“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.

Screen shot 2016-06-30 at 11.21.03 AM

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,
O Cromwell,
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.

Ah, Shakespeare!


~ by Servetus on June 30, 2016.

15 Responses to ““Brush up your Shakespeare,” Brexit, and Richard Armitage fans”

  1. I didn’t receive an excellent grounding in Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet, & I think The Tempest? of all things). I’ve bookmarked several sites w/suggestions about DIYing Shakespeare. It may not happen for another year or two though, with all the unexpected things on deck recently….Truthfully, I consider the Armitage fandom educational for such rabble as myself 😉

    I like the Macbeth quote as well, for many reasons.


    • wow, The Tempest? I love that but I didn’t read it until grad school. HS in the US is usually Julius Caeser, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and maybe Hamlet. My mom was a big fan of Taming of the Shrew.

      If you want an easy way in, there’s a book of Shakespeare plays adapted as children’s stories. It’s also written in a way appropriate for children, so some of the racier stuff gets glossed over. Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Seems like it was the actual version compared to a revised or modernized version…. my brain comes in waves 😛 I liked it though.

        I figured if I get ready to pursue it, I’ll watch a filmed or staged version first before reading the play…..I think I’ve seen that recommended by some. Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare sounds familiar too. (I think I’ve forgotten more than I retained, and I used to do so well in English, lit, even grammar, believe it or not.)


        • The Oliver Hamlet film was on TCM last night — I watched about half of it — and was thinking, it is SO much easier to understand this play when people are acting it out. You could probably watch all these Hollow Crown versions that are coming out now — they are solid traditional interpretations.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That’s a great idea, and they have focused on the histories, I believe – which I’m partial to anyway (historical drama).


  2. One of my all time favourite books is the compendium of Shakespearian Insults. To call someone a fusty plebeian when they are annoying the hell out of me will often take the angry winds from my sails….


  3. I agree on the educational aspect of this fandom.
    Shakespeare is amazing. All these phrases and sayings that originate from him, and which we use every day today – truly remarkable.


    • i think it’s interesting that we look back to him so much, culturally, really as much as the Bible in some US circles.


  4. Love the Cardinal Wolsey speech…would be a rare person who could live by those words, but definitely the kind of person I would wish to run for office! That person has my vote!


  5. Sorry this is a rather shallow comment but IIRC this was sung by some English guys (if not actually English, sung with very “posh” voices!! ) many years ago and I can’t for the life of me remember their names for the moment! Can someone help me out, please? 🙂


  6. Here a comparison of Boris Johnson to Prince Hal: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/30/michael-made-an-odd-assassin-but-then-boris-was-a-strange-caesar


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