Shakespeare’s England – thoughts for England’s day, and the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday.

 

Some of you wondered why I did not say more on St George’s Day. The reason is I was to give a St George’s day talk on Thursday, and wanted to give it to the audience first. I would now like to share it more widely.

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ENGLAND

 THE ONCE AND FUTURE COUNTRY

 

The past is a foreign country, they say.

Our Elizabethan and Jacobean ancestors lived different lives in many ways

There were no cars, planes or trains. Fast travel meant frequent changes of horses.

Most people got around on foot.  They walked long distances but their range was limited to the local towns and villages.

They had no tv, radio, internet or mobile phones. Messages spread by word of mouth, by printed tracts and almanacs, or by sermons on Sunday.

The printing  press was their revolutionary technology which brought them more news and views. Entertainment came from strolling players,  music and  songs  at home and in the taverns, and from the new  theatres in London.

Their politics was gripped by violent arguments over religion, with the central struggle between Catholics, Protestants and Puritans behind much of the faction fighting. Parliament spent time debating the liturgy, altar rails, smells and bells, bishops and the Bible.

Rich men as well as women displayed their financial success by dressing in fine brightly coloured silks, furs and lace. People  carried weapons for self defence and quarrels could result in duels.

The labouring poor rented property and struggled to make ends meet. Food had to be preserved, pickled, or smoked to see them through the winter. There was  no refrigeration  or foreign imports of fresh produce when the larder was empty.

Were they to be able to visit modern London they would be stunned by its wealth and prosperity, amazed by its technical skill and variety of entertainment, bowled over by the pace of transport and the brilliance of electricity.

Shakespeare would doubtless be surprised that a replica of his theatre was built on the south bank. He would probably  want it to use the best of modern techniques to thrill when he had learned what we can now do.

 

Shakespeare’s past is well documented by the family properties which have survived, less well understood from the absence of revealing letters and account books covering his business and domestic dealings.

 

So why do we pause to study the Tudors and Jacobeans  so much when they are long gone and so different? It is not just curiosity about past times, nor a wish to be smug  how much better off  we are. It is because there are so many familiar features in  our Elizabethan past that strike a chord.

Some features of Shakespeare’s life are not the only continuity to today. England was ruled by a strong and successful woman. She was in a long running dispute with another powerful woman, the Queen of Scots. Before the union of crowns the border between Scotland and England caused uncertainty. Sound familiar?

Elizabeth’s father had stumbled into changing England’s relationship with the European neighbours. He had taken us out of the power of the Pope and the laws and court system of the Papacy. He asserted  England’s independence and his authority through important UK legislation. “This realm of England is an Empire, governed by one supreme Head and King” thundered the Parliamentary Statute in defiance of the  Papal curia. England moved to independence regardless of the threats of  the  continental Catholic powers who would have it otherwise.

One of the pivotal political events in Shakespeare’s life was the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In 1588 The mighty Catholic  fleet undertaking the empresa or conquest of  England was wedged  on Flanders mud fleeing English fire ships or dashed against  Scottish rocks as they ran  for home the long way round. England turned outwards to Asia and the Americas in search of more trade and early colonies.

The second defining moment was the attempt of  conspirators to blow up the King  and government in  Parliament in 1605, with echoes in our own age when terrorists  sought to murder the UK Cabinet and senior figures of the governing party with the  Brighton bomb. We still commemorate the Jacobean attack on Bonfire Night.

 

Contemporary England  in the second half of the sixteenth century had put behind it the ugly civil wars of the Roses.  Aristocrats, gentlemen and ladies turned to the pastoral and peaceful arts of farming, gardening, building wonderful country mansions. Many houses sported glass windows for light and greater warmth, good hearths as the source of good food and hot water, better furniture and rich cloth hangings. The Elizabethan gentleman sought more wealth and income from property ownership. Merchants, traders, bankers and professionals amassed fortunes from their work. London emerged as one of the world’s great cities, overshadowing the rest of the country. Does any of this sound modern?

 

Halls Croft on the edge of Jacobean Stratford shows us how well housed Shakespeare’s daughter and her doctor husband were. Maybe their comfortable domestic surroundings with a good garden owed something to Shakespeare’s own achievement at New Place where had built a large mansion for his own later years out of the profits of his thesbian enterprises.

 

The romance that surrounded the Queen throughout her long reign was deliberately built up by male song writers, poets and courtiers. Elizabeth encouraged the cult of Gloriana.  She made a virtue of her virginity. Her shrewd political head and sense of England’s history kept her from marriage. She did not wish her power to be rivalled or circumscribed by a male consort.   Fresh from surviving smallpox early in her reign,  Elizabeth may also have wished to avoid the dangers of giving birth, which was a hazardous feature of Elizabethan married life.

