Monday, 1 December 2014

Two Untimely Deaths Foreshadow Aristotelian Dramatic Irony

Definition: Dramatic Irony.
A plot device in which apprehension of events or motives is the god-like privilege of the audience but not within the grasp of characters in the play who may, indeed, never survive the action of the drama to achieve such self-knowledge. 


It is not for me to glibly remind ourselves of how tragic events in our national life adhere to Aristotelian definitions of classic drama conducive to the terror and pity essential for the cathartic experience Aristotle prescribes to purge our congested emotions.

No. On this occasion I simply juxtapose two news reports separated by a century and half and ask you, the reader, to decide how dramatic irony could be more convincingly wrought by even the most exulted of dramatists in the laurelled pantheon of Ancient Greece.

In other words – with decidedly no disrespect intended to the bereft, please believe me – I earnestly propose that in the denouements of these human tragedies the cosmic dramatist clearly demonstrates, once again, a Supreme Ironist’s uncontested ascendency.

2014: November 27, Australia. Australian star cricketer, Phillip Hughes, aged 25, dies after he is struck on the side of the head by a cricket ball. Hughes died as a result of a vertebral artery dissection, which caused a ‘massive bleed’ on the brain, according to doctors. Doctors describe the condition he died from as ‘incredibly rare’ and ‘very freakish’, suggesting that only a hundred cases of vertebral artery dissection had ever been reported.
      Hughes was struck on the top of the neck by a short-pitched delivery while playing for South Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on November 25th. He died at nearby St Vincent’s hospital two days later never having regained consciousness. 

2014: November 30, Jerusalem. Former Israeli cricket star Hillel Oscar dies after he is hit by the ball while refereeing a cricket match in the coastal city of Ashdod. The umpire, Oscar, 55, the former national team captain, was taken to hospital unconscious but doctors were unable to save his life.
      The incident came a few days after 25-year-old Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died after being hit at the base of the neck by a ball. His death was a very rare instance of cricket players dying on the field. 
      One of the players stated that the Ashdod incident happened when a batsman struck a ball with tremendous power and it rebounded off the stumps and hit Oscar, who was umpiring the game.   
      ‘The ball flew in the direction of the umpire with great force, struck the wicket and hit him in the face,’ the player said.
      Oscar was not wearing a protective helmet, the player added. Umpires in cricket do not wear such helmets, since the likelihood of injury is regarded as extremely low.

The teams in the Ashdod game had held a minute’s silence in honour of Phillip Hughes before their ill-fated game.

1856: December 24, Edinburgh.  
The eminent geologist, folklorist and evangelical Christian, Hugh Miller, is found by a servant lying half dressed, lifeless on the floor, his feet upon the study rug, and his chest pierced with the ball of his revolver pistol, which is found lying in the bath that stands close by. 
      He had earlier taken his bath but unfortunately his natural and peculiar repugnance to physic had induced him to leave untaken the medicine prescribed him for the night terrors by which he was pursued. The deadly bullet had perforated the left lung, grazed the heart, cut through the pulmonary artery at its root, and lodged in the rib in the right side. Death must have been instantaneous. 

1856: December 26, Edinburgh.  
A post-mortem examination is made of the body of Hugh Miller, whose death from a pistol had been reported on Christmas Eve. The Report of the Post Mortem Examination under the authority of the Procurator-Fiscal states:
We hereby certify, on soul and conscience, that we have this day examined the body of Mr. Hugh Miller . . . The cause of death we found to be a pistol-shot through the left side of the chest; and this, we are satisfied, was inflicted by his own hand. From the diseased appearances found in the brain, taken in connection with the history of the case, we have no doubt that the act was suicidal under the impulse of insanity.
James Miller,  W.T. Gairdner,  A.H. Balfour,  A.M. Edwards.

1856: December 27, Edinburgh.  Another tragedy in connection with Hugh Miller’s fate is at the same time disclosed. After the judicial and medical inquiry, Professor Miller (no relation) takes the pistol to the gunsmith – from whom it had been purchased by Mr Miller in July, 1855 – in order to ascertain how many shots had been fired and how many were still in the chamber. 
     In the master’s absence, the foreman, Thomas Leslie, an old and experienced workman, receives the pistol from Professor Miller but, unfortunately, instead of taking off the chamber, he looks into the muzzle, holding the hammer with his fingers while he turned the chamber round to count the charges. The hammer slips from his fingers, strikes the cap, and the charge in the barrel explodes. 
     It is reported that Professor Miller exclaimed, ‘That’s a narrow escape.’ Unhappily, it was not so, for, as the smoke cleared away, he saw the gunsmith’s head gradually droop, and his body then fall lifeless on the floor. The charge had entered his right eye, and penetrated the brain. Thomas Leslie was a steady, trustworthy man, and had been 25 years in employment as a gunsmith. He left a widow and a family of eight children.
     It was established that Hugh Miller had bought the six-shot revolving chamber pistol, size of ball ninety-two to the pound, from the firm of Messrs. Alexander Thomson & Son, gunmakers. A few days after, he called and said he thought it a little stiff in its workings, and had it made to revolve more readily. The pistol had not been seen by Thomson since then; but in his absence Professor Miller called at the firm and asked Mr Thomson’s foreman how many of the six shots had been fired. He added, ‘Mind, it is loaded.' 
    The foreman, instead of removing the breech or chamber to examine it, had incautiously turned the pistol entire towards his own person, and lifting up the hammer with his fingers, while he counted the remaining loaded chambers, he must have disengaged his fingers while the pistol was turned to his own head. It exploded, and the ball lodging in the angle of his right eye, he fell back a lifeless corpse. 
    The pistol was a bolted one, which meant it could be carried loaded with perfect safety. Having been wet internally, rust may have stopped the action of the bolt. The pistol had remained for several hours in the bath where Hugh Miller had dropped it. This may have accounted for the apparent incaution of Mr Thomson’s foreman.

Thomas Leslie was buried in Grange Cemetery on the same day as Hugh Miller.

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