Man’s Final Lore: How Shakespeare Shot Lincoln

Today is the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. Shakespeare didn’t pull the trigger, of course, but his play "Julius Caesar" inadvertently triggered a series of events that inspired the act.

It’s one of the most infamous images of American Shakespearean theater. Taken from a performance of Julius Caesar in New York City in 1864, the photograph shows three brothers from a distinguished acting family pose in character: Junius as Cassius on the right, Edwin as Brutus in the center, and on the left, as Marc Anthony, the youngest brother, John Wilkes Booth. It was the only time the three brothers appeared together on stage, but that play would haunt them the rest of their lives. John Wilkes watched his brother Edwin’s portrayal of the “noblest Roman of them all” and decided to become an “American Brutus” who would slay the tyrant Abraham Lincoln who waged a Civil War against his beloved South. Today is the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by the would-be Brutus, who failed to recognize the tragic flaw of hubris Shakespeare gave to the protagonist of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare didn’t pull the trigger, of course, but it was his play that inadvertently triggered a series of events that inspired the act.


Everyone who remembers Julius Caesar from high school also remembers that the title character is not the hero of the play. It’s the trials and tribulations of Brutus we watch until the final act. Brutus takes in the false praise of Cassius and the other conspirators and lends his good name and reputation to sweeten the foul murder. That good name and reputation echoes throughout the play until Marc Anthony’s famous speech calling “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” In Marc Anthony’s mouth the repeated “and surely Brutus is an honorable man…” rings more and more hollowly. And, yet, John Wilkes Booth failed to hear that hollow ring and its deeper meaning despite declaiming the words on stage. For him, Brutus remained an ideal to emulate.

Once that fateful shot was fired, life for all the Booths changed. Edwin, perhaps the greatest Shakespearean actor in America at the time, never shook the specter of his brother’s actions. Edwin actually supported the Northern cause and voted for Lincoln, despite John Wilkes protestations that Lincoln would soon crown himself king. Even the fact that Edwin had saved the life of Lincoln’s son Robert in 1864 provided little solace. The quintessential Hamlet of his age, Edwin felt the ghosts of the past pursuing him to the grave.

Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, Herman Melville viewed an art exhibition at the National Academy in New York City. Among the works shown was Sanford Gifford’s A Coming Storm (now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Noticing that Edwin Booth owned the painting, Melville found a deeper significance in the foreboding landscape. In the poem “The Coming Storm,” Melville connected that landscape to the psychic landscape of Edwin Booth:

A demon-cloud like the mountain one

Burst on a spirit as mild

As this urned lake, the home of shades.

But Shakspeare's pensive child

Never the lines had lightly scanned,

Steeped in fable, steeped in fate;

The Hamlet in his heart was 'ware,

Such hearts can antedate.

Melville saw the “Hamlet” in Edwin’s heart through his choice to purchase Gifford’s painting. In essence, allowing the painting to exhibit was Edwin’s public statement on the assassination—a deep sadness mixed with a realization of the same human failings Shakespeare wrote of over and over. Melville finishes the poem with the following lines:

No utter surprise can come to him

Who reaches Shakspeare's core;

That which we seek and shun is there—

Man's final lore.

For Edwin, Melville, Gifford, and Shakespeare, “Man’s final lore”—the last lines of the story we write with our actions—is what we both “seek and shun” in human nature. As Edwin well knew, Shakespeare has Hamlet say, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me…” The paradox of angelic and barbaric in humanity vexed Edwin, especially when his brother became the embodiment of betrayal. John Wilkes Booth, a Brutus wanna be, scanned Shakespeare’s lines too lightly seeking justification for his own desires and was genuinely shocked at the negative public reaction to his act. If anything good can come of remembering the assassination of Lincoln, it is the lesson that we fail to read Shakespeare, or dare to misread him, at our peril.

Tesla introduces new Model 3 at $45,000

The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.

Tesla Model 3 (Photo: Tesla)
Technology & Innovation
  • Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
  • The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
  • Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain
  • When it comes to educating, says Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a brave failure is preferable to timid success.
  • Fostering an environment where one isn't afraid to fail is tantamount to learning.
  • Human beings are complicated and flawed. Working with those complications and flaws leads to true knowledge.
Keep reading Show less

Denmark has the flattest work hierarchy in the world

"It's about having employees that are empowered."

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
popular

Denmark may be the birthplace of the Lego tower, but its workplace hierarchy is the flattest in the world.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the nation tops an index measuring "willingness to delegate authority" at work, beating 139 other countries.

Keep reading Show less

The surprising psychology of sex with your ex

We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?

Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
  • Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
  • The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Keep reading Show less

Yes, Mega Millions just passed $1 billion. What does that look like?

It's hard to imagine such a number. But these images will help you try.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Megamillions_tickets.jpg
News/Social

The Mega Millions lottery just passed $1 billion for tonight's drawing.

What does that even look like, when represented by various currencies?

It takes just 6 numbers to win. You can only, however, purchase tickets up until 10:45 ET tonight.

Keep reading Show less

Relationship hack: Why class clowns make better partners

Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
  • Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
  • Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
Keep reading Show less

Single algae cells can help deliver targeted medicine

Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.

Credit: O. Yasa et al./Adv. Mater.
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
  • This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
  • The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.

Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.

The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.

A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —

More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.

After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.

The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.

Gary Shteyngart: reality catches up to dystopian fiction

Our modern-day Kafka on his new novel Lake Success and the dark comedy that in 2018 pretty much writes itself

Technology & Innovation
  • riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
  • the alternate reality of hedge fund traders
Keep reading Show less