Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stop Bullying: The Secret Theme of Cymbeline

I’ve never really been bullied in my life.

I think this means that I am a bully.

There was my roommate my first year at boarding school. That whole year I was so afraid of being hazed that I treated him terribly in an effort to feel strong and not completely vulnerable in every aspect of my life. Even though he was a good guy and became one of my best friends, I was horrible to him. I physically bullied him, pushed him around, and at 14 I was foolish enough to think that exercising dominance over this small corner of my high school life was important enough to warrant such wretched action.

His name was Tito and he was from Chicago. Tito wasn’t his real name, it was the name that the seniors gave him and it stuck because we all preferred to conform to norms established by upper classmen rather than stand up for our own. He didn’t just take all of my behaviors lying down. He and Mike Osecky put icy hot in all my underwear one night, they read my journal (which promptly led me to stop using a journal forever), and then when he walked in on me… well, you know… I was so sure he was going to tell everyone about it to get back at me for being an asshole. But he didn’t tell anyone. Not until a year later, and by that time, we were good friends and nobody cared because you’ve got to be some kind of auto-erotic ninja to make it through four years of living in a dorm with high school boys to not get caught squeezing one off.

So, I guess I sort of understand bullying a little bit. And in the way that we all feel a little sympathy for the villains I have a tiny amount of sympathy when I suspect bullies are battling their own lack of self-confidence, when they’re fighting for a little control over a small section of the world. There’s nothing worse in life than feeling that circumstances are entirely beyond your control. Which is why I was so stunned in Cymbeline when Cloten, the bullying son of the wicked stepmother/evil queen was killed off-stage in a fight with one of the disguised, kidnapped sons of King Cymbeline and his head was brought back on stage.

As if he were Macbeth, or a traitor from one of the histories -- as if he were a villain of such profound historical consequence that the audience was going to cheer -- he was abruptly beheaded. Cloten was an idiot and his evil mother made him feel like he was entitled to marry princess Imogen and become king. He wasn’t clever enough to create these ambitions for himself and it was this entitlement that escalated his quarrel with Guiderius to bloodlust:


Have not I

An arm as big as thine? A heart as big?

Thy words I grant are bigger: for I wear not

My dagger in my mouth. Say what thou art:

Why I should yield to thee.


Thou villain base,

Know’st me not by my clothes?


No, nor thy tailor, rascal…


…I am son to th’ queen.


I am sorry for’t: not seeming

So worthy as thy birth. (4:2)

Cloten goes on to threaten to cut off Guiderius’s head and stick it on the gates of Lud town, so it’s not like Guiderius isn’t justified in his action. And of course, Imogen needs to find Cloten's body and mistake it for her lover, Postumous's body -- sending her into a downward spiral, so that she winds up serving the Italian general in battle against her father. Eventually she is unmasked as is her still-living lover Posthumous, and her long-missing princely brothers, and the sinister plot that made her seem like a slut. So the beheading of Cloten is necessary for the intricate house of cards that makes up the plot of Cymbeline. Still, I feel a little sad for poor, stupid, bullying Cloten.

Now that I think about it, I suppose even though I didn’t get hazed badly back in high school, the mere threat of it was a form of bullying… and then I got punched another time in my life and that’s got to count as an incident of bullying.

That was at Space Camp. You have to be some kind of geek to get bullied at Space Camp.

It went down like this. We had a simulated mission and the kid on our team who was the pilot forgot to follow the script and lower the landing gear of the shuttle as it was coming in for the landing. Our totally hot counselor, Frances, told us it was the only thing that went wrong with the whole mission, and that it probably would have resulted in the shuttle crashing and everyone dying. Not the most tactful thing to say to a 12 year-old kid, I suppose. The kid started crying and then later in the day we went to the Imax to see “Destiny in Space” and I was about to sit next to him when his big, fat roommate grabbed me and punched me in the stomach and said: “I’m sitting there!” I said, “God, fine!” and moved a couple seats down to sit next to my roommates.

It wasn’t like it was a terrible or scarring incident. These days I use it mostly as a self-deprecating anecdote to amass geek cred. People always think it’s cool that you went to Space Camp as a kid, but it’s actually really lame, and this is the most exciting thing that happened while I was there. But I guess it proves I have been bullied, and I’ve committed bullying. So like all stupid things in life, there’s no black and white here, just a bunch of grey.

It’s like that line in “A Night at the Opera,” Lassparri is beating up Harpo, who works as his costumer, and Groucho walks in, “Hey, you big bully, stop picking on that little bully.”

That’s me. The little bully. Darting in and out of the operatic incidents around me, pulling the strings and wisecracking in the wings, but never demonstrating any brash heroism or fierce pride. For those are qualities that land one’s head on the end of a pike.

No comments:

Post a Comment