(from the AP, 4/14.)


The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, and the judges' comments:



— Public Service: The Guardian US and The Washington Post for the revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency. The committee cited the Post for authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security. It cited The Guardian US for aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy. Finalists: Newsday, Long Island, N.Y., for its use of in-depth reporting and digital tools to expose shootings, beatings and other concealed misconduct by some Long Island police officers, leading to the formation of a grand jury and an official review of police accountability.

— Breaking News Reporting: The Boston Globe staff for its exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that enveloped the city, using photography and a range of digital tools to capture the full impact of the tragedy. Finalists: The Arizona Republic staff for its compelling coverage of a fast-moving wildfire that claimed the lives of 19 firefighters and destroyed more than a hundred homes, using an array of journalistic tools to tell the story; and The Washington Post staff for its alert, in-depth coverage of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, employing a mix of platforms to tell a developing story with accuracy and sensitivity.

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(Heizer is a student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.)

A Method to Her Madness

          Madness is used as a tool for rebellion in Hamlet. It may be the only way that the truth can be seen in Shakespeare’s Denmark, an unjust kingdom.  The play is centered on an act of treason: King Hamlet has been murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who takes the throne and marries the late king’s wife, Gertrude.  Returning from school, Prince Hamlet learns of the murder from his father’s ghost—and he swears to kill his uncle to avenge the death. Fickle and unsure, the student wavers on his plans. Caught in the moment, he accidently murders Polonius, the chief counselor to the king. Laertes swears revenge on his father’s murderer; his sister Ophelia (also Polonius’s child) has feelings for Hamlet and goes mad. Through the symbolic meanings of flowers, she passively revolts against the king and queen. Ironically, the darkness caused by her madness allows Ophelia to see the kingdom’s corruption. In her flower speech, the young woman demonstrates her revelations through the symbolism present in each bloom and herb.

          Ophelia is enlightened through her madness. “Darkness” is traditionally associated with deception and the unknown. The literal darkness in Hamlet is located on the ramparts, a place shrouded in mystery. It is the only area that allows the truth to be told through the voice of the ghost: the literal “light” in Denmark is within the castle. Due to Claudius’s tyranny, Elsinore has lost the truth and justice it is meant to hold. It is a role reversal between the expected meanings of “light” and “darkness.” Only in the darkness can the characters know the truth. While in the light they are shrouded constantly by deception and lies. Therefore, the light becomes the traditional darkness and the darkness takes on the role of the light. Madness is also associated with the literal darkness. To be “mad” your mind must reside in the darkness. This is how Ophelia suddenly sees the deception of the kingdom clearly and can speak out against Claudius. When her father dies, madness takes her into the darkness. Because of the role reversal caused by King Hamlet’s murder, she can now see the truth. She can see the people of the court as they truly are.

 Ophelia is, indeed, mad, but her madness gives her insight. As she comes into the room with Laertes, her brother, and the King and Queen she sings. It is a song of mourning that is mostly just nonsense. She sings, “They bore him barefaced on the bier,” meaning that the funeral procession carried her father boldly open to the world in his coffin (985). Her next words, “Hey non nonny...” are common nonsense words in Elizabethan songs (985). This continues to suggest that Ophelia is singing out of madness. Once she stops singing and speaks, it becomes clear that she has had a revelation. It is about the deceit of the kingdom. She begins, “Fare you well, my dove!” speaking to her brother, Laertes (985). She is telling him that he will experience good fortune and she refers to him as her “dove” (985). A dove is traditionally a symbol for peace and faith. By referring to Laertes this way, she is telling him that he will fare well in his revenge. He will fare well so long as he keeps the faith. He will bring peace to the kingdom. Ophelia says that, “It is the false steward that stole his master’s daughter” (985). This is where Ophelia begins to get her message across. Here, she is saying that she thinks Claudius committed the murder of her father, since he murdered the King. She is sort of backward in the accusation. This could be attributed to the fact that by accusing the king of this, she is risking her own life. Claudius does have the power to kill her. If one switches the words “steward” and “master” the sentence that previously read “It is a false steward that stole his master’s daughter” would read “It is the false [master] that stole his [steward]’s daughter” (985). Claudius, a king that only came to power because he murdered his own brother, is a “false master” (985). Polonius, Ophelia’s father, would be the “steward” because he was the king’s employee (985). Ophelia, then, would be the “daughter” (985). Ophelia suggests when she says this that in killing her father, Claudius, the false master, has stolen her sanity.

