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April 26, 2009


To me, W always seemed similar to Henry V, of whom I am no admirer. A reformed wastrel ascends to the throne, starts a pointless war out of ego, etc. He lacks the eloquence of Hal, of course, but has a similar tendency to leave the details to others.

In general, I think the histories are underappreciated, especially Richard II.

Bernard, I'm with you. I haven't read any Shakespeares for a long time, but I always had a special affection for Richard II.

I suspect Bernard is on to something - I know I loved Henry V when I was 13 (not that I stopped loving it since), because it's all about martial glory and has great speeches from the title character, and he's totally loved by the common men before he goes and beats up the snobby Frenchies and gets the girl.

I don't remember the Henry IV plays as well as I do Henry V, but given that they're basically about Wastrel Makes Good, Redeems Daddy's Legacy (and it's totally OK to shaft your former friends from your life as a wastrel), it would be quite possible that Dubya's "Three Shakespeares" were Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

I'm guessing Bush never read Lear or MacBeth, though.

It's hard to know what Shakespeare thought of martial glory. His arguably greatest character, Falstaff, certainly was no hero.

He has this to say at the battle of Shrewsbury, in Henry IV, Part 1:

Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.

"Honour hath no skill in surgery."


Bush mangles Camus.

I can't think of anyone who embraced the role of public dumbass so heartily, who sought it out with such eagerness and single-minded ardor, or who wore the title with such pride, as George W Bush.

He was a special kind of guy, and if we're very very lucky we will not see his like again.

I remember that Bush was touted by some admirers as Henry V even before Iraq. They saw the genius that was (deliberately) hidden under the guise of the imbecile drunkard just waiting to take his rightful place.
I found it completely laughable.
Henry: eloquent(at least in the play), personally brave, self-doubting
Dubya: neither.
And Henry went to war with an equal and (in theory) strong enemy. He did not throw some wrteched country against the wall to show that he means business.
I know about the doubtful morality of Shakespeare's characters but I love Henry V (more in the Olivier version than the Brannagh one though).

Slight self-correction before someone else does it:
Dubya is not self-doubt free but I think he handles those in a fundamentally different way.
If we are seeking parallels here, it would be the phony justification (and I read Shakespeare here as being very aware that Henry's claims were phony).

My guess would be that Bush read the Spark Notes (or whatever equivalent was when he was in high school/college) for whatever plays had been assigned to the class. And he probably can't remember now which ones they were, or much else about them, just that there were three of them.

I literally cannot imagine George W. Bush sitting down to read a play by Shakespeare for fun.

Well, there is always Titus Andronicus ;-)
and of course
The Complete Shakespeare in 90 minutes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_William_Shakespeare_(Abridged))

bush's reference to 'three shakespeares' was simply an elaborate attempt not to name the scottish play, which he read three times.

bush's reference to 'three shakespeares' was simply an elaborate attempt not to name the scottish play, which he read three times.

...and was unable to find the classic Shakespearean line "I'm melting! I'm melting!" no matter how hard he looked.

(Hey, it's got witches in it. One of them must have been the Wicked Witch of the East.)

"Is that a Jack Daniels that I see before me...?"
And who explained to him what a Than of Cowdor is? (I guess the hinges of the barn door)
Speaking of that play, why did old Will never mention her Ladyship's name (Grouch, I kid you not).
I guess the leering King is out (Dubya lacks a Cordelia).


Yes, France was strong, but that doesn't justify a war started over a trumped-up claim to the throne. And eloquent speeches about heroism and glory do not excuse the underlying acts.

William Hazlitt describes Henry thus:

Henry V. it is true, was a hero, a king of England, and the conqueror of the king of France. Yet we feel little love or admiration for him. He was a hero, that is, he was ready to sacrifice his own life for the pleasure of destroying thousands of other lives...How then do we like him? We like him in the play. There he is a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant. As we like to gaze at a panther or a young lion in their cages in the Tower, and catch a pleasing horror from their glistening eyes, their velvet paws, and dreadless roar, so we take a very romantic, heroic, patriotic, and poetical delight in the boasts and feats of our younger Harry, as they appear on the stage and are confined to lines of ten syllables; where no blood follows the stroke that wounds our ears, where no harvest bends beneath horses' hoofs, no city flames, no little child is butchered, no dead men's bodies are found piled on heaps and festering the next morning--in the orchestra!

(cited in Harold Bloom's, Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human)

It is, I think, a tribute to Shakespeare that Henry, like other of his characters, can be seen in such differing lights.

I just hope that Bush finds no Shakespeare in a few hundred years ;-)
What's interesting about the historical Henry is that he actually cared about his soldiers even after the war, including making a law against fake veterans and exempting his surviving soldiers of Agincourt from certain restrictions applying to commoners.
In the other extreme, few would remember Richard III., if Will had not made him an interesting master villain.
Hm, maybe there will be a popular Darth Cheney play in 2345 ;-)

In the other extreme, few would remember Richard III., if Will had not made him an interesting master villain.

Probably true, but I think the campaign to make Richard III a disfigured villain preceded Shakespeare. Still, it would likely be just a footnote to English history without the play.

Let's see what Future Will will do with Wilhelm II. (who had a crippled arm).

Most likely dubya read Hamlet once and then saw the Lion King twice with his daughters....

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