Strangers and Pilgrims

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Brobdingnagian Vastness: Antony & Cleopatra, Moby-Dick, Moonstruck

I have been reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra lately. And, I’ve been reading critical works about Antony and Cleopatra.

I was just reading through Julian Markel’s “The Pillar of the World” and he said something in one of the last chapters, on page 145, that I had to Google what it meant. He said:

The most striking quality of the imagery is what the late S. L. Bethel called its Brobdingnagian vastness.

I didn’t know what “Brobdingnagian Vastness” meant. So, i looked it up, Brobdingnagian just means giant — apparently Brobdingnag is the name of the island of giants in Gulliver’s Travels. I’ve never read the book or seen the movie(s) so I didn’t know that.

But, after understanding that Antony and Cleopatra employes this “giant vastness” in it’s imagery I totally understood. In my notes on my first read through of the play I wrote down:

Antony is the greatest of all men. All men love him. And all men follow him. And he is the most flawed of all men. And, Pompey is "thriving in our idleness". Antony must shake off his faults, or everything has failed. The men are great. The stakes are great. The moments and events that move us towards our ends are great. Everything is great. Ahab is great. The whale is great. The great monomaniacal forward movement. Thrusting forward. Thrusting forward. The inevitability of it all. Men are made. They are set in their paths. In their characters. In their actions. And the scene plays itself out.

Reading through Antony & Cleopatra I was reminded a lot of the Brobdingnagian vastness of Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is basically a 500 page build up to the last, final battle. Whaling is the greatest industry. Whaling is the most dangerous activity. The greatest of all whales is Moby Dick. He is white. The most symbolic of all colors. Moby Dick is everything in the whole world. Literally its symbol. Ahab is monomaniacal. Ahab is the most possessed of all men on the planet. If ever there was a great battle, surely it was between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Like, Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar. It reminds me of professional wrestling. And, of, uhm, carnival barkers. It’s this great, big hype machine that puts this story in a giant context. A Brobdingnagian context.

Here is a passage from Moby-Dick that exemplifies this:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. The intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; . . .All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonism of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it

Later, Melville writes:

Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors!

To me. That is like saying “John Cena is the greatest living wrestler on planet earth, and is going to destroy the Rock at Wrestlemania.” It’s so much hype., So much carnival barking. So much Brobdingnagian vastness.

It reminds me of this great scene from Moonstruck, where Nicolas Cage explains to Cher about how Nic Cage’s brother is responsible for Nice losing his hand in a bread slicer, and this woman that works at the bakery says:

This is the most tormented man I have ever known. I’m in love with this man. And, he doesn’t know that. I never told him. Because he could never love anybody since he lost his hand and his girl.

The Brobdingnagian vastness of that is hilarious. All the superlatives.