          Next,  Ophelia more blatantly begins to acknowledge that she knows the truth about the king’s murder. Flowers are universally known as a symbol of people’s regard for one another. She goes to her brother saying, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you love, remember. And there’s pansies; that’s for thoughts” (985). Both types of flowers, and all of her flowers, symbolize something. Rosemary, she says, is for remembrance. By handing rosemary to her brother, she is telling him to remember their late father. Ophelia is telling Laertes what these flowers symbolize because she does not need to be subtle. She is only telling him to remember their father. She is also correct in her ideas of what these flowers symbolize, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

When she gives flowers to the king and queen, she no longer is explicitly telling them the meanings of the flowers. She subtly calls them out for their wrongdoings. She goes to the king saying, “Here’s fennel for you, and columbines” (986). Fennel is a symbol for flattery according to both the footnote in Literature for Composition and the Old Farmer’s Almanac. By giving fennel to the king, she is passively mocking him, an action what could potentially get her killed. Lack of chastity and ingratitude are symbolic meanings of columbines (Literature for Composition, 986). By giving the king this flower, Ophelia is saying that she knows about his incestuous love affair with the queen. Also, she knows about his faithlessness and lack of gratefulness toward his brother, as he committed his murder. The queen herself is the next to receive flowers as Ophelia continues, “There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me” (986). Rue symbolizes repentance, or regret (Literature for Composition, 986). Ophelia is implying that the queen should regret her incestuous affair and the sin she has committed. She was an accomplice in the murder of her original husband. Ophelia gives rue to herself as well, suggesting that she may be regretting her own love affair with Hamlet.

Now she pulls out a daisy, but gives it to no one. Daisies stand for innocence according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Ophelia is inexplicitly telling them that there is no more innocence in the kingdom. She is the character who is supposed to stand for innocence and purity. Since she doesn’t designate the daisy for herself, it again suggests that she has had an affair with Hamlet. The daisy also symbolizes her father as an embodiment of innocence. This is because he wasn’t guilty of a crime when he was killed. He had no ties to the murder of King Hamlet. Lastly, Ophelia speaks of violets saying, “I would give you some violets but they withered all when my father died” (986). Violets mean faithfulness, devotion, and loyalty (The Old Farmer’s Almanac). She is saying that the last shred of loyalty died with her father’s passing.  There is no more truth left in the light of the kingdom. Ophelia has had an epiphany after her father’s death about the truth behind the people of Denmark. She uses the flowers to send them a message, a sort of last rebellion. She knows about their faults and she knows the significance behind the flowers she distributes.

Light is traditionally synonymous with truth. The light is supposed to reside within the kingdom where a fair and loyal monarchy rule. This is not the case in Hamlet. Because Claudius is a corrupt king, he is out for personal gain and not the good of his kingdom. The “light” no longer holds the truth. Darkness holds the truth. Ophelia’s madness brings her into the darkness so that she can see the truth. In a brave confrontation, she rebels against Claudius, passively telling him through flowers that she knows he is a traitor. This is her act of rebellion before her madness completely takes over and she kills herself. There is a method to this last act of defiance. There is a method to Ophelia’s madness.

(Copyright © 2014 by M. Heizer.  All rights reserved by the author.)


Barnet, Sylvan, William Burto, and William E. Cain. Literature for Composition. 9th Edition. Longman, 2010. 985-986. Print.

"Meaning of Flowers." The Old Farmer's Almanac. 2014. .





(Louis Peitzman’s list appeared 4/11 on Buzzfeed; via Pam Green.)

Sing out, Louise!

Check the films you've watched all the way through.

The Jazz Singer (1927)

The Broadway Melody (1929)

42nd Street (1933)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

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(Pesantes is a student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York.

No Place Like Denmark         

Sweeney Todd, in Tim Burton’s film of the same name, is like Hamlet. Both characters develop a similar outlook on life, based on their identical, grievous backstories. Their mindsets are exposed when comparing one of Hamlet’s soliloquies to the song “No Place Like London” by Stephen Sondheim.

