Ismail Serageldin

Speeches


Universality of Shakespeare: Contemporary Issues: Gender, Racism and War

 23/04/2006 | Alexandria, Egypt

 
 
I.       Introduction:
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It is a distinct honor to welcome you all to the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which like its namesake of old, seeks to be a center of learning and scholarship, a center of discussion and dialogue. 
How appropriate that we should be celebrating the International Day of the Book with many different activities, from an international conference on writing through the ages, to a festival in honor of that most international of all writers: Shakespeare. It was, after, all in his honor the International day of the book was selected, the 23rd of April being both his presumed birthday (1569) and his death (1623). But more appropriately, it is because Shakespeare represents that most universal of all writers.
 
There are few, if any, other authors who can claim to be truly of universal significance, whose work has stood the test of time, overcoming the fickle goddess of passing fashions and changing tastes.
Universal in the sense that different cultures and successive generations have found inspiration in their works and have decided to re-interpret them again and again. Even without the magic of his language, his tales have traveled well through space and time: across cultures, across generations, across mediums. The plays and their countless transmogrifications into dramatic movies bear witness to that universal appeal. A Russian Hamlet, a Japanese Macbeth, an Egyptian Lear, a French Romeo…. Shakespeare is vast enough to engender all of that and more…
 
Why? Why do the plays continue to speak to us with such power?
 
Clearly, we are moved by the beauty of his language. There is no question that there is a distinctiveness about .. “ … the run of his verse, its posture in the mouth and in the ear, its constant drama of tone and tune[1].”
 
Even for those not wholly familiar with Elizabethan idiom, what at first appears stilted or unnatural fades away as we drop the negative filters acquired since the Victorian period, where as Derek Walcott once observed a certain deadening of the ear had dated dramatic verse, a determination to be sublime divided the lyric from the dramatic voice and took poetry away from the theatre and into the library[2].
 
Elsewhere I have written about Shakespeare’s language and his art[3]. Today, I go back to the genius of his plays. Remain incredibly potent vehicles that engage us both intellectually and emotionally. They show an enormous dramatic range[4], seldom if ever attained b other authors, whose personality and “signature” appears throughout their oeuvre.
 
Yet despite the distinctiveness of the plays they have a common thread in the genius if Shakespeare. T.S. Eliot, never exactly free with his praise, and a key figure in the Modern Movement, found Shakespeare’s abilities in choice of verse and dramatic techniques to be a perfection of pattern not approached by any other dramatist. Eliot went further and considered that the continuous development of Shakespeare meant that the plays as a whole were more than the sum of the parts[5].
 
The greatness of Shakespeare, however, resides in his ability to speak to us through space and time. From all cultures we go back to him for the projection of our dreams, for the unexpected echo of our inhibitions, for the expression of our fears or the articulation of our hopes. He is the most universal writer in history.
 
But today, in a world in the throes of revolutionary technological and cultural transformation, can Shakespeare really speak to us across space and time? Is Shakespeare really “not of an age, but of all time” as his contemporary Ben Jonson said?
 
II.      On Contemporary issues:
 
 
Surely in our time, there are so many new issues: surrogate motherhood, war crimes, human rights, bioethics, multi-culturalism and myriad challenges to individual behavior that Shakespeare could not ever dream of. Surely the Bard cannot be relevant in this day and age. I believe that he is, and I will demonstrate that by focusing on a specific case that addresses a fairly contemporary question: war crimes! That is not surprising, since we find that Shakespeare addressed many question that are still of contemporary import, including inter-racial marriage and gender equity. 
 
Gender equity is certainly an issue of our times. It was only in the 1920s that women got the vote, and they remain discriminated against in almost every society to his day. And yet we find the Brd able to give us strong intelligent women, such as Portia in the Merchant of Venice, who- disguised as a man – argues with Shylock in some of the most famous passages of the English languages:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
is blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
Thw attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then shown likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
 
[IV.i.181-94]
 
It is not my intention to cover that, which must remain a topic for another day, but there are many examples of Shakespeare’s concern for the status of women. In my reading, I clearly differ with some of the feminist criticism that sees in him only the representative of the patriarchal social structure of his time. I agree with Ryan’s new reading that shows the counter voice as present in the very fabric of the plays.
As for inter-racial marriage, it was only in the 1960s the civil rights were attained for blacks in the US and to this date only 6% of blacks marry whites in the US. Inter-racial marriage and racism is clearly at the heart of Othello, as I have discussed elsewhere[6].
 