 

Shakespeare himself did little to fan the flames of the Gloriana cult. His plays portray many realistic powerful women. There is the evil Lady Macbeth egging on her husband to worse crimes. In Twelfth Night Countess  Olivia owns and runs the household and has to deal with an ill behaved elderly male relative.  Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing  it is a wit and a match for Benedict. Both think marriage brings all manner of inconveniences to their independence before love captures them. Even Kate in Taming of the Shrew is no shrinking violet at the start of the play. Though the apparent victory of male power is not to modern tastes, the audience cannot help but think that such a talented and headstrong woman would only put up with her husband’s control all the time it suited her to do so.  Elizabethan society was used to powerful widows with independent means, landed interests or flourishing businesses.

 

The professional classes and the skilled artisans preserved their pay differentials and their dignities by belonging to professional bodies or guilds. The lawyers of Middle Temple allowed the use of their fine Hall for plays, claiming the first production of Twelfth Night. Shakespeare himself was an actor as well as a writer, earning decent money alongside great actors who could command good fees.

 

So what of England?   Like many of my fellow citizens, I am at peace with its history.  I understand its past struggles, take pride in its many achievements, and can live with its past mistakes. I see England as a beacon for freedom, a pioneer of democracy, a country of enterprise and adventure, a country of global ambitions with human scale and understanding. To many around the world Magna Carta, the Restoration settlement of 1660 after the civil war, the long struggle against Napoleon and the resistance to Nazism are legendary victories that reverberated well beyond England’s shores. Much of England’s romance is shaped or developed by Shakespeare in his history plays, and in his detailed portraits of contemporary life.

 

England willingly merged much of her identity into the United Kingdom in a series of progressive changes to her relations with Scotland, Wales and Ireland. England on her own  in the Middle ages was one of the first European countries to take political shape with a unitary government commanded by a King. This kingdom soon developed a doughty independence of mind. It took early and influential steps towards the rule of law, recorded and extended the rights of citizens and progressed to eventual democratic control. The story of England in its early days is one of how powerful men managed to control the executive and carve out for themselves and others inalienable rights.

 

By Shakespeare’s era England  fashioned a language of freedom and polished the idea of an Englishman’s liberties. The great achievements of the Bible in English, the Book of Common prayer, and much of Elizabethan drama and poetry defined a nation and created a common culture.  Parliament favoured limited government, rejected standing armies at home, and saw to its own defence at sea. Step by step Parliament wrestled control from the Crown, primarily by gaining control over the raising of tax and the spending of money.

 

In the twentieth century England was one with the United Kingdom. Representing 86% of the people and income of the whole, England willingly waved the Union flag, sang the Union’s National Anthem at its own events, and showed tolerance to the smaller countries that had joined the Union. The loss of the Irish Free State after an unfortunate and bitter struggle determined English politicians thereafter that our union has to be a union of volunteers. In recent years Scotland has tested its own wish to remain in the ballot box, and all three of the other parts of the Union have been given substantial devolved powers.

 

 

To me England is the once and future country. One of its most famous kings is Arthur, a figure more of legend than of historical record. No-one today expects Arthur to come again, but many now anticipate an awakening of England as a vibrant democracy and cultural centre. Removed from the political maps, it has not proved possible to erase England from people’s hearts or to forget its impressive contribution to world freedom and democracy today. The more some have tried to split England up into artificial regions and to balkanise the great country, the more there has been a resurgence of belief and love for it. Where once many were persuaded our flag had been demeaned by extremists, today we can be proud of it again.

 

This week we also celebrate England’s greatest writer. He towers over the world literary stage four hundred and one years after his death.  He is a world brand, a commercial phenomenon, the inspiration for many operas, novels and other works. For many versed in English literature his characters are part of their network of personalities, helping readers to understand human nature better.

 

Shakespeare often sets the down to earth and human scenes against the grand politics of the principal characters. In Henry V, the apogee of kingship and fine virtues, he also traces the formation of a company of soldiers determined to avoid danger, whilst  getting  in the way of drink and profit

 

 

Henry V: Act 2, Scene 1

NYM

For my part, I care not: I say little; but when time shall serve, there shall be smiles; but that shall be as it may. I dare not fight; but I will wink and hold out mine iron: it is a simple one; but what though? it will toast cheese, and it will endure cold as another man’s sword will: and there’s an end.

BARDOLPH

I will bestow a breakfast to make you friends; and we’ll be all three sworn brothers to France: let it be so, good Corporal Nym.

PISTOL

A noble shalt thou have, and present pay; And liquor likewise will I give to thee, And friendship shall combine, and brotherhood: I’ll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me; Is not this just? for I shall sutler be Unto the camp, and profits will accrue..

Shakespeare’s genius lies in his ability to capture the timeless in human nature. His characters are immortal, though rooted in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.  We have all met modern examples of the decency of Cordelia, Lear’s one honest but loving daughter. We have encountered the evil of Iago, who thought any criminal means were justified to bring down Othello. We have admired others with the bravery of Henry V. We have witnessed some with the factional strength of Bolingbroke, besotted by the ambition to become King as Henry IV.  How many have we met, with the pretensions of Falstaff to be greater and more influential than he was? Whilst Malvolio’s puritanism and dress style are of the sixteenth century his pomposity and absurdity is timeless.  They are at one and the same time of their age and of every age.

