44 Ben Jonson – The Comedies of Excess

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The other great Elizabethan dramatists were famous for tragedy, and it was only Ben Jonson who wrote comedies that have lasted. When I say lasted, I should note that very little of the work of these dramatists, except for Shakespeare, is now performed to any appreciable extent: Marlowe on occasion, perhaps one or other of Webster’s great plays, and one or two of Jonson’s.

This is understandable, but I would argue that there is at least one play of Jonson’s that is well worth both seeing and reading. This is Volpone, with its fantastic beginning, which sets the tone for a more thorough exploration of greed than in any other literary work; and also of deceit in the pursuit of greed –

Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:

Open the shrine, that I may see my Saint.

[MOSCA WITHDRAWS THE CURTAIN, AND DISCOVERS PILES OF GOLD,

PLATE, JEWELS, ETC.]

Hail the world’s soul, and mine! more glad than is

The teeming earth to see the long’d-for sun

Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram,

Am I, to view thy splendour darkening his;

That lying here, amongst my other hoards,

Shew’st like a flame by night; or like the day

Struck out of chaos, when all darkness fled

Unto the centre. O thou son of Sol,

But brighter than thy father, let me kiss,

With adoration, thee, and every relick

Of sacred treasure, in this blessed room.

Well did wise poets, by thy glorious name,

Title that age which they would have the best;

Thou being the best of things: and far transcending

All style of joy, in children, parents, friends,

Or any other waking dream on earth: Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 4; Pt 3 – Marginal Utilities

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acts-of-faithPaul is surprised when he is summoned to see Luke late one evening. He is even more surprised to find that he is the only person present apart from his host, and is conducted into a small cosy room at the back of the house, covered with bookshelves on which there are volumes of Hansard and copies of Luke’s own publications and lavishly illustrated guides to various places Luke has visited. Some of the shelves turn out to be false, and are swung back to reveal a lavishly stocked bar. Paul is offered whiskey but declines and asks for beer. This takes some time to be brought, and until it is Luke guides Paul around the room and shows him several photographs of ceremonial occasions on which he shook hands with diverse Heads of State, some of them the representatives of ancient and revered dynasties.

They sit down at last, before a mock fireplace with a large metal grille in it across which orange flames dart after Luke throws a switch. Paul is reassured to be told that this is simply a very sophisticated form of air-conditioning, and that it is cold air that is being blown forth. They go on to talk about high technology, and Luke’s detailed plans to reconstruct all the buildings and bridges that have been damaged in the riots, and many more besides, in all sorts of intricate shapes and vivid colours and stupendous sizes. Luke wants to know whether Paul thinks the Big White Power, or indeed any other Powers of whatsoever shade, would be interested in these eminently forward looking plans.

Paul gives a non-committal but enthusiastic answer. He knows that there is more to come. Luke moves on to discuss international reactions in general to the recent events, and varying perceptions about the particular roles of White Powers and Red Powers and Brown Powers and even Muslims. Paul notes that Luke says nothing critical about anyone, except possibly Karl Marx and his Brothers and hangers on in a collective sense, and he himself follows suit. Luke then goes on to talk about Trincomalee, and the need to exploit the resources of that splendid natural harbour in conjunction with a Responsible Power; but Paul still feels, fascinating though the subject might be, that Luke’s heart is not in it, and that there is something more which this meeting is all about. Continue reading

43 Christopher Marlowe – Over-reaching

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Shakespeare bestrode his world, and indeed the whole world of English literature, like a Colossus. Hence 12 essays on him, when I have contented myself with one each on the 30 writers discussed previously. They were of a later period, and many of them still have much to say that we can readily understand, which is why I dealt with a large number of those who wrote in the last two centuries.

The case is different with those of the previous period, so I shall look at fewer than a dozen writers in the period between Shakespeare’s age, the end of the 16th century, and that of Wordsworth, at the end of the 18th. Three of these however will be contemporaries of Shakespeare, which suggests how brilliant was that efflorescence of English writing, during the Elizabethan period.

First of these was Christopher Marlowe, who has even been suspected of being the writer of the Shakespearian canon. But this is a particularly absurd supposition, for Marlowe was a genius in his own right, with a very different perspective from that of Shakespeare, who covered such a wide range of human nature and experience in his works.