I cite all this only to show how much Shakespeare addressed issues of concern to us today, as a context for the names in which he addressed another contemporary issue of concern: war crimes!
 
                                                On War and War crimes:
 
Today, we are overwhelmed by the war and destruction all around us. The drama of death, played out in so many ways on so many battlefields, from Palestine to Iraq, from Rwanda to Kosovo, and in many areas too remote to remember …
 
The images of death and destruction assaulting in our living rooms, the deadening effect of a constant barrage of such images
 
The Shakespearean Cannon is replete of images of war, that are as vivid as anything we see on CNN or al-Jazeera:
 
          Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
          And dreadful objects so familiar
          That mothers shall but smile when they behold
          Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
          All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
 
Julius Ceasar act 3: sc. 1
 
The monstrosity of war is captured in the famous lines:
 
          Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
          That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
          With carrion men, groaning for burial.
 
Julius Ceasar act 3: sc.1
 
So, all war is ugly. All war assaults our sense of our common humanity. No one can accept the systematic murder of so many human beings …
 
If not in self defense, what can justify war?
 
Justice and values .. do they have a place in the prosecution of war?
 
Supposed civilized nations have indeed been tempering the hard edge of conflict while they still systematically harness technology to increase its deadlines …
 
And yet for many the 20th C marked a transformation: The notion of war crimes and crimes against humanity: From Nuremberg, to The Hague, there are certain things that we consider beyond the pale …
 
The drama of seeing Milosevic brought to The Hague, or to witness What does Shakespeare have to say about that?
 
So let us talk of war crimes as presented by Shakespeare!
 
Henry V is considered by many the most nationalistic of Shakespeare’s plays, where the young King is shown in the most splendid form, and war itself is glorified. Yet a closer reading of both the reality of history and the art of the play show a subtler and more nuanced reading as we have come to expect from the multi-layered Shakespeare. 
 
Here are the facts:
 
On October 25th, 1415 Henry V had taken many French prisoners and fearing an enemy counter-attack ruthlessly ordered that the prisoners be killed. This act was contrary to the “rules of war” even then, and would without doubt constitute a war crime today. In fact, the English knights refused to carry out the order, and the king had to use the ordinary soldiers to execute the prisoners. The fact that the French also committed atrocities, including the killing of boys and civilians, was not known to Henry at the time he gave his order, and it cannot be used as an excuse for his order. Furthermore, it is known that the French who participated in this action were subsequently punished by the French, and some served time in prison, and would have been killed by the Dauphin of France had he lived[7]. This sad blot on the “glorious” campaign of Henry V has been a severe embarrassment to English historians and is seldom known to any but the most specialized of researchers[8].
 
Surprisingly, Shakespeare did not avoid this incident. It does appear in the play. Its presence was difficult for all those who presented the play, and in both the films by Olivier in 1945 and by Branagh in1989 the directors simply cut it out of the production. The public hardly ever gets to see this aspect of the play. A rare exception was the New York production of the play in the mid 1990s[9]!
 
Indeed Shakespeare recounts the incident in a very special way:
 
In act 4 scene 4, Pistol, the ‘boy’ and a French prisoner appear on the stage and proceed to a burlesque dialogue with the boy acting as interpreter, ending in the guarantee of the safety of the Prisoner, a certain Monsieur Le Fer, by Pistol, who promises him safe keeping in exchange for a ransom of 200 crowns.
 
French Soldier.  O, je vous supplie, pour l’amour de Dieu, me pardoner! Je suis gentilhomme de bonne maison. Gardez ma vie, et je vous donnerai deux cents écus.
 
Pistol.                  What are his words?
 
Boy.                     He prays you to save his life; he is a gentleman of a good house, and for his ransom he will give you two hundred crowns.
 
Pistol.                  Tell him my fury shall abate, and I
The crowns will take.
 
