Paul Andersen: Sex and depravity at an Aspen Institute seminar
December 17, 2017
Dramas of sexual misconduct unfolding across America have even touched the refined atmosphere of an Aspen Institute Shakespeare seminar.
Not even the cloistered walls of the Koch Building were sacrosanct last week from the taints of sexual malfeasance that are cracking the foundations of the male hierarchy.
Leave it to Shakespeare to open such titillating topics as seduction, fornication, and sexual deviation, riveting a roomful of tantalized seminarians with stimulating intercourse.
Blushing was kept to a minimum despite seamy revelations from Elizabethan characters in "Measure for Measure," a dark comedy deemed one of the Bard's "problem plays."
The age old problem, of course, is lust, the common currency in the universal exchange between men and women, and among all stripes and hues of LGBT lovers. This candid seminar on sex and sensuality plumbed the seminal issues that are provoking today's gender revolution.
Is it "the tempter or the tempted who sins most?" This query from the protagonist Angelo is at the heart of it all. Angelo, a hypocritical puritanical liege, acknowledges the visceral attraction he feels for the comely maiden Isabella. She, the nun-in-training, is as pure as the driven snow, sanctified by her vows to marry Jesus and reside in a convent to brood on the sins of man.
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Isabella is unaware that the glowing halo of her purity is an aphrodisiac for the perverted Angelo who, shocked by his uncontrolled passion for this sanctimonious acolyte, seethes with moral conflict at the intensity of prurient desire rising from his core.
Angelo's overtures to Isabella are at first too subtle for this righteous naïf to grok. As Angelo's excitement grows, so do his blunt and lascivious solicitations, which the offended Isabella threatens to expose. In an echo of today, Angelo warns her that no one will believe her.
Angelo's ruling authority is the key he uses to unlock Isabella's maidenly treasures. He does so by threatening the life of her brother, who is imprisoned for having impregnated his girlfriend out of wedlock. Unless Isabella succumbs to his demand for sex, Angelo (he's no angel!) vows that her brother will die a slow and painful death. At her brother's insistence, the tormented Isabella painfully surrenders herself and sheds her righteous habit.
Angelo would make the "#Me Too" section in today's news for defiling Isabella's saintly chastity. How prescient of Shakespeare to portray this contemptible horn dog for today's audiences who are witness to moralistic condemnations that are sweeping men of power from pedestals of prestige.
This seminar was artfully orchestrated by Carol and Ken Adelman, whose "Movers and Shakespeares" programs target lessons in leadership. Given current events, explained Carol, rules of appropriate sexual behavior must influence future leadership in a climate of acute gender sensitivity.
As accusations of sexual transgressions flood today's media, naming names at the highest levels – right up to the Groper-in-Chief – "Measure for Measure" offers sage observations on gender conflict while guaranteeing a market for future sex seminars.
This seminar elicited a curious depth of intellectual penetration which, for the often sober minded Shakespearean scholars who frequent the series, appeared to be a welcome perversion (I mean, diversion).
Shakespeare knew that lust is as human as our hunger for food and our need for shelter. While sex ranks only third on Maslow's hierarchy, it provides far more dramatic effect than food or shelter.
Topics of perfidy and peccadillo had seminarians chuckling at Shakespeare's bawdy ruminations. Meanwhile, the world-as-a-stage bubbles with the irrepressible juices of sensuality that surge eternal through the human libido.
Given today's fashion dictates of body tights, breast augments and lip enlargements, Angelo's question about "the tempter and the tempted" begs the question of mutual culpability in what must become a delicate, nuanced and mature discussion.
"Measure for Measure" climaxes with forced marriages among the chief characters, suggesting that only matrimony can douse the hot coals of desire and damp the flames of indignation, humiliation, reprobation, and repudiation resulting from sexual misconduct.
Shakespeare knew that sex sells and that conflicts from sexuality will never abate. He recognized a universal topic that would have people talking throughout the ages – including Aspen's intellectual and cultural cognoscenti.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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