Marlowe on the contrary had in essence just one subject. That was the study of individuals who sought to achieve more than the usual limits set by the world allowed. From the moment Tamberlaine burst upon the stage, Marlowe made it clear that what he was concerned about was the attractions, and the relentless consequences, to oneself as well as to others, of excess.

I am a lord, for so my deeds shall prove;

And yet a shepherd by my parentage.

But, lady, this fair face and heavenly hue

Must grace his bed that conquers Asia,

And means to be a terror to the world,

Measuring the limits of his empery

By east and west, as Phoebus doth his course. Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 4; Pt 2 – Marginal Utilities

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acts-of-faithGerry was most upset and irritated by John’s announcements to the nation. On the very next day, she summoned Dick to her assistance. Fond though she was of her husband, she felt that he had lost touch with the realities of life after he had become President, and particularly an Executive one. Dick was much more reliable where money was concerned.

It was money that concerned her now, lots of it, the hoard that she had accumulated over the past few years in the conviction that one should always be prepared for a rainy day. There could easily come a time when Tom and she or either would need a little something extra to live on. Tom of course did not know about the hoard, for he was convinced that he would continue as President for the rest of his natural life, and if necessary even longer, and he did not approve of any plans being made for any contingency beyond that. Gerry therefore kept the money in a little room under the stairs to which she alone kept the key, and which no one else had entered for several years. The rest of the household thought that that was where she kept a secret stock of alcohol, to which she had recourse when life was especially tense. Indeed she did keep a few bottles of brandy there, both to bring out at intervals to keep up the illusion, and also to drink to keep her blood pressure under control as she counted her money.

She could therefore offer Dick a tipple when she took him in there to disclose her problem. He needed it, for his heart began to beat very much faster when he saw the piles of notes, laden with dust, piled up around him. He had had his problems when John had issued his midnight gazette, but he realised now that they were insignificant compared with those that Gerry had to face. He felt she could even be forgiven for pouring herself twice as much brandy as she had given him.

‘You must do something about this nonsense,’ she said firmly, having taken a large gulp from her glass. ‘I thought that the whole point about this government was that we would be allowed to accumulate our assets in peace. Now that dreadful Tamil upstart has gone and upset everything. I’m sure he’s a Socialist at heart.’

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Shakespeare in Love

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Finally I come to Shakespeare’s poems, or rather to the Sonnets. Some of these, like the plays, are very well known, whereas the few other poems he wrote, though well worth reading (in particular the long narrative Venus and Adonis), would not I think be remembered were it not for his other work.

Perhaps the same is true of the sonnets taken as a whole. What Shakespeare is best at is depicting relationships between people in a social context. Though the sonnets are concerned, almost entirely, with the poet’s relations with two people, a young man and a woman termed the Dark Lady, they are monologues dealing with conceits, namely artificial expansions of aspects of the relationship. But several of the conceits are enchantingly put, and a theme that recurs constantly, that of passing time, is of course of universal interest. The first and the last two lines of Sonnet 12 express this graphically, while also asserting another idea we find repeated in the series, that of the importance of procreation:

“When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.”

Most of the 154 Sonnets are addressed to a youth, which has led to much speculation as to whether Shakespeare had a romantic interest in a young man. More directly sexual are the 26 sonnets addressed to a Dark Lady. The contrast serves, I think, to confirm that, as happens in many contexts in which women did not share the full life of their menfolk, intimacy between men could be intense, whether or not there were physical aspects to the relationship.

Certainly the intensity of affection does often seem romantically sentimental, as in the little known 71st sonnet:

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Acts of Faith – Chapter 4; Pt 1 – Marginal Utilities

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acts-of-faithThe various ministerial pronouncements made Dick intensely nervous. He loathed communists, in fact much more than Dulcie did, for he had been one in his youth and had since had to deal with them on business affairs; he knew that they were motivated primarily by envy and would have no scruples about depriving him of his hard-won pleasures. Then the purported plot to stir up animosity against Muslims disturbed him even more, for most of his business associates now were Muslims and, though he did not use the name socially, it was under his Muslim name that all his various business concerns were registered. Finally, Matthew’s scarcely veiled suggestion that there was something radically wrong with all those not in the mainstream made him acutely conscious that he and his possessions could soon fall prey to a whipped up frenzy.

