Saturday, February 12, 2011

"The Gala Programme" - An unrecorded moment in women's rights

Women have fought and argued for their rights (including voting rights) for centuries.  It was not until 1920 that American women were granted this right by a constitutional amendment.  Before that, in the late 1800s, the Supreme Court actually ruled that women had the same rights as the criminally insane--and that they were not capable of logical thoughts.

So the legacy of women's suffragette goes back a long time--in this case, back to ancient Rome, where H.H. Munro (also known as "Saki") shows us that a pompous emperor is annoyed that his birthday gala is about to be interrupted by a political uprising...of women who are protesting for their rights.  In this short story, they are successful in getting the attention that they seek--but not the results.  That is, they DO spoil the emperor's birthday--however,  he has an alternative way of ensuring that women's rights are not on the agenda again, via
"The Gala Programme." And, once again, the energies of Cause and Effect rear their head and say, "Be Careful for what you Ask; You might get it--and it might get you back." How might this story be applied in light of today's political agendas of the two parties of our nation? How does it reflect the struggle of women's efforts to gain the right to vote--and be accepted in society on the same level as men? Be factual and not full of opinion, or your paper will be rejected.

The Gala Programme
An Unrecorded Episode in Roman History 

It was an auspicious day in the Roman Calendar, the birthday of the popular and gifted young Emperor Placidus Superbus. Every one in Rome was bent on keeping high festival, the weather was at its best, and naturally the Imperial Circus was crowded to its fullest capacity. A few minutes before the hour fixed for the commencement of the spectacle a loud fanfare of trumpets proclaimed the arrival of Cæsar, and amid the vociferous acclamations of the multitude the Emperor took his seat in the Imperial Box. As the shouting of the crowd died away an even more thrilling salutation could be heard in the near distance, the angry, impatient roaring and howling of the beasts caged in the Imperial menagerie.

‘Explain the programme to me,’ commanded the Emperor, having beckoned the Master of the Ceremonies to his side.
That eminent official wore a troubled look.

‘Gracious Cæsar,’ he announced, ‘a most promising and entertaining programme has been devised and prepared for your august approval. In the first place there is to be a chariot contest of unusual brilliancy and interest; three teams that have never hitherto suffered defeat are to contend for the Herculaneum Trophy, together with the purse which your Imperial generosity has been pleased to add. The chances of the competing teams are accounted to be as nearly as possible equal, and there is much wagering among the populace. The black Thracians are perhaps the favourites—’

‘I know, I know,’ interrupted Cæsar, who had listened to exhaustive talk on the same subject all the morning; ‘what else is there on the programme?’

‘The second part of the programme,’ said the Imperial Official, ‘consists of a grand combat of wild beasts, specially selected for their strength, ferocity, and fighting qualities. There will appear simultaneously in the arena fourteen Nubian lions and lionesses, five tigers, six Syrian bears, eight Persian panthers, and three North African ditto, a number of wolves and lynxes from the Teutonic forests, and seven gigantic wild bulls from the same region. There will also be wild swine of unexampled savageness, a rhinoceros from the Barbary coast, some ferocious man-apes, and a hyæna, reputed to be mad.’

‘It promises well,’ said the Emperor.
‘It promised well, O Cæsar,’ said the official dolorously, ‘it promised marvellously well; but between the promise and the performance a cloud has arisen.’

‘A cloud? What cloud?’ queried Caesar, with a frown.
‘The Suffragetæ,’ explained the official; ‘they threaten to interfere with the chariot race.’
‘I’d like to see them do it!’ exclaimed the Emperor indignantly.

‘I fear your Imperial wish may be unpleasantly gratified,’ said the Master of the Ceremonies; ‘we are taking, of course, every possible precaution, and guarding all the entrances to the arena and the stables with a triple guard; but it is rumoured that at the signal for the entry of the chariots five hundred women will let themselves down with ropes from the public seats and swarm all over the course. Naturally no race could be run under such circumstances; the programme will be ruined.’

‘On my birthday,’ said Placidus Superbus, ‘they would not dare to do such an outrageous thing.’

‘The more august the occasion, the more desirous they will be to advertise themselves and their cause,’ said the harassed official; ‘they do not scruple to make riotous interference even with the ceremonies in the temples.’

‘Who are these Suffragetæ?’ asked the Emperor. ‘Since I came back from my Pannonian expedition, I have heard of nothing else but their excesses and demonstrations.’

‘They are a political sect of very recent origin, and their aim seems to be to get a big share of political authority into their hands. The means they are taking to convince us of their fitness to help in making and administering the laws consist of wild indulgence in tumult, destruction, and defiance of all authority. They have already damaged some of the most historically valuable of our public treasures, which can never be replaced.’

‘Is it possible that the sex which we hold in such honour and for which we feel such admiration can produce such hordes of Furies?’ asked the Emperor.

‘It takes all sorts to make a sex,’ observed the Master of the Ceremonies, who possessed a certain amount of worldly wisdom; ‘also,’ he continued anxiously, ‘it takes very little to upset a gala programme.’

‘Perhaps the disturbance that you anticipate will turn out to be an idle threat,’ said the Emperor consolingly.
‘But if they should carry out their intention,’ said the official,‘the programme will be utterly ruined.’
The Emperor said nothing.

Five minutes later the trumpets rang out for the commencement of the entertainment. A hum of excited anticipation ran through the ranks of the spectators, and final bets on the issue of the great race were hurriedly shouted. The gates leading from the stables were slowly swung open, and a troop of mounted attendants rode round the track to ascertain that everything was clear for the momentous contest. Again the trumpets rang out, and then, before the foremost chariot had appeared, there arose a wild tumult of shouting, laughing, angry protests, and shrill screams of defiance. Hundreds of women were being lowered by their accomplices into the arena. A moment later they were running and dancing in frenzied troops across the track where the chariots were supposed to compete. No team of arena-trained horses would have faced such a frantic mob; the race was clearly an impossibility. Howls of disappointment and rage rose from the spectators, howls of triumph echoed back from the women in possession. The vain efforts of the circus attendants to drive out the invading horde merely added to the uproar and confusion; as fast as the Suffragetæ were thrust away from one portion of the track they swarmed on to another.

The Master of the Ceremonies was nearly delirious from rage and mortification. Placidus Superbus, who remained calm and unruffled as ever, beckoned to him and spoke a word or two in his ear. For the first time that afternoon the sorely tried official was seen to smile.

A trumpet rang out from the Imperial Box; an instant hush fell over the excited throng. Perhaps the Emperor, as a last resort, was going to announce some concession to the Suffragetæ.

‘Close the stable gates,’ commanded the Master of the Ceremonies, ‘and open all the menagerie dens. It is the Imperial pleasure that the second portion of the programme be taken first.’

It turned out that the Master of the Ceremonies had in no wise exaggerated the probable brilliancy of this portion of the spectacle. The wild bulls were really wild, and the hyæna reputed to be mad thoroughly lived up to its reputation.

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