisons innocent children. We forget George Bailey shaking his uncle by the collar, berating him, shrieking about prison and ruin and scandal. We forget George’s smoldering resentment, his dreams relinquished for the sake of a town remarkable only for its ingratitude, a town that George both loves and hates. Frank Capra’s shading is impeccable. He can’t make Bedford Falls into a Gomorrah but he makes sure that there are almost no profusions of gratitude to take away from the ending. George gives up college to run the Building and Loan and the sacrifice is mentioned only right before he’s called upon to make a second terrible sacrifice. He gives away the money for his honeymoon to once again save the Building and Loan, and the depositors seem quite pleased by the deliverance, but they don’t bother to thank their deliverer. Capra doesn’t want to make his characters monsters of ingratitude, and Martini and Gower are sincerely grateful and loyal to George, but he’s sparing with the appreciation holding nearly everything back for the ending. Because It’s a Wonderful Life is a story about poverty and loss, dreams deferred and then destroyed, that beautiful ending is overwhelming.

Think back to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman standing on the runway as the propellers that will carry her away forever splutter to life behind them. The words he speaks, by themselves are quite ordinary, and if read aloud by someone who’d knew nothing about the movie, they’d seem unremarkable.

Rick: I’m saying it because it’s true.  Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor.  You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going.  If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with it you’ll regret it.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Ilsa: What about us?

Rick: We’ll always have Paris.  We didn’t have-we lost it-we lost it until you came to Casablanca.  We got it back last night.

Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you…

Rick: And you never will.  I’ve got a job to do too.  Where I’m going, you can’t follow.  What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of.   I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.  Someday you’ll understand that.  Not now.  Here’s looking at you kid.    

These words are meaningful because of the themes of duty, sacrifice, and the clash of good and evil so masterfully evoked in what has come before. Their idyllic yet perhaps selfish tryst in Paris, the figure of Victor Laslow, the Marsellaise out-throating Die Wacht am Rhein in the cafe. Every line, every image, every scene has led up to this goodbye. Two people who love one another, and whom we love, must give up their lives together and their happiness to do the right thing.

As a fan of Joss Whedon, I can’t help but close with Buffy and Angel. We have seen Buffy and Angel fight together and fight one another. We have seen her run a sword through him and hurl him into hell to save the world. Every great joke, every brilliant line, every superb scene from the first episode to this, has brought them closer and closer together, and bonded us to them as well. That narrative momentum makes the simplest declarations of love heart-rending.

Angel: No matter what, I’ll always be with you.

Buffy: How am I supposed to go on with my life, knowing what we had, what we could have had?

Buffy: I felt your heart beat.

Angel: I love you.

Buffy: I love you.

Angel: Nothing will ever change that.  Not even death.

The words themselves are short, often used, and unremarkable. The sentences are simple, with none of the mirroring, balancing or antitheses of the rhetorical arts. But these words are now imbued with an immense force, and all Joss Whedon must do is not to ruin the effect he’s labored season after season to create. It may seem a thankless chore that it costs him thousands and thousands of words carefully chosen and perfectly arranged to make a few dozen resound, but these fleeting outpourings of grief or joy are earned only by hard work, sweat, and pages and pages of stupendous story-telling. Joss Whedon’s a writer and that’s the price every writer must pay, but I’m sure he feels such moments are worth that price.

Of Pedantry

Pedant is a term of opprobrium but the pedant is more a figure of ridicule than of menace. Yet what is a pedant? A phony is a person who appears to respect or care for someone else only for their own advantage, and a sadist is a person who takes sensual pleasure in the pain of another. These faults seem clear and are generally agreed upon but what exactly is the fault of a pedant? By most accounts, the failing somehow pertains to knowledge.

Perhaps the pedant is someone who has acquired great knowledge and has become proud and overbearing in his erudition. There are some who are very beautiful and are supercilious and disdainful to those not as beautiful as themselves. There are also some who are very rich and they are arrogant and domineering because of that wealth. Such individuals are rightly the objects of general reprehension. The beautiful may take some pains to maintain that beauty, but its possession is an accident of birth, a drawing in the genetic lottery, and we take it very ill if those who’ve been so lucky are inconsiderate to those not so fortunate. The rich are often born already wealthy, and while some become wealthy through great talent, ingenuity, or industry, some others become wealthy through luck or nefarious dealings. Nobody is born into great erudition, and while some learn more quickly than others, the attainment of great knowledge comes only with intense and prolonged effort. We can imagine some scholar who believes that those not as learned are dolts and sluggards and while we should find such a man very disagreeable, he is haughty and scornful rather than pedantic. Furthermore, the amassing of great knowledge is usually considered ennobling and productive of humility and even wisdom.