(quote lines 4.4.41 – 50)
 
 
French Soldier.  Sur mes genoux je vous donne mille remercîments; et je m’estime heureux que je suis tombé entre les mains d’un chevalier, je pense, le plus brave, braillant, et très distingué seigneur d’Angleterre.
 
Pistol.                  Expound unto me, boy.
 
Boy.                     He gives you, upon his knees, a thousand thanks, and he esteems himself happy that he hath fall’n into the hands of one (as he thinks) the most brave, valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.
 
Pistol.                  As I suck blood [extort money], I will some mercy
show!
Follow me.
 
Boy.                     Suivez-vous le grand capitaine.
 
(4.4.56 – 68)
 
This strange device gives pause. Why would Shakespeare introduce this scene? I believe that it is to give a human face to the prisoners, to show their fear, and to establish a link between the captive and the captor. This makes the subsequent act of murder by royal decree appear truly monstrous. 
 
Indeed in the New York production, the actual killing of le Fer by Pistol (who was not a knight) was shown on stage, behind the King, in response to his order. While some may disagree with carrying this to the extreme opposite from the Olivier/Branagh excision of the scene, a careful reading of the text yields no stage instruction that would contravene this rendering.  
 
But let us return to the construction of the play. Following scene 4 with Pistol, Le Fer and the boy, in scene 5, we see the French concerned about losing the day, but rather than talk of dastardly deeds, they speak of dying with honor. It shows the French talking of committing themselves to die in the field of battle – but no French massacre is shown, nor is the order to commit it given on stage. (It shall be reported on later, but the French order to commit it is not shown).
 
 


Bourbon.
The devil take order now! I’ll to the throng;
Let life be short, else shame will be too long .
 
[4.5.20-24]
 
This, you will concede, are strange lines to give the French if they are to be painted as villains in this affair…
 
In scene 6, the King enters with prisoners in tow, and it is clear that the day is being won by English arms. Yet the King is aware that the fighting is not done, for the French have not cleared from the field. And then at the end of the scene, the King speaks thus:
 
But Hark, what new alarum is this same?
The French have reinforced their scattered men,
Then every soldier kill his prisoners.
Give the word through.
 
[4.6.35-38]
 
Note that Shakespeare shows the King calm and collected, giving this order as a precautionary military decision, not in a fit of anger, as later apologists would try to make it out to be. Indeed, Shakespeare goes further. He explicitly shows that the French atrocities are known only later and used as an excuse by writing in a separate and subtle scene immediately following the order for the slaughter. 
 
In the following scene (Scene 7), Fluellen and Gower report on the atrocities of the French. They then link these atrocities to the act of the king, justifying, ex-post, his monstrous decision.  
 
Fluellen.
Kill the poys and the luggage? ‘Tis expressly against the law of arms; ‘tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you know, as can be offert – in your conscience, now, is it not?
 
 
Gower.
‘Tis certain there’s not a boy alive, and the cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha’ done this slaughter; besides, they have burned and carried away al that was in the King’s tent; wherefore the King most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat. O, ‘tis a gallant king!
 
[4.7.1-11]
 
Some 40 lines later Henry appears to learn of the French atrocities and says that this is the first time that he is truly angry since setting foot in France, and promises that there shall be no quarter given, a battle to the death is to ensue:
 
I was not angry since I came to France
Until this instant. Take a trumpet, herald,
Ride thou unto the horsemen on yond hill:
If they will fight with us, bid them come down,
Or void the field: they do offend our sight.
If they’ll do neither, we will come to them,
And make them skirr away, as swift as stones
Enforced from the old Assyrian slings.
Besides, we’ll cut the throats of those we have,
And not a man of them that we shall take
Shall taste our mercy. Go and tell them so.
 
[4.7.50-60]
 
It is important to note here that Shakespeare could easily have changed the sequence of the King’s order to come after the knowledge of the French atrocities. He chose not to do so. Indeed, by placing the dialogue of Fluellen and Gower after the order and before the anger of the king, he subtly repudiates the English efforts at justification of the act as reprisal. By linking it to the humanity of the prisoner Le Fer, he underscores the full monstrosity of the order.
 
