Thomas Bowdler was a physician who lived in the 18th century. He had fond memories of childhood when his father would read him works by Shakespeare. He only realised as an adult that his father had omitted or changed certain parts of stories to make it more “family friendly”. Inspired by this, he created the The Family Shakespeare – an edited version of Shakespeare’s greatest works made appropriate for even children to read.
Examples of changes made include changing exclamations that may be seen as blasphemous, such as “God”, into “heavens”. One interesting example is that the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia dies is portrayed as an accidental drowning, whereas the original alludes to her intending suicide. Some changes were even more dramatic, such as the complete cutting of story arcs involving a prostitute in Henry IV.
Since then, the act of editing something to make it more “appropriate” for a wider audience has been known as bowdlerisation. Although many may see bowdlerising as political correctness, Bowdler’s intentions were to make great works of literature such as Shakespeare more accessible to a broader audience, such as to children.
One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers – or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.
“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone.
“Yeah?” he says. “Good-looking?”
“Your favorite type, then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”
“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?”
“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”
She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and – what I’d really like to do – explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?”
No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do.
“Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.“
No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirty-two, and that’s what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves – just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.”
And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible influenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.
Shakespeare stated that “all is well that ends well”, but the opening of a story can be just as important. For example, “once upon a time” instantly transports a child (or adult) to a magical, faraway land full of wonders and adventure. So how would one open a story of drama, mystery or even horror?
One of the most infamous examples of such an opening is the line: “it was a dark and stormy night”. This opening sentence was first used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The full opening is:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
The phrase is effective in establishing a setting and painting a word picture.
However, this opening is considered overly florid and descriptive, overachieving its goal of establishing the setting. This kind of sentence is known as a purple prose and is mocked in the world of literature. This opening has become the poster child of purple prose, such as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which celebrates the worst examples of “dark and stormy night” stories.
Probably the most popular mention of “it was a dark and stormy night” is in the comic strip, Peanuts. Snoopy, the canine protagonist, is often seen starting a novel on his typewriter with the line “it was a dark and stormy night”. Perhaps it is no surprise as to why his novels were never published.
The Bible tells many stories of a King Solomon, son of David. King Solomon is most famous for his wisdom, of which there are many accounts of in the Bible. The following is an example of the wisdom of Solomon.
There once lived two women living under the same roof who both gave birth to a son at similar times. One of the mothers accidentally smothered her own son while sleeping, and decided to switch the two infants, claiming the living one to be her own. The other woman instantly noticed that the dead baby was not hers and confronted the culprit, asking for her baby back. She refused, leading to a very heated argument that ultimately ended up in the court of King Solomon. The two women pleaded him to make the decision of who the real mother was. After much deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He stated that since both women were claiming the boy to be their own, there was only one solution: to split the baby in two and give each person a half of the baby. The lying woman, in bitter jealousy, urged King Solomon to cut the baby. She thought that if she could not have the baby, then no one shall. The true mother, mortified by what King Solomon planned on doing, pleaded him to just give the baby to the other women and not to kill the baby. The king then judged that she must be the true mother and gave the baby back to her, while punishing the other for her sins.
The story shows how the wisdom of King Solomon led to justice and reuniting the mother and baby by method of creating a fake situation that would instantly distinguish the actual mother from the liar. The expression “splitting the baby” is still used in legal professions to describe the act of coming to a simple compromise between two parties.
The intended moral of the story is probably to teach people that wisdom can defeat even the greatest of challenges. But perhaps the real moral of the story is: if you are insane enough to steal a baby, at least have enough acting skills to follow through with it instead of telling someone to kill the baby.
Dracula is a fantasy/horror novel written by Bram Stoker in 1897. It is written as a series of letters, diary entries and other log entries, telling the battle between the vampire Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing (with the help of some other people). It is one of the most well-known horror fictions in history and defined the modern image of vampires. Although it seems unlikely, the blood-sucking, immortal, creepy vampire that is Count Dracula is (loosely) based on an actual person.
Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia was a Romanian prince who led his army to fight against the invading Ottoman Empire during the 15th century, which was expanding its reach throughout Europe at the time. He was also referred to as Vlad the Impaler due to his incredibly cruel punishment of prisoners and enemies. He would kill the victims by stabbing their bodies with spears, typically through the anus up to the mouth. He would then have the bodies hanging as a warning to others. The victims would die a slow and painful death as they were drained of blood.