In some way therefore his own loyalty to the nation, and that of the community to which he now belonged, had to be conclusively established. After much thought and some discussion with his friends, Dick determined to establish a Muslim Association that would make crystal clear the adherence of the Muslims to the interests of the wider nation, and their forceful opposition to whatever it was, apart from Muslims of course, that the wider nation feared. After Matthew’s performance, it was clear that, apart from the desire of the Tamils to divide the nation that had precipitated the holocaust, what was most abhorred was the perversity propagated by Marxists and Catholics. The Muslim Association against Separatism and Homosexuality was accordingly established, with Dick as its founding President.

From its very inception, MASH proved a tremendous success. The inaugural meeting was attended by a massive crowd, many of whom Dick had not known to be Muslims, and some of whom he had thought long since dead. It was these last in particular, politicians of a bygone age, who were the most vociferous at the meeting, affirming with what seemed an intimate knowledge of the rewards awaiting all those who laid down their lives in a struggle for the true faith, heaps of dark eyed houris in paradise and so forth, the need for MASH to do all it could to preserve the unity of the nation and to provide ready supplies of nubile young ladies for all those who required them. The resolutions passed at the meeting proved so inviting that over the next few days the Association was flooded with applications for membership. All these were promptly accepted, subject of course to the essentials being observed, and mass circumcision ceremonies were held all over the island with great pomp and circumstance.

It was thus with a tremendous sense of confidence that Dick and the rest of his Executive Committee went to their first meeting with Tom. They had indeed a great deal to be importunate about. An influential proportion of the membership of MASH had suffered considerably in the recent disturbances, particularly those involved in the tourist and gemming industries, for the market had collapsed at the first signs of violence with almost all foreigners winging their way home in trepidation and without souvenirs. The restrictions Matthew had announced on foreign entry into Negombo would now put paid even to those few who were brave or motivated enough to face the situation. It was clear that emergency measures had to be taken.

The proposals with regard to arrack renting and other such activities that were held to be the traditional preserves of the Sinhalese provided Dick with the basis for his suggestions. If others were to be restrained from participating in these activities, then surely it was only just that the traditional occupations of the Muslims should be reserved for them. Dick and his Executive, therefore, proposed that tourism and gemming and perhaps one or two other things as well such as the spice trade be reserved exclusively for Muslims, or rather for members of MASH since they would be in a fit position to ensure that nothing immoral would occur. Indeed perhaps honorary membership of MASH could be offered to all foreigners as an incentive, so that they would be able to adopt liberal Muslim marriage customs and thus be in a better position to resist the perverse temptations proferred by Catholics and Marxists.

Tom did not give his consent at once. But he promised sincerely to give the matter his most careful consideration. He was in any case enormously touched by the display of solidarity that had been put forth on his behalf, several posters having appeared all over Colombo as if by magic that declared that MASH backed Tom to the hilt. Moreover, the proposal MASH had advanced appealed to his sense of order. He believed in a society in which there was order, and patterns and compartments for everything and everyone, so that you were not suddenly surprised by someone stepping out of line. What was happening all around him now seemed to him, at first sight at any rate, a step in the right direction. He was even sanguine enough, after the delegation from MASH had left, to don his uniform once more and look at himself in the mirror with satisfaction.

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Shakespeare’s Epiphany

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There is yet another Antonio in Shakespeare, in The Tempest. That Antonio plays a crucial but negative role, in being the reason for Prospero’s exile, having usurped the throne of his more intellectual brother. Given the abandonment the other two Antonios suffer, the name gives us a clue perhaps as to what motivates this Antonio, not just greed for power, not even what he might see as a moral imperative to supplant a less practical brother, but also a sense that he needs to prove his own worth.

Like the bastard brother Edmund in Lear, like the Iago whose bitterness is at least in part motivated by his perceived rejection by Othello, Antonio also needs to assert himself. He does this through destruction, not only taking for himself the power and position of others, but also encouraging those who trust him to turn on their familiars. Thus in The Tempest Antonio persuades (another) Sebastian, the brother of the King of Naples, to conspire against his brother, just as he himself had done against Prospero:

“Here lies your brother,
No better than the earth he lies upon,
If he were that which now he’s like, that’s dead;
Whom I, with this obedient steel, three inches of it,
Can lay to bed for ever; whiles you, doing thus,
To the perpetual wink for aye might put
This ancient morsel, this Sir Prudence, who
Should not upbraid our course. For all the rest,

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Acts of Faith – Chapter 3; Pt 2 – Expository

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In the short term, the person worst affected by Mark’s pronouncements was the Red Shadow (though for the sake of balance we ought to note too at this point that, in the final analysis, he had very little to regret). Even before Mark’s appearance, he had been in trouble enough with his superiors; the television news clips of his contortions amidst the mobs, followed by the graphic revelations of the police dossier, would he knew prove fatal. All he would have to look forward to when he was sent home, which of course would happen immediately, was prison, exile, or at the very least several years in a corrective institution where cold baths and electrodes would be the least of his worries. There would certainly be no chance to enjoy the pleasures he had so recently discovered.

