Kris an’ Murphy: Benedicktion

paleface protestKris: “Unbelievable!”

Murphy: “You’re kidding, right, Kris? In this election year? Hasn’t that word made the ‘banished’ list yet?”

Kris: “I wish. So do those Dakota Access Pipeline protestors. They block a road with a peaceful, unarmed march, and get beaten up and thrown in jail. While these Oregon yahoos mount an armed takeover of Federal property and get acquitted of all charges! Not only is it unbelievable – it’s … it’s … un-American!

Murphy: “Wrong.”

Kris:What’s wrong?!?”

Murphy: “Your assertion that the acquittal of the Bundys is un-American. Nothing could be more American!”

Kris: “But Americans believe in the rule of law!

Murphy: “[…] Did you start drinking early today, before we got to the faculty club? I at least have to thank you for not opening our bottle yet, because otherwise I might have drowned, sputtering in my wine. Americans believe in the rule of law only when it suits them. And I can’t believe you’ve gotten this far in academia without realizing that.”

Kris: “Gimme a break, Murphy. We’re not talking parking tickets here, we’re talking about a jury blatantly ignoring the facts of the case! Surely this hasn’t happened before, surely this is new?

Murphy: “Old as the republic. You’ve heard of the Wanderer?”

Kris: “You mean, like ‘not all who wander are lost?'”

Murphy: “No. I mean Wanderer as in the slave ship. The US government banned importation of slaves way back in 1807. But the owner of the ship, one Charles Lamar, sent the Wanderer to Africa anyway, in 1858, picked up a cargo of slaves, and got them (the survivors, anyhow) delivered to Georgia. The Feds got wind of it, arrested Lamar, and tried him for violating the ban against the slave trade, and for piracy.”

Kris: “And he got sent to jail.”

Murphy: “And he walked free.”


Murphy: “You heard me. He walked. Jurors in Georgia, most of whom wanted that slave trade to be legal again, voted to acquit him. Vox populi, vox Dei.”

Kris: “Isolated case.”

Murphy: “Not. In 1850, a person named Narciso Lopez organized an expedition to conquer Cuba, then a colony of Spain. The purpose: to annex Cuba – which had banned slavery – and make into a new, and large, US slave state. Lopez even got the governor of Mississippi, one John Quitman, to buy in. Which is how the expedition got organized and launched – in defiance of US laws preventing persons or groups from interfering with the sovereignty of another nation. They called them ‘neutrality laws’. The expedition failed, and the ringleaders, including Lopez and Quitman, were arrested and tried for violation of the neutrality laws.”

Kris: “Don’t tell me …”

Murphy: “They walked.”

Kris: “I was trying to ask you not to tell me that.”

Murphy: “Too late. Not only was that acquittal against all the evidence, a New Orleans newspaper editor made it clear how shameless was that acquittal. ‘If the evidence against Lopez were a thousandfold stronger, no jury could be impaneled to convict him because public opinion makes a law.'”

Kris: “But that’s not rule by law, that’s rule by mob!

Murphy: “Uh huh.”

Kris: “Yeah, well, OK, this was the American South. And in 1861, they finally got so unmanageable that they went off and started this Civil War thing.”

Murphy: “Which is different from 2016 exactly how?

Kris: “Dammit, Murphy, you’re scaring me!”

Murphy: “Good.”

Kris: “Argh. Surely in the North, though …”

Murphy: “Ah, yes, the righteous, anti-slavery North. Many of the states and territories of which were so righteous and compassionate, that they passed laws barring entry of any person with dark skin and African descent, slave or free.

“America had something called a ‘fugitive slave law‘, in which slaves that fled to a free state (at least, one that would admit them) could be arrested and returned to slavery. The system was rigged so that any black person could legally be arrested, sent south, and sold into slavery.

“On several occasions, citizens of Northern states, especially clergymen and their parishioners, aided the escape of black people who would otherwise have been victims of the fugitive slave law. These citizens were arrested and tried – and, as often as not, acquitted by juries of their peers. ‘Because public opinion makes a law.'”

Kris: “Just like today, with the Bundy case.”

Murphy: “Aha. Light shines on Marblehead.”

Kris: “And the verdict in any case is anything but the true word! Why bother having laws at all then?”

Murphy: “Oh, I suppose it’s all Shakespearean.”

Kris: “… whut?”

Murphy: “You know. Much ado about nothing.”

Kris: “I wouldn’t call what you’ve been telling me nothing … wait. That’s the play with Benedict in it?”

Murphy: “No.”

Kris: “Yes it was. Benedict and Beatrice …?”

Murphy: “No. BenedicK and Beatrice. Which fit, because the fellow was a raging ass and wished to be known as good in bed. It’s a good thing Mel Brooks didn’t get it into his head to make a movie based on this play, because he would never have been able to resist the temptation of having Benedick tell Beatrice, at some point, ‘This is a stick up’.”

Kris: “And she would have told him ‘Yeah, you’re stuck up, all right.'”

Murphy: “So you see, Kris, if ‘Benedick’ means ‘a good old jackass of a prick’, then ‘verdick’ means ‘a true prick’, a right royal prick. Which means if you’re anywhere near one, you’re totally screwed.”

Kris: “I dunno, Murphy. It could mean a ‘green prick’. Especially if we’re talking about Shakespeare’s time. I mean, those people only bathed like about once every six months or so …”

Murphy: “Ew!”

Kris: “[…] Your students teach you that?”

Murphy: “Hey. At least I got something out of them.”

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