Saturday, April 18, 2015

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

One of my primarily thinking methods is to connect two seemingly disparate occurrences.  That happened in the last week.

The theatre students at my college produced Romeo and Juliet.  Although that is considered a standard play, the production of it is a mighty undertaking, considering our budget and limited theatrical space.  It was extremely well done.  Of course, there are many quoted lines from that play, but one of the most famous is the one in the title of this post.  "What's in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  Since I don't always take Shakespeare at face value and believe there are deeper meanings (especially considering the debates that someone else wrote the plays--don't hate on me, it's just a fact that there is a disagreement--and that language and its power is what Shakespeare is all about), I question if we are supposed to take this line as what it appears to be saying.  If we called a rose a cabbage, would that change the world?  Would it change the smell?  Linguists have pondered this question for decades.  Words and linguistic symbols--are they arbitrary or meaningful in their own right, regardless of what they signify?  And of course, what do they signify?  That is not a simple question in itself.

The naming of things is a human act back to the Garden.  Naming the animals was Adam's first job. I thought of this the other evening when walking Nala.  There are wetlands near the school where I walk her, which leads to some interesting wildlife and an abundance of frog noises this time of year.  In one patch, a group of large black birds were resting and feeding in cat tails.  However, these birds had horizontal orange stripes on their wings, not lengthwise but crosswise.

My first response was "neat" and the second was "Are those Scarlet Tanagers?"  A species I had not seen in a while.  I still don't know--I haven't looked it up.  What struck me was "Why do I have to know their name, their designation?  Can't I just enjoy their beauty and wildness? (when I say orange stripes, I really mean a salmon/coral type of orange, striking, beautiful).

Because naming, or to know a thing's name, is to know it, somehow.  Naming means that I am connected to other people who have seen and enjoyed it.  Naming is a social act, not a natural one.  It is like diseases; if I have a collection of symptoms, and go to the doctor and hear that I have "X" condition or disorder, I somehow think I have control of it, which is foolish, of course.

By the way, they are not scarlet tanagers.  I can look it up and see how far off I am. 

Addendum:  They are red-winged blackbirds. 

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