This is the multi-layered Shakespeare who speaks to us across space and time. This is the writer who can recognize the attractiveness of the charismatic warrior kings from Alexander to Napoleon, and their ability to capture our imaginations, while at the same time reminding us of the horror of war and the ugly side of their enterprises. He gives us time to see the view from the vantage point of the average soldier concerned with survival, not just the generals bent on “glory”. In this play, he shows us the soldier’s doubts about the value of the cause and the honesty of the King who leads them.
 
On the eve of the battle, as Henry is patrolling the troops incognito, he is told by Williams, a soldier:
 
“If the cause be not good… I am a’feared there are few die well that die in battle.”
 
And while Henry defends the right of the king to lead his men in battle, we are witness to a suspicion that some of his men harbor doubts about the sincerity his declarations. Thus when Henry (still incognito) declares :
 
I myself heard the king say that he would not be ransomed.
 
Williams retorts:
 
Aye, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully, but when our throats are cut he may be ransomed, and we ne’er the wiser
 
[4.1.182-186]
 
Indeed Shakespeare goes further, while celebrating the great victories of Henry V, he casts doubt on the merit of his claim to the throne of France, and to the entire enterprise of war.
 
Far more devastating, however, is the suspicion that Shakespeare casts that the whole enterprise is intended to keep the people focused on foreign enemies rather than the quality of governance at home. It appears in 2 Henry IV, when the dying Henry IV advises the future Henry V:
 
“Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels.”
 
[4.3.343-344]
 
This then is picked up again in the opening scene of Henry V, where Canterbury and Ely discuss the Bill pending in the House of Commons that would cause the loss of half the church’s property, and propose to subsidize the king’s war in France, so that he would “mitigate” the Bill. As Sutherland and Watts[10] point out, Shakespeare did not have to provide that opening scene. But he did. And its presence, showing that the Church’s support for his claim was a mercenary affair, then has particular relevance to the statements of Williams about “if the cause be not good”.
 
All this is not to say that Shakespeare was a peace activist or anti-militaristic. It is to show that this supreme dramatist and insightful observer of the human condition was not blinded by “glory” or hero-worship, and could see the unpleasant realities and had the courage to show them right alongside the ringing words he gives Henry V before
 
Harfleur:
 
Once more unto the breach dear friends
Etc. etc., until…
 


… The game’s afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry, “God for Harry, England and saint George!”
 
[3.1.32-35]
 
Or again at Agincourt:
 
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
 
Indeed, the opening of the play is so powerful a passage that we are mesmerized into thinking that this is going to be a patriotic celebration of the great warrior king, for Shakespeare opens with the chorus saying:
 
O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention:
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels
(leashed in, like hounds) should famine, sword, and fire
crouch for employment.
 
[Prologue, 1-8]
 
But Shakespeare, if he recognizes the seductive power of charismatic military conquerors, and if he gives eloquence to this powerful King, he does not lose sight of the more complex issues at hand. For in a devastating way, Shakespeare also chooses to underscore how fleeting were the results of the campaigns of Henry V. He died early, and though he left his infant son Henry VI as king of both France and England, it was to be short-lived.   The gains he made in France were lost, and England was again riven by civil war. Shakespeare gives the play this telling epilogue:
 
This star of England. Fortune made his sword;
By which, the world’s best garden he achieved;
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in fant bands crowned King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France, and made his England bleed:
 
So here it is. A play operating at least on three levels:
 
First, the action at the level of the big battles and historic decisions, which is the standard level at which most audiences see the play, or read of the history of the glorious campaigns of Henry V culminating in the battle of Agincourt where a small English army inflicted a massive defeat on a French army six times larger losing only 400 English dead against over 7000 French dead (including the murdered prisoners) and another 2000 captured, (after the slaying of the other captives)[11].
 
Second, at the level of the average soldiers, Pistol, Williams and the rest, giving the human level of the drama that is unfolding. Distant from the grand historic events, worried more about survival, these all too human voices are not the ones recorded by historians. Yet it is here that Shakespeare brings out the full impact of war and its horrors, all the more forcefully for being so understated. It is at that level that the prisoners is brought to life with Pistol and Le Fer, and the horror of the killing of civilians is given a human face by the boy, who implicitly was among those murdered by the French in their own attack on the boys and the civilians.
 
