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Part of my effort to see every Shakespeare play.

Merry Wives of Windsor was the first Shakespeare I’ve ever encountered that made no pretence to be literature, and is not treated as such by teachers and people who would make me study what are living, breathing texts. Allegedly it was written at the behest of Elizabeth I, who loved the character of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s earlier plays and demanded a play where he was the main character.

It is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, which probably explains why this RSC production opens with an actual introductory credits on a projector, presumably because they couldn’t rely on the audience knowing who everyone is. And that is a shame, because it was absolutely hilarious and I think one of my favourite plays.

Falstaff is a knight who has gone to seed and arrives in Windsor short on money and determined to marry well in his old age. He therefore attempts to woo the wives of two gentlemen in Windsor by sending them identical loveletters, but the two women are friends and, after swapping notes, decide to have fun with this rapacious, gross man. Unfortunately their husbands find out about the loveletters too, and one of them takes it seriously, and commissions Falstaff to seduce his own wife, so he can know she is an adulterer. The stage is set, as it were, for a ridiculous comedy of people trying to hide from each other while spying or seducing someone else, and eventually realising they are the dupe themselves.

 

So gross, and so well acted.

There are minor changes – the play is set in Essex and this was reflected in the scary mother-in-law being referred to as the Widow of Brentwood rather than Brentford. There also an entire farcical scene around Falstaff hiding in a wheely bin that in the original play is some kind of laundry basket that I presume would have made sense to an Elizabethan audience that made no sense to me when I looked it up. Other than that, I believe they went through the text as is, and, as I said to my fellow theatre-goers in the interval, I could barely believe it had been written by Shakespeare. We talk about this guy as this eloquent, high culture wit who has shaped the entire English language, but he also wrote a play in which I just spent ten minutes watching a man in a fatsuit trying to hide under a sun lounger. It was at that point that I began to understand why the proles flocked to the Globe. These plays were never written to be studied, or read for pleasure, they are written to be performed and to entertain.

And entertained I was. There is a subplot about three men vying for the hand of one of the merry wives’ daughters while she is smitten with someone else entirely that plays out in between farcical Benny Hill scenes of people hiding in wheely bins and dressing up as tyrannical women that largely carries on undisturbed until the grand finale where suddenly everyone is running around on stage getting lost and mistaking each other in the dark, which ends happily.

 

The only minor criticism we had was really the RSC’s decision to give the whole thing a The Only Way is Essex vibe is that there was some elements that appeared to be mocking Essex working-class people. But this was minor, and for the most part, the characters are ridiculous and written to be so. Great show, great production.

Solid Shakespeare crew.

 

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Originally posted to Facebook on 19th April, 2019. Edited for clarity.

Previous comments:
Your Trump/Russia Briefing (January 2018)
Trump/Russia: The Michael Cohen Update (April 2018)

* Yeah, this report in absolutely no way exonerates Donald Trump. Indeed, it contains pretty clear, and substantiated, allegations of corruption, witness-tampering, obstruction, and pretty much everything that all of his subordinates are currently awaiting sentencing for. The only difference between them and him, however, is that he is the President, and thus cannot be indicted while in office. Mueller states that he decided from the outset that because of this, it would be unfair to Trump to announce he had committed a crime but could not be charged for it, as this would prevent him from clearing his name at a trial. It would also be unfair to create a sealed indictment because of the risk that it would become public anyway and the ‘”stigma and opprobium” imperil the President’s ability to govern.’

This is all the preamble to the more famous line, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”. With such context, we can see that if Donald Trump were not the President, Mueller would absolutely be concluding that Donald Trump had committed a crime. Several. Many. Lots.

But Mueller makes it clear that the consequences of Donald Trump’s actions should be weighed and measured by Congress, and not the Executive Branch:

“A federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct”.

In other words: Congress, I’ve done my job, now do yours.

Totally exonerated. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

* I have been arguing pretty much since the election that Julian Assange is not a journalist or a publisher but a non-state actor who was trying to influence the 2016 election in favour of Trump out of personal animus for Hilary Clinton and thus deserves no defence as a whistle-blower. Mueller proves this when he writes, and I shall quote this in full because I think it’s very important that people understand this:

“Shortly after the GRU’s first release of stolen documents through dcleaks.com in June 2016, GRU officers also used the DCLeads persona to contact Wikileaks about possible coordination in the future release of stolen emails. …On July 6, 2016, Wikileaks again contacted Guccifer 2.0 though Twitter’s private messaging function, writing “if you have anything hillary related, we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic[ because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Guccifer 2.0 persona reponded, “ok…i see.” Wikileaks also explained, “we think trump has only 25% chance of winning against hillary…so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

And in full.