Another interesting fact is that Vlad III was an expert in guerilla warfare and would frequently hide his army in trees and strike the enemy at nighttime. This earned him a legend that he was bat-like – hanging from trees and only attacking at night to drain people of their blood. It is likely that Stoker took this legend and incorporated it into his novel, making Count Dracula able to transform into a large bat.
It is fascinating to see how someone who is portrayed as a noble hero in Romania and Slavic countries is remembered as an archetypal monster in modern times. This serves to remind us that no matter what good deed we may do, the world will only focus on a certain aspect and define you by that characteristic. The world is stubborn, critical and narrow-minded. Ergo, it is a waste of time trying to convince the world that you are a certain kind of person. As long as you know what kind of person you truly are and accept it, you will be able to live a happy life.
Generally speaking, people do not like it when someone watches them undress or see them in a compromising situation. The act of looking in such a situation when a person explicitly tells you not to is called voyeurism, which is French for looking. Peeking is an extreme violation of trust and privacy and can even be considered a crime. However, there are people like Edgar Degas who made a career out of peeking. Degas is very famous for his portraits of women bathing, combing their hair and drying themselves with towels. Through peeking through windows without permission, Degas was able to capture the women’s natural beauty without any artificial manipulation (if he was not caught).
The prohibition against looking is well-established in heroic mythology.
In the bible, when God decides to destroy Sodom and Gomora (two cities that become so indulgent and decadent that they become the symbol of sin itself), angels warn Lot to leave Sodom with his family. They tell Lot and his family not to look behind them as they flee, for they would become consumed by the sin. However, his wife looks back as they leave and is turned into a pillar of salt.
This story is likely to have been derived from the Greek mythology of the musician Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. When Eurydice is unfortunately killed by falling in a pit of vipers, Orpheus becomes struck with grief and turns to singing and playing his lyre for comfort. The gods are so moved by his sad, mournful songs that they advise him of a way to save Eurydice. On their advice, Orpheus travels to the underworld and persuades Hades and Persephone to release Eurydice back to life with his music. The king and queen of the underworld, who are never moved by such things, are brought to tears by his music and accept Orpheus’ request. However, Hades tells him not to look at Eurydice until they reach the surface. Overjoyed, Orpheus takes Eurydice’s hand and leads her back to the living world. When Orpheus reaches the surface, he looks back in anxiety to make sure Eurydice is still behind him. However, he does not realise that both must be above the surface and when he looks back, Eurydice has not reached the upper world yet. She is dragged back into the underworld, never to return again.
There are many other instances of voyeurism being punished in literature, such as the Peeping Tom who is struck with blindness when he tries to peek at Lady Godiva in the nude, or anyone who makes eye contact with Medusa turning to stone. It is clear that voyeurism has been an integral part of humanity throughout history. No matter how immoral the act may be, the stories show that the hero always looks.
In his play Lysistrata, Greek playwright Aristophanes gives a comic account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War – a 30 year old war between Athens and Sparta. How did one woman bring an end to such a deadly war?
In the play, Lysistrata (the female protagonist) becomes sick and tired of men treating women like simplistic hedonists incapable of functioning on their own. She believes that the war is a result of irrational men making stupid decisions and the long war is a waste as young, nubile women are aging away. She holds a convening of the women of various city states and proposes that the women must rise up to stop the war. Lysistrata’s plan is simple: withhold sex from the men until they cave (i.e. a sex strike). The women are reluctant at first, but agree to join her. They then take over the acropolis of the city, setting up a safe haven for women, barring any man from entering.
The men initially scoff at this revolution and try repeatedly to lay siege on the acropolis. However, they fail and the women continue to not provide any sexual pleasures to any male. The men constantly make snide comments about how women are hysterical and only seek pleasure, but sooner or later, they become desperate for sex. One by one, desperate men (sporting “burdens”, i.e. erections) come to the acropolis, pleading for relief (funnily, some women desert the acropolis in desperation for sex as well). The women take the men in, but only to tease them and leave them disappointed.
Eventually, the men (of both Athens and Sparta) cave and surrender, agreeing to end the war. There is a hilarious scene during the peace talks where Lysistrata brings out a stunning young girl named Reconciliation in front of the men, quashing any complaints or objections. Even the men who protest against the women’s demands are overcome by their lust and want(/need) for sex. Once peace is declared, the men and women all come together in the acropolis for singing and dancing, celebrating the women’s success in ending the war.
Although the play is only a comic exploration of the battle of the sexes, it clearly shows the power women have over men, and how they can use that power to easily control men.
