Monday, July 10, 2017

Never Speak Ill of the Dead: From Shakespeare to Harry Potter to THE LATE GORDON KAPLAN

By Natalie Lifson

           It is an unwritten rule in life that, when someone dies, your negative feelings towards them disappear. Or, at least, you pretend they do. But is this rule really unwritten? “Do not speak ill of the dead” is, in fact, rooted in a long historical and literary tradition.  
The Latin phrase “De mortise nil nisi bonum” directly translates to “Of the dead, nothing unless good.” The phrase was published for the first time in a 4th century Latin book called Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers and was attributed to one of the Seven Sages of Greece in 600 B.C., Chilon of Sparta.  
Since then, variations of the phrase have appeared in literature, poetry, philosophy, cinema, and theatre. Of the dozens of famous forms of media that reference this idiom, some of the most well known include Sigmund Freud’s Thoughts of the Times on War and Death (1915), the movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Julius Caesar (1599) by William Shakespeare, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Harry Potter by JK Rowling, and Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan.  
In Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, Freud philosophies that people are likely to avoid the truth and ignore a dead person’s wrongdoings throughout life in order to heap praise on them and honor them. "We assume a special attitude towards the dead, something almost like admiration for one who has accomplished a very difficult feat,” Freud states. "We suspend criticism of him, overlooking whatever wrongs he may have done, and issue the command, De mortuis nil nisi bene: we act as if we were justified in singing his praises at the funeral oration, and inscribe only what is to his advantage on the tombstone. This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living.” In Laurence of Arabia, when T.E. Laurence dies, a clergyman gazes upon a bust of his head and cautiously asks, after stating “nil nisi bonum..." if Laurence truly deserves to have a funeral held in the Cathedral, he receives nothing but silence from Colonel Brighton in return.   

      Another example of people suddenly admiring an individual after death is Tom Sawyer. When townspeople assume that Tom Sawyer is dead, they cry and talk about how good of a kid he was when only days earlier they had been calling him a devil child.  
In Julius Caesar, however, Mark Antony rejects the phrase and instead insists that “the evil that men do lives after them.” In a more modern example of a subversion of this trope, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Dumbledore’s past misdeeds are not revealed until his death. Similarly, in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a half-blood who works for the Titans is thought of as evil in life but in death is viewed as a misguided hero.  

            The Late Gordon Kaplan by Robin Anne Joseph, which will premiere at the Strawberry One Act Theatre Festival on 7/13, 7/15, 7/16, and 7/18 follows a woman who, like Mark Antony, does not follow the advice of the Latin phrase “De mortise nil nisi bonum.” Come watch Robin Anne Joseph, who has been working in theatre for over 35 years, subvert the famous trope in The Late Gordon Kaplan. 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was formed in October 1, 1958. In the late 1950s, scientific discovery in the United States was less influenced by curiosity and more influenced by competition with the Soviet Union. By the time NASA formed, the United States was deep in the Space Race, a subset of the Cold War and a contest in which the US and the USSR fought to reach the moon first and subsequently establish themselves as the superior nation. Both nations wanted to prove to the other not only that they were superior, but that they had the technology and scientific advancements necessary to obliterate the other nation if push came to shove during the Cold War.  

       During the first 20 years of NASA’s operation alone, they launched several significant programs and achieved what had previously been thought of as impossible. First, they established human space flight initiatives in which they investigated whether or not humans could potentially survive in space. These initiatives included Protect Gemini (1965­-1966) in which they launched two astronauts into space to perfect the usage of a spacecraft for purposes of transport safety, reliability, and efficiency, and Project Apollo (1968­-1972) in which they explored the moon. They also accomplished multiple robotic missions to far­off planets such as Venus and Mars. They continued to study hypersonic flight, lifting body flight research, avionics and electronics studies, propulsion technologies, structures research, aerodynamics investigations, among others, and made many significant technological advancements. NASA also created satellites that could gather information from Earth and transmit said information, the same technology that is used for Google Maps, for example, today. Other satellites that were similarly sent into Earth’s orbit were used to monitor the weather.  

            After years of fierce competition, NASA developed into America’s pride and joy separate from the Cold War; NASA’s discoveries opened doors to a whole new realm of possibilities. Space was a vast expanse just waiting to be explored and there were so many unanswered questions.  
NASA’s accomplishments were so impressive not only because of the large scale of them, but because of the attention to detail and expertise necessary to make any one of the above accomplishments happen. Any one mistake would have caused the entire operation to fail, so perfection was paramount.  
In The Wiggle Room by George D. Morgan, which will premiere at the Strawberry One Act Festival on 7/15, 7/17, 7/20, 7/22, Morgan explores the importance of perfection in space exploration in this fictionalized account of the events preceding the NASA Challenger disaster. 

At her husband’s funeral, and at odds with her daughter and her rabbi, a grieving widow makes a bold decision about how her husband should be eulogized. In doing so, she grapples with the complexity of her feelings for him, for his death, and for his constant disappearances. Humorous and poignant, "The Late Gordon Kaplan" shines a light on life, death, and how we navigate our relationships along the way.
Thursday, July 13th at 9pmSaturday, July 15th at 5pm
Sunday, July 16th at 5pm
Tuesday, July 18th at 9pm

Tickets: $25 Online, $27 at the Box Office
Premium Seats: $30 Online, $35 at the Box Office
At the Theatre at St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street, NYC
Between 9th & 10th Avenue

For tickets click here.

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