bardseyeview

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

King John, Played By Saddam Hussein

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"There is no sure foundation set on blood."

It's hard to read King John and keep Saddam out of your head. Shakespeare doesn't have King John announce his villainy like Richard the Third. His evil choices are borne of personal weakness, and if this makes him less satisfying as a villain, it makes him probably more believable. Watching Saddam in court as he vacillates between denying the proceedings and practicing amateur legal maneuvers, you see someone who has made a successful career out of lying to himself about his true nature, or what his nature has truly become.

John is much the same.King John's nephew Arthur is a young boy with a rival claim to the throne. We'll let Arthur be a stand-in for democracy, accountability, legitimacy. Like Saddam, John's against it. John takes Andrew's keeper, Hubert, aside:

"I had a thing to say, - but let it go;
The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
attended with the pleasures of the world,
Is all too wanton and too full of gawds
To give me audience;"

He has a little trouble getting to the point. Daytime is not his idiom, and he knows enough to admit it. Saddam certainly spent his share of time avoiding the light of day. And just this morning he objected to sunlight being brought to bear on audiotapes which apparently will incriminate him.

" - If the midnight bell
Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth,
Sound one unto the drowsy ear of night;
If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs;"

John would prefer it if Hubert were possessed of a thousand wrongs. Just the thing to look for in a friend. Hubert's virtue, even as it guarantees his loyalty, is abrasive to John. And when, by the way, will he be able to get to the point?

"Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy, thick, -
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
Making that idiot, laughter, keep men's eyes,
And strain their cheeks to idle merriment -
A passion hateful to my purposes, -"

Human as he looks on stage (or in Saddam's case, wielding a rifle before a dutiful rent-a-crowd while wearing a suit and what I believe was a bowler hat), the guy's starting to seem not just non-human, but defined by whatever being human isn't. It's laughter that's grating on him this time. Meanwhile Hubert's waiting for his orders.

"Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
Without eyes, ears, and harmful sound of words,
Then, in despite of brooded watchful day,
I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts."

Let's have those sensory organs removed Hubert! Now even eyes and ears and tongues are making John/Saddam uncomfortable. We see the plastic shredders into which victims were fed, the surgical removal of the hands of those Saddam felt might oppose him.

"Oh Hubert, Hubert, Hubert, throw thine eye
On yon young boy; I'll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way."

Hubert gets the point. "Death," says John. "He shall not live," Hubert replies. Hubert escorts Arthur onto a ship which will take Arthur to his place of imprisonment. During the voyage, Hubert opens a letter from King John. It commands him to put out Arthur's eyes with a hot iron. Arthur, standing in for the ghosts of the Iraqi dead, who indeed now have no tongues to speak for themselves, pleads modestly for an amended torture:

"Oh Hubert, if you will, cut out my tongue,
So I may keep mine eyes: O spare mine eyes;
Though to no use but still to look on you!"

Hubert loses his nerve, or gains his nerve, and relents. Arthur is spared and hidden. He will die later while trying to escape from the tower Hubert hides him in. Ironically, this occurs after John has lost his nobles' support when they hear that Arthur is dead and suspect John of the crime. Hubert, at that future time, tells John that Arthur is alive and John runs to collect him in order to win his nobles back. But the boy's body is found at the foot of the tower, by the nobles, the people of Iraq, who by now have had enough.
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