This was more than he could take. He would have been at his wits’ end had it not been for something Mark had said, that tied in with his own enhanced perceptions since his transubstantiation in Negombo. It had occurred to him even then that the free and easy sensuality prevalent there might have had something to do with the free and easy absolution readily available from an indulgent church. Amongst the orthodox things had been very different. The Red Shadow felt that he could not bear to return to a land of cold and dreary penances. A few moments after Mark had spoken, he went into has back garden and clambered over the wall into that of his neighbour, the Papal Nuncio.

There he lay in comfort and in silence, while the storm raged, and the Big Red Embassy disowned him, and his disappearance was asserted conclusively to prove the vicious magnitude of the plot. Naturally he was received as soon as possible into the bosom of the church. There was nothing dubious or hesitant about his faith. In particular, he had an absolute conviction that the Nuncio would get him safely out of the country and bestow him unharmed, even if it were necessary to be disguised as a nun for the purpose, in the refuge offered by Rome.

*

It could not be denied that the effect of Mark’s speech to the nation was almost miraculous. The troops fired and the police charged as required, and the mobs melted away. True, there were sporadic outbursts of violence, and there was still menace in the air and there were those who said cynically that it was all a matter either of coincidence or of prearrangement; but by and large, and especially where it mattered, in the drawing rooms of Colombo, Mark was held to be the hero of the hour. Indeed, less than twenty-four hours after he had finished his speech, there sprang up in some of the more salubrious avenues of Colombo posters that declared that the hour had found the man to save the country. In some of them, the more brightly coloured ones, Mark even appeared to be possessed of a sparkling set of incisive teeth.

Within a few minutes of Mark’s appearance, Luke had met with his advisers and, with their full concurrence that it was in the best interests of the nation, determined that he too should do his bit on television for peace and harmony. When he asked for permission the next morning however Tom, looking much brighter and cheerier than on the previous day, replied that it was quite unnecessary, since things seemed to have settled down. By evening though the posters had appeared, and Tom decided that tensions were still latent and might burst out again at any minute.

Luke therefore appeared on television exactly twenty-four hours after Mark had done, and when the positive impact of that forceful performance was still fresh in everyone’s mind. It is a tribute then to Luke’s dramatic talent that he too managed to create a sensation. He started by saying that the government now had evidence that the plot Mark had mentioned was not directed only against Tamils, but also against Muslims and Christians and even against those Sinhalese Buddhists belonging to castes that the Brahmins considered inferior to themselves. Indeed, Mark’s statement had been misleading in one minor detail, understandably so in view of the fact that at the time Mark spoke all the facts had not been clear to him. In any case the government had felt that, as a member of the Brahmin caste, Mark could not be expected to disclose the iniquities of what was admittedly only a small segment of that caste, but one that was influential and might take a hateful vengeance on him if he gave them grounds for classifying him as a traitor. Mark after all was particularly vulnerable to such a charge, for he was the only leader who could be classified as absolutely pure, a solidly Buddhist Brahmin of the Brahmins, albeit his family had fallen on hard times before he had restored its fortunes by his advent into politics. It was, he added, a tribute to Mark’s breadth of vision that he had joined together with their great leader Tom, who had been born a Christian, and with Matthew, who had traces of foreign blood, and with John, who was a Tamil, and with himself, Luke, who was emphatically not a Brahmin and would like to make it clear that, whatever anyone said, he was proud of it. Continue reading

Shakespeare : the historical plays

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Apart from the tragedies and the comedies, Shakespeare wrote ten historical plays. Eight of these were about the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War that raged on and off for a century, until 1485, when the question of kingship was finally settled with the defeat of Richard III by Henry Tudor. Richard was a Plantaganet, the line that had come in through the husband of Matilda, daughter of Henry I. He was thus directly descended from William the Conqueror, whereas Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, had only a tenuous claim through blood to the throne. His main claim to fame was that he was the grandson of the wife of Henry V, who had married a Welsh adventurer after the death of her husband.

