Death of an instar

Yesterday’s — 6/6 — Wayno / Piraro Bizarro: “Today’s Theatrical Cartoon”, as Wayno’s title has it:

(#1) An outrageous — I hesitate to say brutal — pun, also learnèd, drawing on the technical terminology of zoology and the rather elevated locution the stage for acting, not to mention knowledge of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page)

So: the larval stage ‘the step in insect metamorphosis between egg and pupa’ — as illustrated in the cartoon by two larvae. Then the pun, which has the larval stage ‘theatrical production in which the actors are larvae’. In the cartoon, the two larvae are playing Caesar and Brutus in a notably spare production of Julius Caesar — notably spare because in Shakespeare’s play this is a crowded scene, as in this shot from Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1953 film:

(#2) James Mason as Brutus, Louis Calhern as Caesar (from the Turner Classic Movies site)

Lexical background. For the pun in #1, and the related word play in my title, from NOAD, first the theatrical, then the entomological:

noun stage: … 2  [b] (the stage) the acting or theatrical profession: I’ve always wanted to go on the stage.

noun stage: 1 [a] a point, period, or step in a process or development: there is no need at this stage to give explicit details | I was in the early stages of pregnancy.

noun larva: [a] the active immature form of an insect, especially one that differs greatly from the adult and forms the stage between egg and pupa, e.g. a caterpillar or grub. … ORIGIN mid 17th century (denoting a disembodied spirit or ghost): from Latin, literally ‘ghost, mask’. [AZ: the cartoon has theatrical larvae — both sides of the pun are alive in it — so the etymology of larva is intriguing, but surely not actually relevant to the joke]

adj. larval: [a]  relating to or denoting the active immature form of an insect: the larval stage of a fly.

noun instarZoology a phase between two periods of molting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate animal. ORIGIN late 19th century: from Latin, literally ‘form, likeness’. [AZ: nothing to do with star in an astronomical or theatrical sense, so my title is just cheap word play]

A note on the arthrousness of the stage, roughly ‘the acting profession’, not  NOAD‘s sense 2 [a] ‘a raised floor or platform, typically in a theater, on which actors, entertainers, or speakers perform’. I haven’t looked systematically at arthrousness in expressions related to this one — surely someone has looked at it in detail — but there’s a lot of unpredictable conventionalization — cf. She went on the radio with her act, not on radio; but She went on television with her act, not usually on the television. Indeed, it used to be He was in the show business (like He was in the chicken business), but that’s been supplanted by anarthrous show businesss.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: