Work Header

Rupert Giles's Remedial Sunday School: Lesson Two, David and Michal

Work Text:

“... and thus it came to pass that Michal, David's first wife and the person through whom he held his legitimate (by man's laws at any rate) claim to the throne died childless and all of King Soul's dynasty with her making the House of David in effect an entity in it's own right and the gold standard for prestigious lineage in all subsequent Jewish and later Christian tradition.” Giles concluded, finally pausing for breath.

Buffy cocked her head to the side and looked at him askance, still processing everything he had explained in the past half hour. “So...” she said finally, still hung up on an earlier part of the narrative, “David is also Romeo?”

Giles's brows drew together. He might have laughed, but Buffy seemed so serious. “How so?” he asked.

“Oh come on!” she half exclaimed, as if the point were much too obvious, though she herself had sounded fairly incredulous in positing it a moment earlier. “He marries the daughter of his enemy whose already tried to kill him like two or three times, right? And he thinks that's somehow going to work out to them patching everything up and on one getting killed anymore, right? I mean, it's not behind his back, but still. And he's in love with her... sort of... although he still has kind of a weird thing going on with the King's son if you ask me.... But anyway she's in love with him, like massively and for real. And she's the second girl in the story after he doesn't get to marry the first one. And then there's the whole deal with him climbing out of her bedroom window to escape because otherwise they're going to kill him in the morning and, okay they have been married more than one night, but you know not a lot more....”

Buffy was quiet a moment, seeming pensive. Giles considered her points, which he decided were probably well taken. He'd always seen quite a lot of Abelard and Heloise in the story of Romeo and Juliet, especially given their names and all their talk about names in contradistinction to things in themselves... and of course the structure of the piece being so very much Pyramus and Thisbe... he hadn't really looked much further for sources. But now that Buffy had pointed out the similarities to David, the picture shifted in his mind and it was impossible to not see the one story in the other. He was about to open his mouth to tell her so, but there was a certain look on her face. As if she had more to say but was uncertain if she should. “Yes, go on,” he encouraged her gently, not wanting to say anything to influence or disrupt the heavy thinking she was clearly doing for herself at that moment, hiding his excitement about both her insights and the very fact that she was actively engaged in trying to reach insights behind an impassive mask of patient attention.

“It's just... it is the same story and it isn't,” Buffy said finally, almost brooding. "I mean the part where he has to work for his best friends dad for years as a loyal servant knowing the King hates him and wants to kill him to prevent his great destiny without ever really understanding why it has to be like that and why they all just can't build the kingdom together... obviously that's a different story. But it's not... that's not what's different about the story, or at least that's not what bugs me. It's... the ending...”

“Yes! Go on,” Giles repeated unable to keep his excitement from showing a little, pretty sure he was seeing what she was seeing now, anticipating what she was going to say.

“Well... it's like... this Juliet marries Paris and it's... not even a choice, it's just what you do. I mean, there's no dire ultimatums, 'hang, starve,' whatever; it's just... Saul is the King and her father and he gives her to his enemy and then takes her back and gives her to his friend, and she has no say in it at all. And then like, even though she's married she basically waits for him all those years he's in exile and manages not to have any children with her other husband; which had to be, you know, not easy like a kajillion years ago... and then they like, get back together or whatever after her father dies, not that she has any say in that either. And the other guy—not-quite-Paris-guy—is just crying and pitiful and nobody cares. Meanwhile David has like five or six other wives and ten or fifteen kids, while he's out cutting up all of Saul's relatives with his special sword, but Michal is totally okay with that, I guess? And then they just get in a fight at a party one night and break up and she goes and mopes for the rest of her natural life, and that's it. And it's like, okay this ending is a complete and total mess; I'm on board with that. But then I look at Romeo and Juliet again and it's like, seriously? This is how you fix that? Everybody kills themselves? That's supposed to be like the Disney version of this story?”

“No! No it isn't!” Giles something between gasped and shouted, but quietly, rubbing his hands together, eyes shining with eagerness to explain, sounding for all the world like they had just agreed about something. Despite his words, his manner was so... mysterious and conspiratorial (in a happy way) that Buffy found herself leaning forward, awaiting his explanation just as eagerly. Still a tiny part of her was wary, knowing Giles could sometimes get very excited about surprisingly boring things. “It's the Shakespearean version, which of course is in a similar way very, very much about fixing things... but how to go about it... why to go about it, what is seen as needing to be fixed! There's the important difference.

“You see if Walt-Disney studios were looking at telling this story, they too would have to 'fix' the ending, no doubt, but why?” Giles stayed laser focused. She was getting it. The way myth and literature, the way culture worked! At some point, of course, he'd have to explain about Pyramus and Thisbe, the multiplicity of influences, the doubtfulness of this image of Shakespeare literally sitting down with just this text and pen to 'fix' the story. But all of that could wait. Buffy was thinking, and it was good thinking. Her thinking was beautiful to behold.

“Because everyone is miserable,” Buffy supplied the obvious answer, still wondering exactly where he was going with this. “They don't get a happy ending. And then, by the end, you can barely even tell who the good guys are, or if there are any.”

“Yes!” Giles agreed, “It lacks all of the things that 'Disney' stories need to be complete, the things twentieth century Americans value in a heroic story and/or a love story. Moral clarity, perfect justice, happiness certainly, but most of all a happy resolution , a relief from trouble and perplexity, for the hearer of the tale as well as the hero and his princess. From a Disney point of view, that's what's wrong with this story. For Shakespeare...”