Third, at the level of the underlying designs of the decision makers, where doubt is cast on the entire enterprise by showing (from 2 Henry IV) the possibility of the whole adventure being to busy “giddy minds with foreign quarrels”, on to the Mercenary motives for the Church’s support for Henry’s claim to France, on to the dismissive final epilogue that shows how short lived these gains were, despite their enormous price in blood.
 
What makes this reading of the play so potent is the realization that Shakespeare had to greatly simplify the story line. He summarized the complicated campaign to just three main events: The siege of Harfleur, the battle of Agincourt, and the treaty of Troyes. In the play, the successful negotiations immediately follow the victory at Agincourt, without the abortive negotiations, endless discussions and additional years of fighting reported in Holinshed’s Chronicles, who most believe was Shakespeare’s major historical source[12]. Given this necessary simplification of the major plot, it becomes even more important to recognize what he chose to put in. The scenes we discussed are obviously part of the design of Shakespeare to temper his portrait of the King referred to as “ a pattern in prince hood, a lodestar in honor, and mirror of magnificence”[13] in Holinshed.
 
It is this multi-layered reality of Shakespeare’s work that intrigues us to this day. It is the ambiguity, so human, that the supreme craftsman injects into his plays and his characters that have helped his work transcend space and time.
 
Today as we look to the horrors of wars all around us, as we listen to the War Crimes tribunal in the Hague, as we think of the many horrible acts that need to be censured, as we listen to those who would find excuses to the murder of innocents and talk of collateral damage, as we see jingoistic fervor replace reason and see the courage required to speak of horrors committed by the powers that be… as we see all this, surely, Shakespeare’s rendering of the warrior king, is one that deserves a second reading. 
 
Indeed, elsewhere, in Macbeth, Shakespeare gives the ultimate statement about the uselessness of murder and blind ambition, in the words:
 
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps at this petty pace from day to day to the last
syllable of recorded time
and all our yesterdays
lighted fools the way to dusty death
out, out brief candle. Life is but a walking shadow
a poor player who frets and struts
his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more
“Tis a tale told by an idiot
full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.”
 
[V.v.22-31]
 
It is thus that Shakespeare, far from losing meaning by traveling through space and time, can acquire a more profound impact by a reading from the vantage point of our contemporary culture, and indeed can hold up a mirror to our presumed virtue…
 
 
Every phrase and every sentence
is an end and a beginning.
 
[T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets]
 


III.    The essence of the argument: Human behavior:
 
 
If Shakespeare could see the feet of clay in his mighty heroes, and never lost sight of the human dimension of historical dramas, he saw the humanity in the frailty of his weaker heroes. He gives them some of the most important and beautiful lines of the English language.
 
Listen to the voice of Richard II, a weak king, with “the soul of an artist”[14] reflecting on the frailty of worldly power and the mortality of kings:
 
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d,
Some poison’d by their wives, some sleeping kill’d,
All murder’d – for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable; and, humoured thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell King!
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence; throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;
For you have but mistook all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?
 
 
Here is Richard again, dethroned by Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV, father of Henry V), foregoing the trappings and symbols of power that he hands over to the new king Henry:
 
Mark me how I will undo myself,
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;                  [205]
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;                               [210]
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee!
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved,         [215]
And thou with all pleased, that hast all achieved!
Long mayst thou live in Richard's seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthly pit!
God save King Harry, unking'd Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days!                   [220]
What more remains?
 
 
But beyond giving these less than perfect heroes eloquence he has given them depth. None more so than what is arguably his greatest creation: Hamlet. Elsewhere[15] I have argued that perhaps Shakespeare’s most powerful contribution was the creation of what I consider to be the first truly "modern" hero in literature : Hamlet[16]. For Hamlet is the first hero to question the system of values that expects him to behave in a certain way. The drama of Hamlet is incredibly more profound, and akin to the modern condition where the modern hero, or anti-hero, is torn between internal and external forces and is not just confronting the classical dramatic choices (loyalty vs. honor; love vs. duty; etc.).
 