Benjamin Barker is a successful barber married to a beautiful woman he loves dearly. However, a government official also falls in love with her.  With the intention of stealing Lucy, Judge Turpin exiles Barker to prison. Barker returns to London fifteen years later to discover Lucy is dead; she poisoned herself shortly after his banishment. Forever altered by the tragedy, Barker changes his name to Sweeney Todd, the barber who “will have his revenge” (Sweeney Todd).

Coming back to a completely altered reality, Todd is filled with angst. His distorted ideas are driven by his pure abhorrence of the judge. Todd’s mental disposition is parallel to Hamlet’s. After Claudius murders King Hamlet, he takes what would have been Prince Hamlet’s: the throne, and more importantly, his mother Gertrude. Hamlet is mortified and seeks revenge for himself, not his father.

Hamlet says, “I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, for-gone all custom of exercises” (942). This is Hamlet’s manner of stating that he has not been feeling like himself.  Signs of motivation are gone because of the misfortune. And just as Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Sweeney Todd explains himself to Anthony, a sailor and friend. Todd says, “I beg your indulgence, Anthony. My mind is far from easy. In these once-familiar streets I feel shadows, everywhere ghosts” (Sweeney Todd). Neither man is content. They claim to see ghosts, which only further justifies their troubled minds and souls.

The prince continues, “The earth, seems to me a sterile promontory…this majestical roof fretted with golden fire.” Hamlet describes his world, Denmark, as lovely.  However, he adds, “Why, it appeareth nothing-to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors” (942-943). His emotions coordinate with the meaning behind the first verse of “No Place Like London.” Its lyric goes, “I have sailed the world, beheld its wonders, from the Dardanelles to the mountains of Peru but there’s no place like London.” Anthony, Sweeney’s fellow sailor, describes London as most fascinating. Todd interrupts him to agree, but he does this sarcastically and with disdain. He does not actually believe London is magnificent, and Hamlet does not truly believe this about Denmark either.

In anticipation of his soliloquy, Hamlet says the world has many prisons, “Denmark being one o’ the worst” (941). He would agree that there is no place like Denmark, as Sweeney Todd believes that there is no place like the English capital. Todd chants, “there’s a hole in the world like a great black pit…and it goes by the name of London.” The most miserable place on earth is Denmark and London to Hamlet and Sweeney Todd, respectively.

Each character confesses the root of his hysteria. Hamlet adds, “What a piece of work is a man Man delights not me—no, nor woman neither” (943). Hamlet acknowledges a man’s capacity to do good things, but his experience leads him to hate this idea. He is delirious because he sees the potential Claudius has put to waste. Hamlet dwells on the fact that he is not with Gertrude because the betrayal he feels is so overwhelming. Todd also sings, “At the top of the hole sit the privileged few …but there’s no place like London.” He too realizes man’s ability to act positively, but he focuses on the loss of Lucy. The “privileged few,” who turn “beauty to filth and greed,” refers to Judge Turpin and his partners kidnapping Lucy (Sweeney Todd). Corrupt rulers work against Hamlet and Sweeney Todd, which causes them to think the way they do.

The trauma Hamlet and Todd suffer are alike. Thus, they share matching viewpoints. Whether it is sung or spoken, neither character can let go of what has happened. With the absence of a proper leader, it becomes far too easy to lose peace of mind.

Copyright © 2014 by V. Pesantes.  All rights reserved by the author.

“No Place Like London” by Stephen Sondheim, © 1979.  All rights reserved by the author. 

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(Chris Jones’s article appeared in The Chicago Tribune, 3/24.)

In the years since Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's "Bounce" bowed at the Goodman Theatre in 2003, replete with Hal Prince, Broadway stars, press conferences and expectations to match, it has become clear to Sondheim watchers that this particular show touched an especially personal chord with the great composer. That passion could be seen in the dogged way Sondheim (who celebrates his 84th birthday this week) stuck with this late-in-life project about the picaresque, real-life adventurers / planners / designers / developers Wilson and Addison Mizner as it morphed, without getting much external love, from a show called "Wise Guys" to "Bounce" to "Road Show." It can be seen in the 113 pages Sondheim devotes to its various lyrical iterations in his assiduously detailed volume, "Look, I Made a Hat." And, of course, the sentiment has emerged from Sondheim's own mouth in many a public forum over the last couple of years. I heard it with my own ears. Several times.

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