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

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Henry IV - 'Tis no Sin for a Man to Labor


Bardseye is currently doing the Henry IV play series, which contains oddly persistent parallels with the events of our times. As always, we cast the major players of our era in Shakespearean roles, as follows:

Prince Hal (a youthful prince struggling

to do good but subject to temptation): America
(Prince Hal's understudy: All freedom-valuing democracies)

Falstaff (a charming rogue who seeks
to mis-educate the Prince):
Western Europe
(Falstaff's understudy: The United Nations)

And if you’re joining late, scroll down to the first Henry post, or use the archives from October, 06 onward.

* * * * * * * * * * *

'Tis No Sin For A Man To Labor...

Fal: “I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing
in England when thou art king? And resolution thus fubbed
as it is with the rusty curb of old father Antic the law?
Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.”

Hal: “No, thou shalt.

Fal: “Shall I? O rare! By the Lord, I’ll be a brave judge.”

To translate, Falstaff (that is, Old Europe), advises Hal (the U.S.) to tear down the gallows once he becomes king. And sure enough, Old Europe does indeed seek to eliminate capital punishment, even as it indicts American soldiers for war crimes and withholds consent to invade Iraq. Falstaff/Europe's honorable reason for withholding this consent? To conceal Old Europe's corrupt involvement in Saddam’s Oil For Food scheme, that would be discovered by the invasion. Falstaffian, larger-than-life comedy indeed.

Hal answers (“No, thou shalt”) that when he becomes king, he will command Falstaff himself to be the realm’s hangman. Falstaff is charmed.

Fal: “Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I,
if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked.
I must give over this life, and I will give it over. By the Lord,
an I do not I am a villain. I’ll be damned for never a king’s son
in Christendom.”

Here Falstaff (that is, Old Europe) says that before it knew Hal (that is, before it experienced democracy), it was little better than one of the wicked – a phrase used by the Puritans. Clearly Falstaff is speaking about Europe’s expansionist, hegemonic and colonial history, conducted for the most part under monarchical reigns. All those centuries of bloodletting between its borders, followed by further centuries of bloodletting beyond them. The gunboats up and down China’s rivers, the subduing of Africa, the cut-throat squabbling over the Americas.

The self-hatred that lies at the heart of modern European identity is palpable. When you know that you have sinned so much, too much, then for some it becomes time not for repentance, but to pray rather that eternal justice itself will not be brought to bear. To pray against prayer. In Bardseye's opinion, that’s the real reason Old Europe has lost its religion. Hal answers Falstaff’s false profession of faith with a falsity of his own:

Hal: “Where shall we take a purse tomorrow, Jack?”

Fal: “Zounds, where thou wilt, lad, I’ll make one. An I do not,
Call me a villain and baffle me.”

That is: “Where shall commit robbery, Falstaff?” “Anywhere you like. If I don’t join you, call be a villain.”

So much for the redemptive power of Old Europe’s conversion to democracy. Bureaucratic kleptocracy remains its true form of government, as Falstaff suggests. And Hal properly scolds him for it:

Hal” I see a good amendment of life in thee – from praying
to purse taking.”

Fal: “Why, Hal, ‘tis my vocation, Hal. ‘Tis no sin for a man

to labor in his vocation.”

To be continued….

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