“It's something totally different! He's not worried about a happy ending... he needs it to be... I don't know, on the one hand, I'm wanting to say neater , but on the other hand also... romantic.”

“Yes!” Giles agreed. “That's exactly th—”

And then Buffy surprised him by sighing, a little deflatedly and saying, “See, this is why I hate Shakespeare, the whole dying-is-romantic thing, that's just creepy and dangerous.”

Giles sighed, feeling a bit deflated himself. Maybe she wasn't getting it quite as much as he'd thought. “Well, it's the difference in what people value ,” he tried explaining. “You see, we keep telling the sames stories, people do, because we are the same, but we keep telling them differently because different cultures—”

“I don't care what culture you are,” Buffy interrupted stubbornly. “People stabbing themselves? Mr. Helpful Grownup Guy drugging this little girl that he's like conspiring with behind her parents' backs knowing that she's sleeping with this violent older guy who's completely nuts... and then purposely letting her get sealed up in a tomb? All as part of this 'plan' that he can't even follow through on, and—”

“I think perhaps you're taking the action of the plot a bit too literally,” Giles tried to object. “Erm, clearly, the text is what it is... but the subtext —”

“The subtext is that the girl's life is over when the guy is done with her!” Buffy interjected disgruntledly. Almost sulkily she added, “That's the same in both stories. Yay for 'our culture'.”

“No, that, unfortunately is still text,” Giles corrected, “but it's rather beside the point, especially in the case of the Biblical story which is very much about David's narrative in which each of his wives figures only incidentally. But the point you seemed poised on the verge of understanding with regard to Shakespeare that I think you are now missing—”

“Wait a minute,” Buffy cut in again, still rankled, “Why are we even talking about Shakespeare anyway?”

“Well, I certainly didn't bring it up,” Giles pointed out, getting more and more annoyed himself.

“Alright, so,” Buffy said, “let's get back to this David guy and what he's all about.”

“Happily,” Giles replied, not sounding happy at all.

“What I don't get,” Buffy went on, just as if they were not in any state of discord whatsoever, “is why Saul even let David and Michal get married in the first place. I mean, he's totally the boss of them, and he already thinks David is plotting against him, trying to take his throne; which he's wrong but not very. I mean if you just look at what actually happens, not what people say they want and why, Saul is right about David all along. The King and his kids wind up dead and this complete outsider ends up outliving them all, having the throne for himself, and passing it on to descendants he happens to have who have nothing to do with the royal family he used to be married into for about ten minutes. That's not what anyone wants whose the king of something, and who could blame him? And the whole convoluted explanation including the guy who just happens to be walking by and sees the King and kills him? Exactly what an evil ambitious servant who weaseled his way into the royal family by making friends with the King's son and daughter behind his back would say after he's king and they're all dead!”

“That was the bit I was trying to explain earlier about the hundred foreskins,” Giles pointed out, “Which I was never able to get through for all your interrupting me to say how 'gross' it all was.”

“Well it is,” Buffy pointed out quite reasonably, she thought. “Unless, I'm really, really wrong about what a foreskin is.”

Giles couldn't help pursing his lips and crinkling up his face just a bit. “No,” he admitted, “it is that, but in this case, more importantly, it is the impossible and deadly task, the old standard 'you can marry my daughter after slay this dragon-giant-seamonster-whathaveyou' trick. The marriage isn't really what the King intends to have happen.”

“Holy crap!” Buffy blurted. “You mean he's using her as bait ?”

“Precisely,” Giles confirmed, “and of course he has excellent motives to do so, though by the time this same formula is being repeated ad nauseam to be dutifully recorded by the brother's Grimm, it's become an accepted trope without further need of whys or wherefores. But in Saul's case, there is indeed method to his madness, though I'm not sure that makes him any the less mad. Paranoid, with delusions of persecution to be specific.”

“Well, but it does make a little more sense,” Buffy admitted. “I mean, I've been sitting here thinking; okay, so from the King's point of view, David is his chief rival, right? He's like this vicious schemer whose smiling in his face and acting as his right hand man, all the while plotting behind his back to overthrow him and take his place. So why is he in such a hurry to make this guy one of the family and give him an excuse to make his scheming seem that much more legitimate? I mean, he'd have to be an idiot, right?”

“Yes,” Giles agreed with a small laugh, “That would be rather daft.” But then he paused as a new thought struck him. “Unless of course, he had no faith in his own heirs to be strong enough to stand against David, or worse still, he didn't think they had what it took to withstand their external enemies without his help. Then he'd have had to come up with something a bit more creative than violence to try to neutralize such a dangerous rival, wouldn't he? But in this case, Saul seems to be betting that Jonathan will be up to the job of ruling if only David can be gotten out of his way, will he or no.”

“But then when he does come back with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West...” Buffy supplied, connecting a few sets of dots at once.

“Then he has not only failed to get rid of his enemy but made him into a national hero whom he has no choice but to publicly honor, reward, and elevate to equality with his own sons, making him all the more dangerous,” Giles concluded.

“But if Saul knows about the prophesy and David's destiny,” Buffy wondered aloud, “why wouldn't he expect that to happen?”

“Yes,” Giles said as dryly as he could manage, trying to suppress a smile. “You'd think these mytho-historical figures would know better than to try to out maneuver the heavy hand of destiny, wouldn't you?" Buffy punched Giles on the arm, just hard enough to make him say “Oww,” which he did.

“Come on,” she said grinning, offering him a hand up. “I'm about to OD on all this Bible stuff. Let's do some training.”