As far as I’m concerned, Assange can spend the rest of his life in a room with no windows. Much of the document is redacted in full here when discussing this, so expect more details of what a malicious actor Assange is to come out as the Stone and extradition cases move forward.

* OMG, that meeting in the Seychelles! Finally found out what that was – an effort of the Russians to get a direct back channel with the President with Putin via lower-level officials. Except that Erik Prince reported to actual America first nationalist Steve Bannon, who when Erik Prince told him about the meeting, told him to stop that and not go anywhere near it again, and all communications regarding his reaction have mysteriously vanished from both men’s phones. Possibly one of the only people associated with Trump to have meant what they said in public.

* The decision not to prosecute anyone for conspiracy, and especially for the Trump Tower meeting is based on Mueller’s conclusion that “the Office did not obtain admissable evidence likely to meet the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individual’s acted “wilfully” ie with general knowledge of the illegality of their conduct”.

In other words, they engaged in conspiracy but were too stupid to realise it was, in fact, conspiracy, and thus cannot be prosecuted. Burn.

* “The President’s Counsel raises statutory and constitutional defenses to a possible obstruction-of-justice analysis of the conduct we investigated. We concluded that none of those legal defenses provided a basis for declining to investigate the facts”.

Or

‘There was no collusion’
‘Do you mind if we look tho.’
‘No-one knew anything about the Russians.’
‘You’re blocking the doorway.’
‘It’s legal when the President does it.’
‘If you could just step aside…’
‘You’re a Democratic supporter!’
‘Sir, do not make me subpoena you.’
‘But her emaaaaaaiiiiillllssss…’

* “Collusion” is a word that does not exist in the federal statute book as a crime. It is therefore not inaccurate to say that Mueller did not prove collusion – because technically, he didn’t. He also didn’t prove that Trump urinated on a bed while cavorting with prostitutes in a Russian hotel either – that just wasn’t the question that he was answering. He *did* publish a whole load of evidence which indicates that there was something to commonly understood public perceptions of “collusion” and “peetape and hookers” though. #peetape

* On that – Mueller’s reference to this is tasteful, but it’s unclear that #peetape is real. What is clear is that Trump thinks that it is, and that Cohen tried to get hold of it. I will take a mild leap here and say that the conduct which the alleged tape supposedly shows presumably happened, or Trump wouldn’t be terrified. Trump will do anything, anything to stop that possible tape getting out, up to and including selling out his entire country to Vladmir Putin when he says he might like some nice thing like the lifting of US sanctions. This is why you can and should judge politicians on their character rather than their policies.

* It’s also evident that the failure of the Trump administration to do anything about the Russian interference in the election, and more specifically the conduct of Donald Trump himself in reference to it, is not because of the #peetape but because Donald Trump thinks it undermines his election victory, and he finds that thought upsetting. Mueller outlines that Trump specifically said this to Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Rience Priebus on more than one occasion. Like, no wonder Mueller couldn’t prosecute that kind of behaviour, I’m not sure I even have the words to describe the all kinds of wrong it is WHEN YOU’RE THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS HOW AWESOME YOUR ELECTION VICTORY WAS. I think we’re all quite tired of winning now.

Aw, look how cute they were while they were trying to influence the American election to benefit Donald Trump. So cute.

* “Priebus recalled that before the dinner [with Comey], he told the President something like, ‘don’t talk about Russia, whatever you do.’ and the President promised he would not talk about Russia. McGahn had previously advised the President that he should not communicate directly with the Department of Justice … When Bannon learned about the President’s planned dinner with Comey, he suggested that he or Priebus also attend, but the President stated that he wanted to dine with Comey alone. Comey said that when he arrived for the dinner that evening, he was surprised and concerned to see that no one else had been invited.”

Honestly, what do you do when the President thinks he’s some of mob boss taking care of business?

* President Trump complained that he had no good lawyers and that former Attorney General Eric “Holder had been willing to take a contempt-of-Congress charge for President Obama” – of course, notwithstanding the fact that Obama was actually being targetted by a Republican Congress in that episode, let us all remember that President Obama was the kind of President people were willing to take bullets for.

