are you trying to make me look like a fool?

William Shakespeare never made use of the time loop. Which is unfortunate, really.

And yet, I find my viewing of Much Ado About Nothing this evening bringing me back around to Groundhog Day nonetheless. Really, I suppose, at this point, everything leads me to Groundhog Day, or vice versa, or both. Groundhog Day binds me and undoes me, and I remain and I change and neither the same nor different will I be when this Project has come to its first end. Or its second end, if one does count the beginning of the line of its progress as one end, and the finish of it as its second.

(Forget for now that that second end may be naught but a new beginning for a secondary phase of that which has been singular but now will expand and include much more.)

I need to work on my Shakespearean writing. I think I end up just creating convoluted sentences to convey simple ideas.

But, anyway, Dogberry in particular, if not the love story betwixt man and woman who come late to their attraction, brings me to Groundhog Day. As I mentioned in yesterday’s concise entry, I wanted to write something about Ralph (and perhaps Gus, because they are forever bound in their brief appearances within the film), and it occurs to me, though it may not be obvious because there is so much comedy in Groundhog Day that it’s hard to call any particular character(s) comic relief. But, taken as it is, I would, and will, argue that Ralph and Gus are Shakespearean Fools, or perhaps holy fools, if there’s even a distinction to be made.

Or maybe Phil instead (or as well) is the holy fool.

Ralph (Rick Overton) and Gus (Rick Ducommun) have very few lines…


Gus: Phil? Like the groundhog Phil?

Gus: Look out for your shadow, there, pal.

Gus: You know, some guys would look at this glass and they would say, “You know, that glass is half empty.” Other guys would say, “That glass is half full.” I peg you as a “glass is half empty” kind of guy. Am I right?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

Ralph: Good luck. I’ll drop you off. This thing sticks a little bit. You got... You gotta jiggle it.

Gus: Come on up here, pal.

Ralph: Oh my God...

Gus: Give me your keys, pal. Give me the keys. Friends don’t let friends drive, right? Come on, stand up here. Take a deep breath. You feel okay? Really? Okay, you’re all right.

Ralph: I think... both.

Gus: I really don’t think I should be driving.

Ralph: Hey, who else could go for some flapjacks right now?

Ralph: Shoot.

Gus: No tomorrow? That would mean there would be no consequences. There would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted!

Gus: Hey Phil, if we wanted to hit mailboxes, we could let Ralph drive!

Ralph: Yeah.

Gus: Whoa. Hey, Phil, I think they want you to stop.

Gus: Phil, that’s one I happen to agree with.

Gus: Hey, we’re talking in here.

Gus: Uh, Phil.

Gus & Ralph: Phil! Phil!

Ralph: I noticed that.

Gus: Oh, my knee.

Ralph: And some flapjacks.

Gus: Well, I could have retired on half pay after 20 years.

That’s three scenes, most of that is just at the end of Phil’s Day 3. If not for that last line from Gus on god day (and Ralph checking out Nancy Taylor after Phil mentions her making “noises like a chipmunk when she gets real excited”), they might as well be gone before we even get to the second act. They are there to push our protagonist forward, to help him with “discovering the possibilities and living life like there’s no tomorrow” to quote the original trailer for the film. This one:

When I wrote before about Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief (as they are commonly known), I pointed out that the stages are not all neatly packaged, separate entities lining up in the perfect order. In his first two resumptions, Phil already experiences anger, evident, if by nothing else, by his throwing Chubby Man up against the wall, denial, evident, if by nothing else, by his asking the piano teacher where everybody is going, bargaining, evident, if by nothing else, by his asking Mrs. Lancaster if she ever has déjà vu, or his 80%, 75-80… hell, asking Rita to slap him in the face is basically his attempt to bargain with reality over whether or not he is actually awake for this first resumption. More anger, a confused anger—or a depressed anger, but still potentially classified as anger nonetheless, when he drops the microphone and leaves Gobbler’s Knob midway through the ceremony. And, what is this but an attempt at bargaining for control?

Yeah, Sport, I know there’s a blizzard. When are the long-distance lines gonna be repaired? Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today. Hello?

The pencil breaking? Denial wrapped in bargaining. He’s still trying to gain control over a situation far greater than he is. More anger on Day 3 when he shoves Ned Ryerson away. More bargaining when he tells Rita what’s going on and asks for help—

(and Ralph and Gus makes their first appearance and Gus has his first two lines, including that, oh, so meaningful “Look out for your shadow, there, pal”)

—and when he subsequently sees a doctor and a psychiatrist. He’s denying and bargaining and angering (which is not used properly here, but so what?) all at once. It is not until that night, sitting at the bowling alley bar with Gus and Ralph, then leading the police around town with them as well, that Phil’s situation shifts and acceptance, if not understanding, comes into play. Without Ralph, we don’t have the time loop so readily and succinctly summed up as a metaphor for modern life—see any of my discussions of Hannam’s (2008) The Magic of Groundhog Day, or just watch this video:

Ralph, and presumably Gus as well the way he downs that shot in that moment, is stuck in a rut without any time loop. Without Phil helping Ralph to the car, I think, we don’t see Phil doing anything good until much later. Without Ralph in the car—and just to harp on old nitpicks, despite what Benesh (2011) says—Phil could not reach the epiphany that a time loop is a space for no-consequences adventures in absurdity and sex and fun and whatever you want to do. Without Ralph and Gus to egg him on and scream as he already figures out how to take things too far, Phil would not have his adolescent phase. They are the Shakespearean fools there to open Phil’s (and our) eyes to the flaws in the normative way of doing things and the possibilities of pushing right past all of Mother Culture’s boundaries. Pyle (1998, by way of Geritz, 1999) suggests “the holy fool promotes harmony and goodwill by curing the flaws of pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust that infect the human community” (p. 584).

Actually, that makes Phil more the holy fool, for we the audience anyway. Pyle notes the Shakespearean holy fool’s “noting their Christ-like willingness to humble themselves and appear foolish for the welfare of others. She also emphasizes the metaphysical medicine of medieval mirth and morality, the holy madness, which Shakespeare's holy fools employ to cure sinful individuals and corrupt societies” (pp. 584-585)—

we must ignore that suggestion by Felver (1961, by way of Sanders, 1963) that Shakespeare’s fools were the way they were mostly because he was catering to a particular actor available in his company. It’s an interesting idea, perhaps even historically accurate, but I think we should ultimately measure Shakespeare’s fools not entirely by how Shakespeare wrote them, intended them, or even how they were received at the time, but by how they speak to us when we watch them, how they affect the characters in each adaptation we see, how they read when we sit down to one of Shakespeare’s plays in print. Similar to the way I read far more into Groundhog Day than Danny Rubin or Harold Ramis may have ever intended and might not even have hoped for, we can do the same, surely, and probably moreso, with Shakespeare.

Anyway, Phil may be the holy fool for us. But, for Phil, Ralph and Gus fill that role.

And, the film is ending, so this discussion will continue tomorrow.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to be the holy fool for whomever needs one. To promote harmony and goodwill, but to do so by showing you all of your flaws—I think I would be good at that, am good at that.

Works Cited (outside of the usual Benesh or Hannam):

Geritz, A.J. (1999). Review of the book Mirth and Morality of Shakespeare’s Holy Fools by S.J. Pyle. Sixteenth Century Journal 30:2, pp. 584-585.

Sanders, N. (1963). Review of the book Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s Fool. A Biographical Essay by C.S. Felver. Review of English Studies 14:53, pp. 100-101.


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