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

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Horse Whereon the Governor Doth Ride


Shakespeare is now ready to have Claudio comment on the injustice of whorehouses being merely closed or shifted to new locations while he, a willing husband but for a legal technicality, is to be hanged:

Cla: "And the new deputy now for the Duke –
Whether it be the fault and glimpse of newness,
Or whether that the body public be
A horse whereon the governor doth ride,
Who, newly in the seat, that it may know
He can command, lets its straight feel the spur;

The obvious biblical parallel occurred 300 years ago when Rehoboam, after succeeding Solomon, responded to the people's request to lighten the heavy Solomonic tax burden by arrogantly raising the burden. Thus were the Hebrew people made a horse whereon their governor doth ride – who, newly in the seat, that they may know he can command, let them straight feel the spur.

The most striking parallel to Angelo's accession in our era would be the Ayatollah Khomeini's accession in Iran. Of course, the Iranian people after their unwanted march toward modernity offered them under the Shah (a march oddly accompanied by the ungentle prodding of his SAVAK secret service) seemed if anything to be seeking the spur of Sharia law, an utter surrender to theocracy. Today, after thirty years of such rule, we continue to hear murmurings of discontent, but for some odd reason our own government, whether ruled by people with little d's after their names or little r's, strangely refuses to encourage this.

You would think that if our own greatest hope for avoiding an eternity of nuclear blackmail at the hands of madmen was a revolt of the horse whereon the madmen doth ride, that is the Iranian people, that we would be encouraging the revolt. Is it that our own governors seek, even if ever so unconsciously, to be that much more needed, and more looked to for leadership, and more depended on by our own body public, and are for that reason, possibly in a manner unacknowledged even to themselves, negligently permitting the emergence of such a fearful world? War is the health of the state, and our state, by which I mean government, emits the rude health of steroids. Claudio goes on:

Cla: "Whether the tyranny be in his place,
Or in his eminence that fills it up,
I stagger in – but this new governor
Awakes me all the enrolled penalties
Which have, like unscoured armour, hung by th' wall
So long, that nineteen zodiacs have gone round,
And none of them been worn; and for a name
Now puts the drowsy and neglected act
Freshly on me; 'tis surely for a name."

In 2002, then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer subpoenaed 24 crisis pregnancy centers that counseled women to maintain their pregnancies, alleging that by doing so the centers were practicing medicine without a license. Thus did this future governor awaken enrolled penalties which like unscoured armour had hung by th' wall. Later, as governor, he supported a law that would have allowed non-doctors, including dentists, social workers and "health care practitioners" to perform abortions, an ironic consummation of forty years in the evolution of abortion laws, which were supposed to put a stop to back-room abortions, not legalize them.

But irony was to be Spitzer's watchword; he would later famously resign as governor in order to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act for his serial leasing of high-end prostitutes. Of course, the threatened use of the Mann Act against the governor could itself be considered an awakening of enrolled penalties that hung by the wall like unscoured armour, except that the governor, back when he was attorney general, and seeking to be governor ("and for a name"), had himself used obscure laws for unintended and oppressive purposes. Spitzer used the 1921 Martin Act, intended to prosecute "bucket shops" that defrauded small investors in the 1920s, to prosecute Wall Street firms for their research practices. The law allowed Spitzer to seek criminal penalties without proving criminal intent.

Well, I've run far afield, but Shakespeare saw Spitzer as clearly from 400 years in the past as we are now able to see him, at last, in our rear-view mirrors. And beside Spitzer stand an army of opportunistic prosecutors, from Senator Joe McCarthy and his Iago-like Lieutenant Bobby Kennedy, using a loyalty pledge to go after communists in Hollywood, (without first asking just how much damage a communist can do in Hollywood, except perhaps to Hollywood), to Lael Rubin, the prosecutor of the trumped-up McMartin Preschool abuse cases in Manhattan Beach in the late 1990s, to John Hathorne, judge but in practice the prosecutor of the Salem witch trials in the 1690s. And of course further candidates for modern Angelos are the still too-hot-to handle Whitewater-related claims brought by Ken Starr against a dem white house and the Plame game pursued by Patrick Fitzgerald against a rep one.

Meanwhile, our original Claudio begs Lucio to tell his, Claudio's, sister, who is a nun, about his arrest:

Cla: "Acquaint her with the danger of my state;
Implore her, in my voice, that she make friends
To the strick deputy; bid her assay him.
I have great hope in that. For in her youth
There is a prone and speechless dialect
Such as move men; beside, she hath prosperous art
When she will play with reason and discourse,
And well she can persuade."

More later…

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