tom thinks

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date 2001-04-12:14:11
Humans Easter is upon us. The root of the term is, unsurprisingly, "East" and refers to ancient springtime festivals that celebrated renewal, using the metaphor of the sun rising in the east to capture the dawning of a new season of warmth and light and growth. Bunnies, being proverbially prolific, were a natural symbol of the season.

The major Christian holidays are chosen to align with the old pagan ones of Northern Europe, which is no surprise given the influx of Northern Europeans into the Roman Empire just as Christianity was becoming well-established. That they also align somewhat with Jewish holidays is partly a matter of chance, partly a matter of history--members of the very early church were still aware of their Jewish ideological origins.

I find it hard to believe that the date of Christmas is anything other than an attempt to Christianize pagan mid-winter festivals. Who knows when Christ was actually born (we have no idea what year he was born in, so it'd be pretty amazing to know what month or day.)

As the most Christianized of all the old holidays, I've always felt the least affinity toward Easter. I love the springtime, but it doesn't touch me the way the turning of the other seasons does. Mid-winter and especially mid-summer I find far more important, the extrema of the year, the places where the sun stops and turns. At the equinoxes, with the sun rushing across the meridians like Alice's White Rabbit, the changes on the Earth, not in the sky, are what matter to me. The early buds, the faint smoke of green in winter lawns, the sudden rains.
Names The title page of Romeo and Juliet from the first folio looks something like this:

The Tragedie




What's in a name? Well, if you're Juliet, apparently not very much--your name is set in the smallest type imaginable.


Names represent people, and messing with people's names is a way of messing with people. We see this all time--in politics, the opponents of a politician are always trying to tag him or her with a catchy and unpleasant nick-name. It seldom works, but when it does the name itself can create a reputation for the person that's hard to shake.

Women's names have been traditionally messed with by law and culture, to the extent that they at times seem not have had names. Up until a few decades ago it was not uncommon for a woman married to John Smith to designate herself as "Mrs. John Smith".

Even today, many women inexplicably change their names upon marriage. I've never understood this--if someone were to ask me to change my name I'd want a compelling reason. "We've always done it that way" is a reason, but hardly a compelling one.

The typesetting of Juliet's name is particularly striking because hers is a genuinely major role--she's not quite so active as Romeo in the plot, but her choices are important and she gets most of the best lines. So you might think that her name would be set in a font slightly bigger than 2 points. What was going through the typesetter's mind as he put together that page? "Well, she's only a woman after all"?

The other plays with women's names in the title are: Trolius and Cressida and Anthony and Cleopatra. I wonder if this oddity is repeated?

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