Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

After having spent the past two and a half years editing and transferring Gil Bailie’s cassette recordings of Reflections on Dante’s Divine Comedy to the world of digital audio, I am now ready to take on the next transition task. The backlog of material is substantial but what came to mind during this US presidential election’s political season was Gil Bailie’s reflections on Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Below are a couple of short excerpts from the first part of this series which I think may pique your interest:

During the period prior to making these presentations Gil had been participating in the episodic seminars held Friday afternoons on the Stanford campus with René Girard and his students. Professor Girard had been preparing a compilation of articles on the bard’s work that was published in 1991 as A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare (Odeon). Five of the 38 chapters in his book deal with Julius Caesar. And for those familiar with Shakespeare’s plays it offers a wealth of practical insights into both Shakespeare and Girard’s mimetic theory.

The entire first part of Gil’s series is available on our webstore HERE. Forthcoming episodes of Julius Caesar and other Shakespeare plays will be posted to our store monthly. If you would like to follow these talks and have them sent to your email address each month, please consider becoming a regular monthly donor to the Cornerstone Forum. For a one time annual donation of $60 ( or a subscription of $5 per month for 12 months) we will add your email address to our list of supporters to our mendicant work and send you a monthly link to our complimentary downloadable MP3 file. Although CDs are quickly passing over the technological horizon, we still provide these without cost (via USPS) to those generous souls who sustain our efforts at the $300 per year level (or a subscription of $25 per month for 12 months). Our sustaining donors will also receive the monthly complimentary downloadable MP3 as well. Note: complimentary mailed CDs are only available to our supporters in the US due to the high cost of postage for non-US customers.

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129

As an account of our fallen condition and the perennial temptation to escape into a utopian future, has Shakespeare’s sonnet 129 ever been improved upon?

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

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Unlimited Sovereignty of the Individual

“We are probably the first, and we will surely remain the only, people in history to give over all elements of social life and all contents of human life to the unlimited sovereignty of the individual. … It is easy to see that, if humanity had begun its adventure by embracing such principles, neither families, nor cities, nor religious communities would ever have been created. Strangely, our regime has taken on the task of drawing support more and more exclusively from a principle upon which it happens to be impossible to found anything at all.”

Beyond Radical Secularism: How France and the Christian West Should Respond to the Islamic Challenge
by Pierre Manent

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Ties That Bind vs individualism?

4thofJulySome thoughts on the 240th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America.

The ideas underlying the democratic principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States had their earliest known instantiation in the Athenian democratic experience during the period from the 6th to the 4th century BC finally ending, after a rather bumpy ride, with the world conquering rule of the Macedonian tyrant Alexander the Great. I recall a college Greek history professor commenting on the failures of Athenian democracy saying that prior to the rule of Alexander and his successors, the citizens of Athens had succumbed to a kind of creeping ‘individualism’ that rendered them fractious and ill disposed to any common societal center of gravity. The ties that bound the citizens to their families, clans, tribes and the city state were thought to have loosened over time. Why this happened was not well understood.

The American version of democracy, corseted as a representative republic, with its appeals to Divine Providence and the common good so as ‘to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their descendants’ would seem at this pass to have similarly succumbed to a loosening of the ties that bind us together as a nation. What is at the heart of this failure to come together? Are the ties that bind so irksome to us that we despise them and willfully throw them off? And then what…? Without the communion of our compatriots we become isolates; true individuals ‘free’ from family and the grounding of faith in creed or even custom. Perhaps more strangely, we redefine ‘family’ and any other cramping concept to allow each of us individuals to make up or own identity without respect to any given in nature or culture. The blessings of liberty have morphed into the curse of a freedom to be or do anything. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this will end well.

So, on this anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence I will again  celebrate with my family and friends confessing my own complicity in rending our common fabric while working for the healing of the nations. God have mercy on us.

Randy Coleman-Riese

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Remembering Ralph Stanley and Bill Cunningham


Ralph Stanley


Bill Cunningham

Among the many who ended their earthly pilgrimages in the past week are the two men pictured here.

Their passing was noted in the media outlets because of their notoriety. Mr. Stanley, a musician, and Mr. Cunningham, a photographer, both were Christians who in their very different lives gave quiet yet profound testimony to their faith.

Mr. Stanley in an interview some  years ago was asked about his unique singing style:

Now, that’s not my voice…. That’s a God-given voice.
If it wasn’t for the lord’s will, I couldn’t — I couldn’t sing that way. He gives everybody everything they have.

As an ‘old timey’ country musician singing with family members as the Clinch Mountain Boys he did not have a wide exposure until the 2000 Coen brothers movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? in which Mr. Stanley sang unaccompanied the dirge “O Death”.

There’s never been truer words ever written, because every word in that “O Death” song is going to come. It’s going to come to you and me and everybody else.
And I try my best to make people understand it when I sing that, that it is. I never think about it, but I know every — I sing that every night. And I know that, one day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe 50 years from today, that’s coming to me, see?
It’s already come to a lot of people. And that’s true, a true song.