The word pedant carries a suggestion that the knowledge is somehow flawed. Flawed doesn’t mean entirely erroneous and none of the many pedants portrayed in fiction have ever been wrong about every single fact. Their knowledge is somehow flawed but it isn’t simply mistaken on every point. Instead of being false, the stock of erudition is somehow vain or silly. A great store of information can be quite useless if it’s merely a great jumble of trivial facts. Lists of dates, genealogies, statistics, and other heaps of data compiled on a page can be useless if they don’t bear on anything and if they hold no organic unity. Yet these great assemblages of facts with no connection are daunting to memorize. Why will anyone take on such a monumental mnemonic feat with nothing to gain from it? Nevertheless, we are drawing closer. Pedantry isn’t the storing up of useless knowledge but the misuse of knowledge.

Kant enjoined that in our actions we must treat another person not only as a means but also as an end in himself. We must similarly treat our knowledge not only as an end but also as a means. People often confuse ends and means. The pedant makes knowledge an end in itself, when it should be both a means and an end, much like the miser makes money, which should be only a means to an end, into an end in itself. The purpose of money is to provide us against hunger, sickness, and discomfort. Yet the miser will starve himself to add to his treasure. He will endure any privation or indignity if he can heap up more money. He will eat bad food and live in squalor, making himself sick, and he will worsen and die before spending some of his precious wealth on medicine. The money that was the means to his health, comfort, and happiness becomes his master and destroyer.

We seek to know so we may better cope with the world around us. Great learning is a treasure, but we shouldn’t hide it away, guard it, and slumber upon it, like some avaricious dragon. Knowledge is a means as well as an end, and it is only valuable if it also useful. Grammar furnishes many notable instances of pedantry. The purpose of grammar is not to make ourselves understood but to make it impossible for us to be misunderstood. As Wittgenstein observed, the laws of language are very much like the rules of a game. Yet in a game like chess, the number and the roles of the pieces are fixed. In a living language, words sometimes die away but more frequently they are born. A language will need to contend with entirely new words and come up with rules for them.

What if new pieces emerged in the game of chess? What will be done with these new pieces? Will the board be enlarged or will the pieces be assembled in three rows rather than just two? Let’s take one of these new pieces and call it the raven. How will the raven move, straight or diagonally? Can it move many spaces until impeded? Can it overleap its own fellows like the knight? No. The raven will be limited to move one space diagonally and it will also capture in the same manner. Can it move two spaces on its very first move? Yes. If it advances to the very last row, can it become any other piece like the pawn? That will soon lead to a proliferation of queens. From now on, the raven can become a queen, and the pawns can become only a rook when reaching the last row. The introduction of the raven has changed the pawn, because some of the functions of the pawn are now redundant.

Like this example from chess, languages must adapt to use new elements. When a new word arises it sometimes reduplicates the work of an existing word, and that existing word is shifted to meet another purpose. The rules of grammar serve to use these elements to the utmost advantage. Grammar serves communication, but pedantry makes communication serve grammar. The word ‘hopefully’ is frequently used to modify a situation. The rules of grammar insist that the adverb ‘hopefully’ should pertain only to the actions of an agent who is hopeful. In English prose, the occasions when such a usage are needed are very few. The occasions when a situation needs to be characterized in this way are many, yet a strict adherence to the established rules of grammar will force the writer to resort to something like, “It is to be hoped that…”. Forbidden one useful adverb, the sentence begins with a flotsam of pointless, forgettable little words. To avoid such periphrastic nightmares, writers should break these laws and the grammar police may issue a warrant for their arrest.

Taking one more example from grammar, it is a famous, or rather infamous, rule that one should never end a sentence with a preposition. In writing prose or poetry, there is good reason for doing so whenever possible. The second most important word in a sentence is the first, and the most important is the last. Much of the immense power of Milton’s blank verse lies in the forceful and vivid words he uses to begin and end a line. Ideally, the first and last word of a sentence should be strong and memorable. Yet this is not always possible, and if obeying means dislocating the phrasing so that the meaning is unintelligible, the rule should be broken. Moreover, the injunction is given without any explanation. There is a good reason but it isn’t given, and the rule is set down as if were an arbitrary statute set down merely to be vexatious.


