“Brush up your Shakespeare,” Brexit, and Richard Armitage fans
As Cole Porter’s song explained in Kiss Me Kate, Shakespeare will get you girls. This song always, always makes me laugh.
There are a few tweeps who regularly quote Shakespeare to Armitage, but since his tweet this morning there are more.
I’m tempted to quote the proverb, “who speaks the truth needs a fast horse” since that seems to be particularly applicable to Boris Johnson, who’s running away from his mess, but it turns out that is not Shakespeare!
Favorite comparisons on Twitter have been Julius Caesar and (somewhat less, though this is my preference) Macbeth (relating to the leaked email yesterday from Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s husband, which explained to him in rather condescending terms what he should guarantee before endorsing Boris Johnson. The applicable quote from Julius Caesar seems to be “Et tu, Brute?” (Act III, Scene One, Line 77; the history of usages of this phrase previous to Shakespeare is interesting — one comes from a play about Richard III).
I’m seeing a lot of quotations of “All the world’s a stage,” from As You Like It, Act II, Scene Seven. The line is spoken by Jaques [Americans — take note — Shakespeareans usually pronounce this name “Jay-queez”], a courtier of the exiled Duke Senior whose dramatic function it is to offer reflective speeches on the state of humanity. It’s an interesting quotation in that Jacques (his usual epithet is “the melancholy,” means it as a commentary on the inevitable features of human life and the insignificance of people’s actions within it, but Jacques himself is a controversial character as all he does is think — he never takes action. The quotation urges the listener to embrace meaninglessness but the speaker is a sort of reproach of that position.
Other quotations I’ve seen:
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II, Scene Two: “Truth hath better deeds than words to grace it.” I don’t know a lot about this play; I’ve never seen it performed. Proteus says this to Julia when she leaves him after a kiss but with no words — the sense is that deeds, not words, prove the truth of something. Amusing choice in light of the fact that it is Proteus who abandons Julia, temporarily, having fallen in love with Silvia.
Macbeth, Act III, Scene Two: “Naught’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content.” Lady Macbeth is musing to herself that if you get what you want but aren’t happy you’ve lost everything. This is an incredibly apt quote, as Lady Macbeth goes on to suggest that it’s better to be destroyed than to be a killer who can’t live with it after the fact. What a great description of Boris Johnson, actually. This is probably my vote for best Shakespearean allusion cited by an Armitage fan — at least thus far.
King Lear, Act V, Scene Three: “Know thou this: That men are as the time is.” Edmund (the romantic bone of contention between Goneril and Reagan) is saying this after the British defeat the French as he’s ordering Lear and his faithful daughter, Cordelia, to prison (and Cordelia, secretly, to be executed). Edmund’s telling the captain he gives the order to (more or less) that if he doesn’t agree to the execution, Edmund will find someone else to do it. Rough times demand rough action.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene Two: “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” Hamlet to Polonius, as Hamlet tries to convince Polonius that he’s crazy. Hamlet certainly means this, but in a most cynical way.
I think the quote that occurred to me first, however, was Henry VIII, Act III, Scene Two: “Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then, The image of his maker, hope to win by it?” Cardinal Wolsey has been double dealing, saying one thing to his king, Henry VIII, and another to the Pope. Wolsey’s enemies expose him by directing his letters to the Pope to the King, who removes his pleasure. In the same scene, peers of the realm arrive to remove the “great seal,” symbolizing Wolsey’s removal from office. When Wolsey’s realized what’s happened, he rues his own foolishness: “O, how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours.” His protegé, Cromwell, comes to tell him that Cranmer’s been made chancellor, and Wolsey warns Cromwell to serve only the king and not himself. Here’s that whole speech:
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st,
Thou fall’st a blessed martyr! Serve the king;
And,–prithee, lead me in:
There take an inventory of all I have,
To the last penny; ’tis the king’s: my robe,
And my integrity to heaven, is all
I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.
Wolsey, who sought preference in the Church by holding England for Rome with the marriage to Katharine of Aragon, is punished for his ambition when he doesn’t do what the king wants, acting only in his own interest. Hence he charges Cromwell to serve the king. The ambitious man retreats, killed by his ambition (I love this). Also there’s the little addition that Cromwell, who tries to serve England as well as the king, will himself be executed in just a few years’ time.