The naming of the Civil War arose from the different coloured roses chosen as their emblems by the Houses of Lancaster and of York, named after the two sons of Edward III whose descendants were the chief protagonists in the protracted war. The struggle had begun when Henry Bolingbroke, son of the Duke of Lancaster, got rid of his cousin, Richard II, the son of Edward III’s eldest son. Bolingbroke became Henry IV, and was succeeded by his son, Prince Hal, who became Henry V.
But he died young and his son, Henry VI, was after a long struggle overthrown by the Yorks, who claimed seniority, albeit only through their mother’s line. Edward IV however also died comparatively young, and was succeeded, not by one of his sons, but by his brother Richard. Henry Tudor took advantage of the disaffection that developed, and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, but took care to legitimize his claim by marrying the daughter of Edward IV. Her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, were by now dead. Though history as written by Henry VII’s Court claimed that their wicked uncle had done away with them, there is also an argument that it was Henry who had done it.
So much for history. Shakespeare tackled the subject both early and late in his career, the last four plays chronologically being written earlier, and being considered inferior in quality. These are the three parts of Henry VI, along with Richard III, and they are more concerned with historical narrative than the plays that were written later. Indeed the second and third parts of Henry VI read sometimes like a string of battles, with noblemen changing sides for what seem the slightest of reasons, until Henry VI – who actually reigned for a very long time – finally lost out.
He is a passive figure, supposedly of great sanctity, and is best remembered for having founded two still great educational institutions, Eton College and King’s College Cambridge. But he never really emerges as a character, and is dwarfed by his powerful wife Margaret. But even she can do little to render the plays interesting as drama.
More powerful are Henry VI Part I, which is essentially about Joan of Arc, and Richard III with its powerful anti-hero. Richard is presented as a hunchback, though again there is argument about whether this is based on fact or the skilful demonizing propaganda of the Tudors. The character resonates powerfully however, from his first stirring lines, which lay out crudely but powerfully the intense ambition with which Shakespeare endows him:
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths….
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:”
And even if he is not quite as gripping in his decline as Macbeth, his recognition of where his ambition has led him is striking:
“Give me another horse: bind up my wounds.
Have mercy, Jesu!–Soft! I did but dream.
O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree
Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree;
All several sins, all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, Guilty! guilty!
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me:
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d
Came to my tent; and every one did threat
To-morrow’s vengeance on the head of Richard.”
He is a superb foil to Richard II, the weak king with whom the historical cycle began. Richard, inheriting the throne when he was very young, after the premature death of his father, the Black Prince, Edward III’s heroic son, was dominated by nobles who made him disliked. Then, choosing his own favourites, he became more unpopular. Though he sacrificed one, and then another, in the end the ambitious Henry (Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV) was able to enforce his abdication.
Richard, who had seemed a rather silly young man previously, becomes heroic after he has lost authority. He laments evocatively after he has been forced to abdicate the vanity of kingship:
“…of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!”
But even this is not enough for Henry, who believes a living Richard could become a centre of disaffection. He has him killed, an act that will continue to haunt him in the next two plays in the cycle:
“How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?…
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
The strength of these four later, chronologically earlier, plays lies then in their psychological expositions, their analyses of what power means, its acquisition and its loss, its impact on those around one, whose objectivity must ever be in doubt.
Not least is this played out in the relations between Henry IV and his son, the boisterous Price Hal, who then turns into the adored and effective Henry V. The scene in which he takes his father’s crown leads to some of Shakespeare’s most poignant lines :
PRINCE HENRY
I never thought to hear you speak again.
KING HENRY IV
Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought:
I stay too long by thee, I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth!
Thou seek’st the greatness that will o’erwhelm thee.
Stay but a little; for my cloud of dignity
Is held from falling with so weak a wind
That it will quickly drop: my day is dim.
Thou hast stolen that which after some few hours
Were thine without offence; and at my death
Thou hast seal’d up my expectation:
Thy life did manifest thou lovedst me not,
And thou wilt have me die assured of it.
Thou hidest a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart,
To stab at half an hour of my life.
What! canst thou not forbear me half an hour?”
Though the Prince does satisfy his father about his intentions, this prompts what is in effect the King’s valedictory speech, in which Shakespeare shows how deeply he feels he has suffered from the manner in which he came to the throne:
“Come hither, Harry, sit thou by my bed;
And hear, I think, the very latest counsel
That ever I shall breathe. God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook’d ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head.
To thee it shall descend with bitter quiet,
Better opinion, better confirmation;
For all the soil of the achievement goes
With me into the earth. It seem’d in me
But as an honour snatch’d with boisterous hand”