In Genesis from the Old Testament of the Bible, it is said that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. But the system of a seven-day week can be found in many other cultures and religions. The origin of the seven-day week system is ancient Babylonia. The Babylonians believed that every seventh day was one of misfortune, with 7 having the significance that it is the largest single-digit prime number and the number of heavenly bodies known at the time (sun, moon, five planets). This was passed on to the Jewish people who made the seventh day the Sabbath. This was then adopted by Catholics in Rome and in 325AD, it was officially decided at the Concilium Nicaenum (official council that was held to vote for the official religion of Rome) that every week would be seven days long.
There is also a reason for assigning a heavenly body to each day (Monday = Moon, Tuesday = Mars, Wednesday = Mercury, Thursday = Jupiter, Friday = Venus, Saturday = Saturn, Sunday = Sun). At first, the order of the days was the same as the order of heavenly bodies by their distance from the Earth: “Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon”. This was then cross-referenced with the astrological 24-hour system of planetary hours, resulting in a new order of “Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus”. Because of this, the week started on Saturday in ancient times. It was only during Roman times when the week was changed to start on the Sunday, with Sunday becoming an official day of rest.
The Romans named the days after the heavenly body assigned to that day. For example, “Sunday” obviously comes from “Sun”, with the same applying to Monday and Saturday. This system is used in Korea and China, where each day is labelled according to the assigned planet. For example, Thursday is 목요일(mok yo il) in Korean, where 목 means wood, with 목성(mok sung) meaning Jupiter.
In English, the names of each day are mixed. Some are based on planets like the Korean system (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), while others inherit their name from the Germanic people. The Germanic people assigned one of their gods (from Norse mythology) to each day (except Sunday and Monday, which are related to the Sun and the Moon, while Saturday had a completely different name). Tuesday stands for “Tyr’s day”, Wednesday stands for “Wodan’s(or Odin’s) day”, Thursday stands for “Thor’s day” and Friday stands for “Frigg’s day”.
Interestingly, the Norse god assigned to each day correlates with the Greek/Roman god assigned to it. For example, Thursday is “Thor’s day” and also “the day of Jupiter”. Jupiter is the Roman king of gods (same as Zeus from Greek mythology) who uses lightning, while Thor is the Norse god of thunder.
Not every country calls each day a meaningful name. In China, Monday is simply 星期一(xing qi yi), or “first star period”, with each day after that being one number higher (Sunday is specially called 星期日(xing qi ri), where the number is replaced by the character for “Sun”). Although China used the same system as Korea and Japan based on 음양오행설(eum yang oh hang sul, system of Five Elements and Yin Yang), the days were renamed with the simplification of the language.
One day, a donkey fell in to a well. It cried piteously for hours while the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Ultimately, the farmer decided that the donkey was old and was nor worth saving. He planned to fill the well, as he had no need for it either. He invited his neighbours to come over and help him. Everyone grabbed a spade and shovelled dirt into the well.
The donkey was terrified; sooner or later he would literally be buried alive, with no food, water or air. It cried even more and begged the farmer to show mercy. The people ignored the animal’s neighing and screeching. The donkey was about to give up. There was no hope of getting out the well and soon it would die a slow, suffocating death. But then, it came up with a cunning plan. As the dirt slowly filled the well, the donkey stepped up on the mound of earth. Eventually, the mound grew high enough for it to jump out of the well. The donkey then kicked the farmer and galloped off into the sunset.
Life is bound to throw all kinds of dirt at you. But just because bad things happen, it does not mean you have to live a miserable life. When life throws a spadeful of dirt at you, brush it off and step over it instead of letting it weigh you down. With a positive mindset and determination to become happy, you can escape even when you fall into the darkest, deepest well of despair.
The story of the Three Little Pigsis a timeless tale of how important good planning and doing things right is. Also, it serves to remind us that good architecture and engineering is key to one’s survival. A key aspect of the story is how the wolf “huffs and puffs” to blow the straw house and the stick house away. However, he cannot blow the brick house away as it is too well-built. Out of scientific curiosity, how hard does the wolf have to blow to destroy the Little Pigs’ three houses?
An experiment was performed to scientifically test this tale. The researchers built a house out of straw, a house out of sticks and a house out of bricks, then set up a fan to test at what wind speed the house was destroyed. The straw house blew away when the wind speed was 11m/s. The stick house lasted a little longer, up to a wind speed of 21m/s. Then what about the brick house? The brick house withstood winds of 35m/s, whereupon the researchers had to stop as the strong wind nearly blew the people away.