It's Not Poop Week, It's Hippo Week!

This sentence is more practical than most of the drivel on this blog, as I need to present this example to my students in a few weeks, when we finally wrap up Hamlet . . . so if you don't care about Shakespeare, hippos, feigned madness, and impractical subterfuge, then I give you permission to stop reading this, but for you brave souls, you might learn something fascinating if you forge ahead; once we finish Hamlet, I am going to make the students connect a theme or character or line or allusion from the play to something modern -- a book or movie scene or song or painting that directly or indirectly reflects ideas from the play, and I just stumbled on a wonderful example: after Hamlet learns from his father's ghost that his uncle is the murderer, he decides that the best course of action is to put on an "antic disposition"-- he feigns madness-- as he believes this will allow him unusual freedoms around the castle and also that Claudius won't suspect him of any subterfuge because he's essentially opted out of the political reality inside the castle . . . and while I've always considered this an absolutely ridiculous plan (but artistically very entertaining, of course) I stumbled upon a historical example of feigned madness that turned out rather well for the perpetrator, an adventurer named Fritz Duquesne, a South African Boer soldier, who lived a wild life as a spy, saboteur, storyteller, big game hunter, and heavy-handed purveyor of bullshit and espionage . . . he was also the arch-nemesis of Frederick Russell Burnham -- although they both agreed on one thing, that America should import hippopotami to simultaneously solve the problem of the turn of the century meat shortage and the invasive water hyacinth (and I learned about all this in Jon Mooallem's fantastic article about the attempt to introduce hippo ranching to the Louisiana bayous) but, of course, we never imported hippos, and years later, Duquesne became rather unhinged, and was involved in several terroristic bombings, counter-espionage, and fraud; while he was held in city jail in New York in 1919, he lost his mind, and then the use of the lower half of his body, but the authorities were skeptical, so they stuck pins into his legs and under his toe nails, and Duquesne "never once wriggled or winced" so they transported him to Bellevue, where he sat in a wheelchair in front of a barred window and watched the birds . . . but he wasn't actually paralyzed and somehow withstood the pin torture without revealing his ruse, and day after day he sawed at the bars with two hacksaw blades he had acquired, and finally made a daring and nimble escape, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, hopping a ferry to Hoboken, and then disappearing into New Jersey . . . and he wasn't caught until 1941, when he was discovered to be at the center of the infamous Duquesne Spy Ring, and he went to jail in Kansas and served 13 years of his 18 year sentence . . . so like Hamlet, a wild and artistically satisfying life that could only end in tragedy.


zman said...

Mooallem is a made-up name.

Dave said...

great name for a guy who writes about animals.

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