Maybe Ignorance Is Bliss

Thursday, June 10, 2010
There are a lot of things to complain about with Glee. The music is great, but the plots can be sloppy bordering on offensive. 

I seem to be more or less on my own in my level of discomfort in the blackmail plot with Sue and the principal, but catching a Shakespeare reference in the season finale of Glee did not help much:
"One last chit, Figgy, give the glee club another year, and I won't mention us making the beast with two backs again."
I'm willing to bet that the writers did not know that "the beast with two backs" is from Othello. But I did; I am obsessed with Othello.  My thesis for my BA was titled "'All That Is Spoke Is Marred' – The Transformation of Othello As Seen Through Speech."

So, I knew that "a beast with two backs" is part of a list of racially-charged animal metaphors that Iago uses to describe Desdemona sleeping with Othello. And when I heard it here, in describing what the creators of Glee clearly see as a race as well as infidelity issue, I cringed a little. (Emphasis mine).

'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on
your gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe.
Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say....

What tell'st thou me of robbing? this is Venice;
My house is not a grange....

'Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not
serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, you'll
have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;

you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

What profane wretch art thou?

I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
It should be noted that this dialogue also produces an exchange that should be printed on DC Shakespeare shirts:

Thou art a villain.

You are--a senator.

3 Responses to 'Maybe Ignorance Is Bliss'

  1. Devorah said...'> June 10, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Wow, I didn't see that episode, and not sure I would have caught the reference if I had, but seriously-- to quote another college lab professor of ours made famous by these words, "too much-- no good."


  2. Julia said...'> June 12, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    Interesting point.

    I think, though, it's likely the GLEE writers did know the reference. Who are television writers? Mostly English major liberal arts grads like ourselves...

    My problem with GLEE is that it's so sloppy! Mostly well-intentioned but so poorly executed.... If I'm not enjoying a TV musical, who is?!?!


  3. Jesse A. said...'> June 15, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Interesting, I didn't actually know the origin of the phrase... But neither do alot of people, I think. The Glee writers may or may not have, but "the beast with two backs" entered into the English lexicon a long time ago as an idiom for sex, pretty much devoid of racial overtones from what I can tell. I don't really think there's any harm here.


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