But in addition to this playing out of a sense of guilt, there is another aspect too to the two parts of Henry IV, namely the depictions of low life centring on the character of Sir John Falstaff. I don’t think I quite subscribe to Bloom’s view, that this is Shakespeare’s finest creation, but I do acknowledge that to deal with him in passing would not do him justice, so I will leave him for another essay.

Ceylon Today – 2 November 2014 http://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-76787-news-detail-shakespeare-the-historical-plays.html

Acts of Faith – Chapter 3; Pt 1 – Expository

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acts-of-faithIn spite of the optimism expressed by his Cabinet, Tom’s address to the nation did not have the effect of making the violence subside. Far from it. Indeed on the next day things seemed to get very much worse. Roused to a consciousness of their economic deprivation, hordes of Sinhalese rushed through the streets looking for Tamils who might illicitly or otherwise be engaged in plumbago mining and suchlike and thereby making the money that was the birthright of the majority race. Anyone who was found with more than fifty rupees on his person who could not explain his occupation in Sinhalese was promptly put to death, or at the very least had his money confiscated. The police participated actively in this latter exercise, being perturbed by the confusion caused amongst arrack renters by the new regulations and therefore requiring alternative sources of income to those that had kept them in food and drink in recent times. To complicate matters further the navy misunderstood Tom and thought that he had declared that ship chandling was a Tamil monopoly that ought to be abolished; they promptly went out and burned down all the godowns they could get at, so that rumours of food shortages began to proliferate.

It is a matter of historical record that the credit for the swift restoration of order goes to Mark. We, however, who are privileged enough to comprehend the underlying causes of great public achievements must note also the significant intellectual contribution of Dulcie, the emotive consequences of Shiva’s death, and above all, the personal magnetism of Tom himself. It is after all because of Mark’s overweening ambition to have an affair with at least one of the women attached to Tom’s family that on that fateful day he visited Dulcie and had with her the inspiring conversation that we are about to record. For the sake of propriety, it is worth recording however, that, frequently though he visited her, she had never succumbed to his blandishments, not even in the distant days when he had possessed all his teeth and indeed several other faculties.

‘Tom’s retired to bed again,’ he announced gloomily, and downed his glass of Bristol Cream in one hasty gulp. He much preferred whiskey, but Dulcie never served anything but sherry before dinner. ‘Everything’s in a hopeless mess.’

‘It’s all due to the communists,’ said Dulcie firmly. This had been her father’s explanation for all problems during his days of prosperity, and she had never seen any reason to doubt his wisdom.

‘Reds under the bed,’ Devika piped in helpfully. When her sons had married she had been taken in by her stepdaughter.

‘Reds in the bed more likely,’ Dulcie snorted. ‘It’s all your fault.’ Mark was embarrassed for a moment, but it turned out Dulcie was not referring to his private life at all. ‘Look at that communist diplomat you’re allowing to corrupt all those boys in Negombo. Too much red meat, that’s what it is.’ She paused dramatically, as she often did, and Devika giggled obligingly, under the impression that a joke had been made. Dulcie withered her with a look. ‘They’re Catholics, that’s what it is,’ she went on. ‘The Buddhist peasantry that is the backbone of this country doesn’t eat meat. Just a little dried fish, and that also not always. But you people are encouraging the poor to want more than they can have, and the communists are inciting them to go about killing people and setting fire to things, and to do all sorts of filthy things instead of being satisfied with their lot and going fishing. No sense of values, that’s what it is.’

‘You’re certainly right about that awful man.’ Mark was still very bitter about the Red Shadow’s involvement with one of his own mistresses. This was why he had described in graphic and derogatory detail to Dulcie what he had since heard about the Shadow’s subsequent deviations. ‘I gather he was right in the thick of things near the airport, where they burned all those factories.’ Continue reading

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