* Trump repeatedly told his intelligence officials while they were briefing him that they needed to “get it out” that he was not personally under investigation and “lift the cloud” – “These requests, while significant enough that [the NSA director] thought it important to document the encounter in a written memorandum, were not interpreted by the officials who received them as directives to improperly interfere with the investigation”. In other words, they were so accustomed to just ignoring everything he said, they didn’t take his orders seriously and thus an obstruction charge cannot be brought. Certainly an, ah, unusual exoneration.

* “Bannon also told the President that firing Comey was not going to stop the investigation, cautioning him that he could fire the FBI director but could not fire the FBI.” The patriot strikes again.

* “Firing Comey would qualify as an obstructive act if it had the natural and probably effect of interfering with or impeding the investigation … The anticipated effect of removing the FBI director, however, would not necessarily be to prevent of impede the FBI from continuing its investigation. As a general matter, FBI investigations run under the operational direction of FBI personnels levels below the FBI director”.

In other words, Trump *thought* by firing Comey he could end the investigation, but it actually didn’t, so it may not count as obstruction. Another case of too stupid to be criminal. My god.

* “Bannon recalled telling the President that the purported conflicts [of the Special Counsel] were “ridiculous” and that none of them was real or could come close to justifying precluding Mueller from serving as Special Counsel. …Bannon told the President that the golf course dispute did not rise to the label of a conflict and claiming one was ‘ridiculous and petty.’ The President did not respond”.

Steve “Two shirts” Bannon just telling it like it is.

* I don’t want to quote all of it, and of course you will be reading the Mueller report yourself in full, won’t you, but probably the most dramatic-but-stupid described in this report is that Donald Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to remove the Special Counsel, Don McGahn decided he was being asked to enact a Saturday Night Massacre, so he called his lawyer, prepared a letter of resignation and informed Priebus and Bannon he was leaving, went to work on Monday ready for the showdown – and Trump never mentioned it again, and apparently forgot the conversation ever happened until it hit the press seven months later.

* Donald Trump Jr actually comes out of this as a half-intelligent man who realised his dad was going to get him into a lot of trouble, and did his best to mitigate the inevitable leaks and negative news stories regarding the Trump Tower meeting with actual honest disclosure. Unexpected.

* “The President the asked [McGahn], ‘What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who takes notes.’ McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a ‘real lawyer'”. OOOOF.

* Mueller rather conclusively establishes that Trump tried to influence the testimony of Flynn, Manafort, [Redacted – it’s Roger Stone], and Michael Cohen by offering the possibility of pardons, and only Manafort was stupid enough, or guilty enough, to believe him.

– Pg 156-158 of Vol II, “Overarching Factual Issues” considering all of the obstruction episodes, is basically the most blatant If I Did It since OJ.

* “The President’s effort to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the person who surrounded the President declines to carry out orders or accede to his requests”.

If Trump doesn’t ever face consequences for his behaviour, it’s actually because his staff treated him like a toddler. Remember that.

* The final part of the report is a slapping down of Guliani’s legal defenses against the obstruction charges and basically lays out the legal basis on which Congress should be prosecuting President Trump for all of those crimes he blatently committed in the preceding 300 pages.

* Mueller gave Trump’s open book exam an F- and asked for a follow-up in-person interview but Trump said no. They decided they had enough evidence from everything else to go ahead with the report anyway. One of the questions: “Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017 regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had discussions with, when, and the content of those discussions.”

* Donald Trump’s signature looks like a snake fell in some ink and then went for a slither to get its head together.

Setting aside the partisanship of the American politics today – Donald Trump should, objectively, be impeached. The behaviour outlined in the Mueller report, whether it meets the threshold for criminal prosecution or not, is corrupt, venal, self-serving, and utterly unbecoming of the conduct of a head of state holding the highest public office in the land.

This man should never have been elected President, nor should he be continuing as President, because he is an international disgrace in his leadership, his care for US national interests, his ability to govern, and his management of crises. He will of course continue as President, because the Republican Party have completely lost sight of the public good, but whatever happens, I think it will be clear that Donald Trump is going down in the history books as one of the worst Presidents, and that as a result of his actions, future Presidents are going to be subject to a lot more rules and a lot less leeway.

The final point to make is that the Mueller Investigation is and was entirely about Russian interference in the election and associated crimes. Trump’s legal woes are not even slightly over. There are ongoing investigations by other parts of the government into nearly every aspect of his public life, and they rumble on. Stay tuned for the next episode of Trump, exclusively available on America…

Mueller report, annotated by the Washington Post.
Searchable PDF
Just give me the Mueller Report in full already.

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