Not merely rules of grammar, but whole bodies of thought may become pedantic. When the scholars of the late Middle Age in Christendom and the Caliphate, rediscovered the writings of Aristotle, they were dazzled by the new vistas displayed before them. These works, the Prior and Posterior Analytics, the History of Animals, the Mechanics, even the Physiognomics posed questions they had not thought to ask. They were stimulated by his example to ask these very questions for themselves and the manner in which the Stagirite had attacked them suggested fruitful lines of inquiry. But eventually, the difficulty of these problems and the scanty progress made in their solution in comparison with their classical predecessors began to discourage them. They still followed Aristotle in his investigations but they came more and more to accept his conclusions. The thinker who had been an inspiration ultimately became an authority.

Once Aristotle was generally accepted, Thomas Aquinas made it his life’s work to combine his philosophy with the truths of Scripture. He found Aristotle to be right on a great number of matters but never took him to be inerrant. Yet this immense body of secular wisdom should be a complement to the revealed truth of religion. This critical combining was later taken, in its entirety to be the official doctrine of the Church and Thomas Aquinas was canonized as the Angelic Doctor.

Many profound thinkers have been dreamy and abstracted in their meditations, and this has led them into accidents and embarrassments. Adam Smith was sometimes lost in his musings as he walked, and on one occasion he walked a great distance as he meditated, and when coming back to himself he found that he was come to a remote area and could only get back home by another long and wearying march. Thales was another dreamy rambler and he once became so lost in contemplation that he walked himself into a large hole. A pretty serving girl happened by and rescued him, but as his rescuer felt entitled to reprove him as she pulled him back up, asking how he can know what is passing in the firmament above if he’s ignorant of what lies at his feet. The great sophist almost certainly felt somewhat sheepish about this incident and this may have lead to another of the legends told about him. Thales was a meteorologist of some skill, and it is recounted that one year his observations led him to be quite sure that the next season’s olive harvest would be stupendous. He bought up every olive press he could acquire, and his prediction turned out to be accurate. The harvest was the greatest within living memory and he made an enormous profit. This venture into agriculture was meant to show that his search for knowledge wasn’t some harmless yet also useless eccentricity. He was seeking the governing principles of the universe, and these secrets were great truths valuable in themselves, but they were also immensely powerful and could yield tremendous benefits.

Thales, and those who later took up the same quest like Leibniz, took pains to show that their recondite researches allowed them to pursue the more practical and lucrative callings of statecraft, finance, and commerce with greater success than their more experienced and worldly practitioners. They needed to show that their thought wasn’t a pointless caviling over terms and definitions with no bearing on the real world. They needed to show they weren’t pedants because pedantry isn’t the failing of a bygone age or an alien and eccentric civilization but a recurring and dangerous tendency in our species. Texts that have revealed great discoveries are rightly revered, but we must always remember that they are a conduit to truth and not its apotheosis.

The French as Allies

The French have been making war with varying fortunes for over fourteen centuries. Over that span, they have won stunning victories and suffered spectacular defeats. The names Agincourt and Waterloo are household words to the English-speaking peoples; the names Castillon and Fort Dusquesne less so. Jena and Rossbach, Rocroi and Vitoria, Tours and Crecy, the Marne and Blitzkrieg, the list of triumphs and disasters rolls on and on. While success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, the paternities of Charles Martel, Turenne, Conde, Vauban, Davout, and de Gaulle are incontestable.

Military leaders do their utmost to learn from history, but these lessons are often more than simply unhelpful, they can be deceiving. The past is our only measure of the future, and it should be consulted, but with the greatest caution, and never taken for a reliable guide. Those who fail to learn from history often overcome those who cleave to it. Technology changes. The soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars were gorgeously appareled because they blasted away at one another at close range with wildly inaccurate muskets. The splendor of their uniforms fortified them in these appalling encounters and these peacocks were less likely to break than their dowdier foes. A weapon with a rifled barrel that can be loaded quickly (by the standards of the nineteenth century musket) meant the appearance of the sharpshooter and the disappearance of these dazzling hussars, cuirassiers, and grenadiers. Fortified and entrenched positions were inexpugnable during the First World War and the Somme, Passchendaele, and Ludendorff’s final desperate offensives tore apart generations to gain only a few miles of blasted moonscape. In the next war, Eben-Emael has fallen and Panzers are roaring across these same battlefields.

Such wildly unequal results are not exclusive to French arms. The descendants of Gaius Marius and Scipio Africanus surrendered in the thousand to bemused Tommies in North Africa. In War and Peace, Prince Bolkonsky, unwilling to concede the greatness of Napoleon as a general or the might of his Grand Armee, sniffs that he won all his great victories over mere Germans. Cortes and less than seven hundred Spaniards overthrew the Aztec Empire. The Soviet juggernaut hurled itself against tiny Finland and shattered. Hitler reviewed this miserable performance and learning the lessons of the past, was confirmed in his contempt for the fighting qualities of the Russian peasant, and this gave him the confidence he needed to gamble on conquering the Soviet Union within a few months.

