Stichomythia, or, What the hell is (s)he talking about?

In Book I of The Faerie Queene, Spenser breaks into some stichomythia as Prince Arthur attempts to get Una to tell him her troubles.  She resists, which makes Arthur press a little:

“Mishaps are maistred by advice discrete,
And counsell mitigates the greatest smart;
Found never help, who never would his hurts impart.”

“O but” (quoth she) “great griefe will not be tould,
And can more easily be thought, then said.”
“Right so” (quoth he) “but he, that never would,
Could never: will to might gives greatest aid.”
“But griefe” (quoth she) “does greater grow displaid,
If then it find not helpe, and breeds despaire.”
“Despaire breeds not” (quoth he) “where faith is staid.”
“No faith so fast” (quoth she) “but flesh does pair.”
“Flesh may empaire” (quoth he) “but reason can repaire.” (I.7.41)

In this battle of proverbs, Arthur wins out.  The scene is tender, but there is something comical about it.  Una appears somewhat childlike in refusing to open up.  Com-pair this scene in The Faerie Queene with a scene out of the first season of Arrested Development.  Michael thinks that GOB’s girlfriend Marta, whom Michael himself has a crush on, is cheating on GOB and he is trying to get her to confess this to him.  But Marta is not cheating on GOB; she has developed feelings for Michael and wants to tell him about it.  They meet for dinner and their mutual misunderstanding develops into a hilarious stichomythia:

Michael: So, about GOB, how’s that going?
Marta: Well, as you said, finding out who you really are, it can be painful, but you can’t live a lie.
Michael: No, I can’t, but some people find a way to make that work.
Marta: Yes, but sometimes working at something, it’s a way to not deal with some other thing…
Michael: But, he who often suggests working on another thing which when the first thing is not…
Marta (interrupting): Would you excuse me for a moment?
Michael: Yes, sure…

Marta leaves, and as each is left alone, both of them simultaneously utter:

What the hell is he talking about?
What the hell is she talking about?

The stichomythia resolves into a diptych of reciprocal frustration.  Both tried to convey allegorically (via proverbial discourse) what was on their respective minds and failed.  Which goes to show an allegory cannot be solved in terms of itself, and with each additional step in its continuation the frustration is bound to grow… The moral of this post: I can’t praise Mitchell Hurwitz enough.  So incredibly funny and so incredibly smart.


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