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

Monday, December 05, 2005

Richard II and Congressman Murtha


In Act 2 of Richard II, the queen is despondent. Lord Bushy (yes, it's a great name) has informed her of the increasing momentum of a revolt. She asks if the king's agents have declared the seditious Northumberland a traitor, and Lord Green answers:

Green: "We have, whereupon the Earl of Worcester
Hath broken his staff, resigned his stewardship,
And all the household fled with him to Bolingbroke."

The loss of Worcester to the rebels is grim news indeed – how will the loyalists season their hamburgers now? The queen comments (prodigy in this context means a monstrous birth, and referring to the queen's earlier pessimistic intuition):

"Queen: "So, Green, thou art the midwife to my woe,
and Bolingbroke my sorrow's dismal heir.
Now hath my soul brought forth her prodigy
And I, a gasping new-delivered mother,
Have woe to woe, sorrow to sorrow joined."

Another gasping new-delivered mother, who similarly regards her newborn as a monstrous birth, is Representative Murtha of California. Murtha, a distinguished military veteran, rocketed from obscurity to renown last month by proposing that the US military retreat from Iraq at the earliest opportunity. Apparently Murtha believes that the reputation for untrustworthiness that America established by abandoning the South Vietnamese in 1975 requires reinforcement in a new era. Here the king's lord tries to console Murtha, I mean, the queen, who sees defeat surrounding her ("He" refers to hope; cozening means deceitful; "Who" refers to death):

Bushy: "Despair not, madam."

Q: "What shall hinder me? I will despair, and be at enmity
With cozening hope. He is a flatterer,
A parasite, a keeper-back of death
Who gently would dissolve the bonds of life
Which falsely hope lingers in extremity."

Presumably the sacrifice of lives and treasure in the cause of freedom in World War II is a matter of pride and approval for Representative Murtha. But that war, filmed in black and white and belonging to a bygone era, is now safe to applaud, even though its cost was a horrendous 400,000 American lives. Meanwhile, the in-living-color, real-time sacrifice of 2000 souls, treasured every one, but still 398,000 less than were lost the last time freedom was attacked on a global scale, is too much for Queen Murtha – joined in her anxiety by the Duke of York – to countenance (the "sign of war" is a gorget, an iron collar worn in battle).

Green: "Here comes the Duke of York."

Queen: "With signs of war about his aged neck
O, full of careful business are his looks!
Uncle, for God's sake, speak comfortable words.

York: "Should I do so, I should belie my thoughts.
Comfort's in heaven, and we are on the earth,
Where nothing lives but crosses, cares, and grief.
Your husband, he is gone to save far off,
Whilst others come to make him lose at home…".

York anticipates our predicament. Just as the American Soldier has "gone to save far off," – that is to save Iraqis, and freedom – by pursuing a shameless and dishonorable foe who observes none of the rules of war that were recognized in the1940's even by the Germans (at least on the battlefield), "others come to make (him) lose at home."

Those others are represented by Representative Murtha:

York: "God for his mercy, what a tide of woes
Comes rushing on this woeful land at once!
I know not what to do, I would to God…
The King had cut off my head with my brother's.
What, are there no posts dispatched for Ireland?
How shall we do for money for these wars?"

The defeat-at-any-cost generation of Americans, who came of age amidst the Woodstock-tinged idealism of the early rock and roll era, simply refuses to acknowledge the dangers and brutalities of the world beyond American shores. They chose the white southern racism of the 1950's, and the sexism discovered in the 1970's, and the imagined theocratic urges of religious believers, as their arch-foes. And they cannot accept the idea that such racism and sexism may be substantially reforming itself, that a great change of heart may be taking root across the nation at large. And they certainly cannot accept the idea the nearly all religious believers are also perfectly accepting of the imperative need for religious tolerance in America.

After all, to accept these ideas would leave liberals without a foe, unless it be American caused global warming, or American military aggression, or American-led globalization. The idea that the major problems of the world may originate elsewhere than in America remains unthinkable. Because if others are worse, that might suggest that we are not so bad.

P.S. The recommendable Protein Wisdom has a related post.

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