It can be puzzling to understand how the few can overcome the many, or how one army can slaughter another with almost no losses. The most obvious and tempting explanations are cowardice and ineptitude. Yet the members of our species are nearly identical in genotype, phenotype, neurology physiology, psychology, and temperament. For an entire nation to collapse is the result of special circumstances and wherever these pertain, in whatever age and to whatever nation, defeat is certain. To face something strange, baffling, and frightening can break a people’s will to resist. Whether it’s iron men mounted on monsters, or Heinz Guderian’s panzer divisions, shock, terror, and confusion will drive all before them.

The other main reason a people don’t fight is that they don’t want to. Soldiers who have no wish to leave their own country and plunge into a strange land will falter in the attack. These same troops may fight to the death in defense of their own soil. Subjects who feel that they are fighting for rulers who don’t care about them, and for reasons that have nothing to do with them, will flee or surrender at the first opportunity. The Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Serbians, and Romanians conscripted into the armies of the Austrian Empire were no match for patriots fighting for their own motherland. There is a reason the Austrian Hapsburgs compiled such a dismal military record and why they gained their ends through diplomacy and marriage rather than force of arms. The poor, unheard, neglected, and disenfranchised will never be fervid to fight for oil, sugar, or empire.

The causes of crushing, humiliating defeat are baffling, and they are also fleeting. Most Americans are aware of the French collapse before Hitler’s legions in 1940. They had tanks as good as those of the Germans but didn’t group them together into strike forces. They didn’t trust their impregnable Maginot Line sufficiently to let the fortifications fend for themselves. They discounted the possibility of a German onslaught through the Ardennes forest. When the enemy was racing toward their capital, they neglected the most basic measure of blowing up their gas stations. Their mistakes were many and these led to their own conquest and occupation. France fell and moated England was left to ponder the magnitude of the disaster and the reasons for it. They, and their American allies returned to liberate France. Americans never seem to tire of reminding the French of this deliverance or sneering at their humiliation. There is no profit in this but there is great peril. You can hardly call a man a coward and then be surprised when he hates you.

From the American Revolution to the entry of the United States into the First World War, the bitterest animosity prevailed between the US and Great Britain. The English were a feared and hated enemy. They are now a trusted and treasured ally. Perhaps no such conciliation is possible between the United States and France. Perhaps the two nations are too dissimilar for there to be any real understanding or friendship between them. The two countries may never be friends, but in this world, they must be allies. They share too many enemies. The United States and France are two of the important, most powerful, and most regarded examples of modern republics. Tolerant of dissent, suffering all faiths, orientations, and beliefs, upholding the rights of all their citizens, they are a beacon in the darkness and a vision of what is possible. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not only rivals but inveterate and violent enemies. For now, the most obvious and dangerous are a backward, belligerent, and nuclear Russia, and the theocratic and savage Islamic State. Should these be tamed or succumb, there will be others to take their place. It is regrettable but the world is a dangerous place, and it will probably always be a dangerous place. The taunting of the French should be stopped, not only because it’s petty and ungracious, but because no nation, no matter how powerful, can afford to spurn an ally.

Croesus; or that Men are not to Judge of our Happiness until Death

Herodotus tells the story of Croesus king of Sardis, and of how he hosted Solon and fought Cyrus. Solon the Athenian was touring Asia and since he had so great a reputation for wisdom, King Croesus was eager to have him as his guest and to impress him with his hospitality and munificence. Solon was invited into the king’s palace and ate at the king’s table. Solon had seen the king’s great hall and eaten of his sumptuous food, but not content with this, Croesus ordered that he be taken through his treasure house so that he may see his mountains of gold and his chests of jewels. Confident that the Athenian had been awed by the luxury he’d tasted and the riches he’d seen, he asked him who of all the men he’d met, he considered the happiest. Solon didn’t hesitate and he named an Athenian, not nearly as rich and powerful as Croesus, a man respected but not renowned and unknown outside of Athens. The king asked why, and Solon answered that while he lived his country flourished, that he was the father of healthy and virtuous children, and that he died gallantly on the field of battle. This wasn’t what Croesus had wanted to hear but he tried once more, and he asked who was next happiest after Tellus. Solon named two more Greeks of no great wealth or worldly importance for very similar reasons. Unable to hold back his anger, Croesus reminded him that he was a great king and the ruler of many nations, and asked why he should be set below obscure commoners. Solon answered that the powers above are fond of humbling the high and mighty, and many who had enjoyed wealth, luxury, and fame, are brought down and stripped of all these things to die in poverty and anguish. The men he’d named had died as contentedly as they’d lived and were beyond the buffets of fortune.