Just as one would really need to hear Ralph Stanley (and perhaps have an appreciation of country music) to get a sense of the man and his spirit, Bill Cunningham could best be introduced via a documentary done in 2011, Bill Cunningham New York. In this film that follows Mr. Cunningham around Manhattan as he photographs people on the street going about their lives as well as the interviews interspersed throughout the viewer will begin to understand a little of the deep Catholic faith that motivates his life.

Near the end of the film the interviewer asks Mr. Cunningham two questions: ‘Have you ever had a romantic relationship’ and ‘Why he goes to church every Sunday’. To the first he responds, “He wants to know if I’m gay!” and laughs. Beginning his career as a milliner Mr. Cunningham has always been involved in the fashion world in one way or another except for a stint in the Army. In answer to the question he states that he had never been in a ‘romantic relationship’. The second question elicited a different kind of response. When asked, Mr. Cunningham bowed his head remaining silent for about 30 seconds, seemingly in prayer but also almost weeping. Lifting his head, he replied that he believed that it is good to have a guide in one’s life.

In 2008 the French government bestowed on him the Legion of Honor. In accepting the award he ended his speech with, “He who seeks Beauty will find it”.

Requiescant in pacem

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Father’s Day Thoughts

cPéguyHere is something from Charles Péguy to consider on Father’s Day:

There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world, the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared with him. Everything in the modern world, even and perhaps most of all contempt, is organized against that fool, that imprudent, daring fool – against the unruly, audacious man who is daring enough to have a wife and family. Everything is against him. Savagely organized against him. Everything turns and combines against him. Men, events, the events of society, the automatic play of economic laws. And, in short, everything else.
Everything is against the father of a family, the pater familias; and consequently against the family. He alone is literally “engaged” in the world, in the age. He alone is an adventurer. The rest are at most engaged with their heads, which is nothing. He is engaged with all his limbs. The rest suffer for themselves. In the first degree. He alone suffers through others.

It would betray the revolutionary character of Charles Péguy to quote him in a spirit of nostalgia, for their author had no patience with the attempt to return to a past which the forlorn tend to romanticize. Be that as it may, the task of fashioning a way of life and a renewed experiment in ordered liberty that does justice to the mystery of the human vocation ought to begin with an assessment of what has been lost.

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Freedom exists

Freedom exists, not that one might choose according to his or her passing desires, but that one might move toward the true meaning and mystery of life and, in doing so, make that meaning and mystery uniquely manifest, living it out in a way that no one else in the whole history of the world could.

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Péguy on The Modern World…and Playing Games with God


The modern world as a whole is a world that thinks only about its own old age. It is a monstrous old people’s home, an institution for pensioners. … Avarice in the form of anxiety about tomorrow is the lord of all the world.

God plays with man the children’s game of ‘loser takes all’.

— Hans Urs von Balthasar commenting on and quoting Charles Péguy

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Political Homelessness

“Americans interested in neither nationalism nor socialism,” writes Jonah Goldberg, “are once more entering an era of political homelessness.”

All the more is it the case that Catholics determined to follow their faith and live it robustly in the public square may soon be more homeless than Catholics have been in a very long time. Without paranoia or hysteria, we should begin to seriously prepare for challenges to our faith, which we can only hope will cause that faith to deepen.

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A Fool’s Errand

The preeminent school of self-sacrificial love is the natural family, consisting of children born of the nuptial fidelity of their biological parents. The school of self-governing virtue is a healthy and well-formed moral conscience. A society will conduce to the wellbeing of its inhabitants to the degree that these two schools are recognized as indispensable, respected, and supported. Today both these keys to human dignity and happiness are under assault from ideological forces domestic and foreign. If these assaults succeed – and they each have reason to be confident of success– our society will descend into an anarchy that will be but prelude to a totalitarian attempt to restore order and the dissolution of our civilization. This is the fate of any attempt to build a post-Christian political order. Pre-Christian societies often flourished despite the despair hidden at their core, but a society as exposed to the Christian revelation as ours has been cannot return to that state of cultural childhood. “Those who do not gather with me will scatter” said Jesus. “Without me you can do nothing.” These words are not spoken to strangers. They are spoken to those who had encountered Christ. Those who have not had such an encounter and those cultures that have not had such an encounter might muddle through and “gather” in ways that are both predictable and pitiable. They might be able to do more than nothing without Christ, for Christ and the revelation he came to bring will not have upended the social mechanisms for gathering themselves into a comity and doing the routine work of a civilization. But we and our descendants have forfeited our ability to return to the melancholy routine of a pre-Christian order. We are too Christ haunted. Even those who despise Christianity and those who shrug indifferently are Christ haunted in ways that make their aspiration for a post-Christian order a fool’s errand.

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