Indeed, the dual choices before Hamlet, the challenge of choice between modes of behavior:
 
To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a see of troubles and by opposing end them.
 
That is indeed the question that we all face at all times. It is this sensitivity to the human condition that provides the timelessness of Hamlet. Hamlet, considered by many to be the greatest play ever written, has by turns baffled, inspired, exasperated, intrigued and bedeviled all those who would plumb its depths. It is a worthy topic for many different and additional lectures.
 
Hamlet is, to this writer, a pivotal figure of world literature, and one that has inspired countless generations from countless countries and cultures. It is the quintessential play to address the topic of this lecture, which focuses on the ability of the plays of Shakespeare to travel through space and time. Does Hamlet speak to us in as many different tongues as there are cultures? Do we find in him contemporary meaning? Do all people get caught in the powerful and seductive web of Shakespeare? Is Shakespeare indeed not of an age, but of all time?
 
One would be tempted to say yes. To claim for the Bard on the evidence of Hamlet that timeless quality, that ability to travel through space and time and to touch all people, anywhere…
 
V.      Conclusions:
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Shakespeare understood the theater as few have.   Listen to how he gives expression to his thoughts on the theater, using Hamlet’s instructions to the players (in the play within the play):
 
For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure[17].
 
And T.S. Eliot sums up Shakespeare as follows:
 
It seems to me to correspond to some law of nature that the work of a man like Shakespeare, whose development in the course of his career was so amazing, that it should reach, as in Hamlet, the point at which it can touch the imagination and feeling of the maximum number of people to the greatest possible depth and that, thereafter, like a comet which has approached the earth and then continued away on this course, he should gradually recede from view until he tends to disappear into his private mystery.
 
Shakespeare speaks to us to the innate nobility in our character, to the dignity that we can all aspire to:
 
For Dignity is a birthright that is indivisible. Dignity requires hope. Hope requires imagination, and imagination requires opportunity. “Yet it is only from the human heart that we can contemplate the possibility of reconciliation and redemption; and only through the convictions of our spirit that we find the will to conceive an equitable future in the world”. (MR)
 
And thus, to travel with Shakespeare is an eternal voyage of exploration, of the self and the other, of the transient and the eternal, of the search for that elusive essence which we ultimately discover in ourselves… In the words of T.S. Eliot:
 
"We shall not cease from exploring,
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time."
 
Thank you.
 


[1] Brown (ed.) William Shakespear’s The Life of Henry V, second revised edition, Signet Classics, 1998, p.158.
[2] See Lawrence Weschler, “Take no prisoners”, The New Yorker, June 17, 1996, pp.55-56
[3] See John Sutherland and Cedric Watts, Henry V, War criminal? & Other Shakespeare Puzzles, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, 2000.
[4] The exact numbers have been the subject of scholarly debate, but not the lop-sidedness of the outcome. Indeed, …”One of the most amazing facts about the battle was the extraordinary lop-sidedness of the casualties. Shakespeare tells of ten thousand French dead versus 29 English dead (Act 4, Scene 8). More modern estimates put the number of French dead at between 4000 and 11000, with best estimates about 7000 (including the murdered prisoners), plus another 2000 prisoners. Estimates of English dead range from Shakespeare’s 29 to a high of 1600. (The high number probably represent all deaths for the entire chevauchee, including deaths from dysentery). The best estimate is about 400. “(see http://www.aginc.net/battle/play-comments.htm).
[5] John Russell Brown (ed.) William Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry V, second revised edition, signet Classics, 1998, p.133
[6] Ibid
[7] Sir John Guigud, Ages of Man: readings from Shakespeare, Caedmon, NY, 1979, p.53
[8] Ismail Serageldin, The Modernity of Shakespeare, op.cit
[9] Hamlet is undeniably one of the most complex creations in literature, in which successive generation can see their melancholy uncertainties mirrored. Oscar Wilde wrote: “In point of fact, there is no such thing as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If Hamlet has something of the definiteness of a work of art, he also has all the obscurity that belongs to life. There are as many Hamlets as there are melancholies.” (From The Critic as Artist, cited in Alvin Redman (ed) The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde, Dover books, New York, 1959, p.84).
[10] T & B p.34


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