A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hamlet and the TV Presidency

I'll leave it to actors to decide if Hamlet was a good director. If you were preparing to go on stage, would the following help? (had as leif means I'd rather; robustious means boisterous; periwig-pated means bewigged):

"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as
many of our players do, I had as leif the town crier
spoke my lines. More do not saw the air too much
with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very
torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your
passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that
may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul
to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a
passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears…".

Hamlet is of course staging a play, actually inserting a few key lines in a scene a traveling troupe will play for the king. Hamlet's ultimate motive is to see if the added scene, depicting regicide, will cause the King to blanch with guilt, confirming Hamlet's suspicion that the King is guilty of killing the former King, Hamlet's father.

We kill kings now by election, in a quadrennial polling booth ritual of coronation, re-coronation or forced abdication. In between there is little we can do to direct our governments beyond sending emails. Some of us, though, finding ourselves in Hamlet's position, with a theater troupe or movie or television studio at their command, feel we can do more.

The West Wing, a longstanding television series, depicts an alternate universe President whose actions represent a sort of left-wing critique or substitution of whatever the actual President may be doing. The fictional President Bartlett, for example, will respond to acts of militant Islamic terrorism by anguishing over which diplomat needs to be sent to the affected region. This seems more peaceful and soothing to the television audience than the sort of real action that takes lives and costs lives, and changes history. A little fantasy hour where such painful realities need not be faced may help us recover the renewed strength to face them.

President Clinton's ethereal presence haunts The West Wing as well, appearing like the ghost of Hamlet's father in such things as President Bartlett's multiple sclerosis. Out of human weakness and ambition Bartlett hid this ailment from the nation during his campaign. This disease is intended as a substitute for Clinton's sexual promiscuity, with the suggestion that both are similarly involuntary. Not exactly an analogy that respects the idea of respecting women.

But you can't blame the citizen show-makers for trying. One trip to the voting booth every four years (for President) is frustrating for all of us. If they continue to think they can do something more, let them knock themselves out. In a speech he makes to Hamlet, the Player King presents his own view on such attempts to interfere in events beyond one's allotted role:

"But, orderly to end, where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."

When entertainers compromise their profession – entertainment – in order to persuade people to hold certain opinions or vote a certain way, the audience notices, and resents it. The result, over time (in my own openly acknowledged opinion) can be a reaction against the attempted manipulation. Our fates and wills run in such contrary ways that the manipulators' devices are indeed overthrown. The end results are none of what they intended.

This year's new Presidency show, Commander in Chief, presents a woman president, presumably in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton administration. Her response to a domestic decision within Nigeria to execute a woman for adultery in accordance with sharia law is to threaten the ambassador with invasion. And so Hillary compensates at last, in the realm of women's rights, for publicly enabling her husband's infidelities.

"Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."
P. S. Here's a related post from the recommendable Politicalteen.

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