Croesus was displeased with this answer and, taking Solon to be an impertinent, envious scoundrel, he was very glad when he departed his kingdom. Not long after, the kingdom of Persia was growing powerful, conquering and absorbing other lands around it. Croesus wondered if he should check and overthrown the Persians before they grew so strong that they became unstoppable. After a gift to the oracle of Delphi of two huge and costly bowls, one of gold and one of silver, Croesus sent messengers asking if he should make war on the Persians. The oracle answered that if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. Croesus was greatly encouraged by this reply, and didn’t consider that there were two sides to this prediction. Certain that if he attacked, he was to prevail, he went to war. The two kingdoms mustered great armies and they clashed at the banks of the Halys River. The armies fought to a bloody draw and withdrew. Croesus sent his forces into winter quarters, as was traditionally done, but Cyrus, king of the Persians, kept the field and coming against the Lydians unprepared, he overcame them.

Croesus had begun the war and he had lost it. Cyrus ordered him, as the aggressor to be burned alive, but on the pyre with the flames crackling at his feet, Croesus called to Apollo and the god sent a rain which put out the fire. Croesus was saved from the flames, but his wife had killed herself and his kingdom was lost. In his distress he groaned aloud, “O Solon! Solon! Solon!” Cyrus heard this and wondered at whom the prisoner was invoking so dolefully. When the interpreters explained to him the whole story of Solon’s warning and the oracle’s prophecy, the Persian was so moved by the fall of a fellow monarch that he ordered him released and made Croesus one of his most trusted counselors.

An improbable tale, but a picturesque and moving one, and one by which the Greeks and Romans set great store. They myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans abound with tales like this, about the mighty and the seemingly blest, who suffer terrible reverses and die in misery. This is only to be expected. The world takes little account of the sufferings and hardships of the struggling farmer, the widow, the orphan, and the beggar, and when they succumb to adversity and perish, little account is taken of their end. In their miserable condition, the poor and the friendless have not far to fall, and their final descent lacks the contrast of those hurled headlong from glory down to perdition and ruin. The fall of kings and archangels is far more compelling than the last flickerings and gutterings of the wretched.

Yet the ancients held that there was great wisdom in Solon’s injunction. Centuries later, Montaigne was inclined to agree with them.

That the very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquility and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he be seen to play the last, and doubtless, the hardest act of his part. There may be disguise and dissimulation in all the rest: where these fine philosophical discourses are only put on, and where accident, not touching us to the quick, gives us leisure to maintain the same gravity of aspect; but, in this last scene of death, there is no more counterfeiting:

The Neo-Platonic assumption is to be marked, that whether well or ill descended, our soul, imprisoned as it is in the flesh, is nothing more than a sojourner in this unhappy world. Therefore, it is in the release of this soul from its material bondage that the greatest truth is to be found. If we hold that our term on earth is a durance in a gross and alien realm, then it is only upon the freedom found in the destruction of our incarnate prison that our real nature is seen. This fixation with death and the end of life only makes sense if it comes from this disgust with the material world.


A utilitarian along the line of Bentham will confer equal weight upon the beginning, middle, and the end of life. Sliding the beads of his abacus back and forth, he will add up the pains and pleasures of each stage of the journey. However sudden, violent, and appalling, the agonies of the very last hours will be outweighed by the countless felicities that came in the many decades before. The events just before death are no more meaningful than those of the middle, and the bliss of the very first days of life means every bit as much as the anguish of its end.

We may shrink from declaiming all of life nothing more than a sham, while also not wishing to resort to an accountancy that turns life into a ledger of pain and pleasure. There is truth in tragedy. Our lives may not be nothing more than a gross illusion, but a present happiness, while not simply a figment, may be based upon a cracked foundation. In Shakespeare, the tragic hero will prosper in spite of a tragic flaw which will ultimately destroy him. His happiness is real but it is also doomed. Croesus in his pride refused to heed the warning of Solon, and he failed to see that the oracle was referring to him not as a conqueror but as a victim of his own intransigence. In Shakespearian and in Greek tragedy, the hero is doomed but in Aeschylus and Sophocles it is fate which is his undoing. His fall is written in the stars while in Shakespeare the fatal words are written in his heart and mind. Whether within or without, the end is already written: Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.