 

Shakespeare was rooted in England. He was both countryman, living in rural Stratford, and Londoner, living in the melee of the busy and fast growing Elizabethan metropolis. He knew his flora and his fauna, and writes intricately of the seasons, the weather and the harvests. He observed minutely the mores and opinions of the many and varied people that traded, landed and lived in the capital. He wrote of their divergent religions, values, embassies and business.  Today  some think the Merchant of Venice too harsh. If we look more closely Shakespeare reminds us  forcefully  that Jews and Christians share a common humanity and are of the same flesh and blood.

 

In Midsummer Night’s Dream Titania the Queen of the fairies tells us how out of joint the world has become through her raging dispute with Oberon the fairy King. Shakespeare draws on his meticulous observation of England’s seasons and landscapes to make the point

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 2, Scene 1

 

TITANIA    93   The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,   94   The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn   95   Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;   96   The fold stands empty in the drowned field,   97   And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;   98   The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,   99   And the quaint mazes in the wanton green  100   For lack of tread are undistinguishable:  101   The human mortals want their winter here;  102   No night is now with hymn or carol blest:

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s England is written into all the plays, whether they are ostensibly set at home or more usually in some more exotic location. The Merry Wives of Windsor is unique in its home  location and portraits of  the emerging middle class of contemporary England. Decent Mr Page and Mr Ford represent the comfortable men of some property and business that flourished as England grew more prosperous. We first meet Mr Page talking of eating venison and discussing his greyhounds. Their wives are to outwit the drunken and lewd Sir John Falstaff, who seeks to use his attachment to the court and his knighthood to win illicit favours of moral matrons. The Forest of Arden features in the plot of As You like it, woodlands well known to the author close to the haunts of his Stratford family. When we hear description of the grassy banks and leafy glades in Midsummer Night’s Dream it could as well be set in the rural England Shakespeare loved.

 

He is often kindly disposed to the beauties of the nature he was used to here at home. He portrays sylvan innocence and plenty in his comedies, contrasting shepherds and country folk, with people from the court. His rural settings have poor people with food to eat and gainful employment alongside the rich and powerful.

 

His portraits of working men capture the variety of Elizabethan society. The mechanics in Midsummer Night’s Dream number a carpenter, weaver, bellows mender, tinker, tailor and joiner. Elsewhere we meet lawyers and constables, justices and soldiers, treated with satire in mind.  Whilst he makes fun of many of them and gives them impediments of speech and understanding, there is often a loving tolerance of their foibles.

 

Between the court and the country lies the world of the jesters and fools. They often bring wisdom and judgement to the whirl wind actions of the principals. Perhaps the best known soliloquy is the one by Jacques in As You Like it:

 

 

All the world’s a stage

(From As You Like It Act II Scene VII)

 

Jaques to Duke Senior

 

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

 

 

 

Just as today some of the brightest choose to be acerbic media commentators or scurrilous sketch writers, claiming to offer a mirror of truth to power, so in Shakespeare’s time the great and mighty licensed fools to tease and challenge them. From Lear’s  Fool   to Costard, from Jacques to the players  in Hamlet these characters  provide a moral commentary and  help the audience understand the choices before the powerful. They are a crucial part of Englishness. England as a country has a long tradition of scatological and irreverent commentary on those who practise government and the law. An anti-clerical country, we have a natural scepticism about those who claim superior wisdom, who claim the right to govern, and those who seek to preserve mysteries beyond the artisan’s understanding. The Fools stand up for the underdogs, ever popular in the English tradition of self-deprecation.

 

So what was this England that Shakespeare so stroked with magical words?  It was a country at peace for a century after being riven by bloody civil wars. It was a country beginning a most extraordinary flowering, as a maritime and trading country, as a centre of great music, drama and poetry, as a power in Europe that could stand up to the superpower of the day, Spain. England was growing together, was becoming more prosperous. It was a land with more brick homes and more chimneys, more hearths and better food, more trade and more exotic products, more ships and more sheep, more cloth and more technology. London was bursting out, with a population above 200,000.

 

Shakespeare’s history plays have but one enduring hero, England. The plays chart the troubles and dramas which disfigure the body politic, interrupt prosperous commerce and at times overturn the natural order. The plays set bastard against legitimate heir, strong man against weak monarch, faction against faction, north against south, England against France, even father against son. Despite all this England shines through, greater than any King, always present. The plays point crookedly towards a better future. For Shakespeare the histories culminate in an England at peace under a mighty and much loved monarch Elizabeth I. Such is her achievement that the kingdom can pass without dispute to James of Scotland. Shakespeare himself can praise the new King whilst questioning his old kingdom in the dark and very frank account of Scottish politics in Macbeth.

 

I dwell on the history plays because they are about England. I also draw most from Henry V.  Henry V is the nearest we reach to Shakespeare’s vision of ideal kingship. Trained partly in the taverns of Eastcheap, influenced but not ruined by Falstaff and the drinking boys, as a King Henry has the common touch alongside the royal virtues of bravery and moral purpose. Under him England begins to live up to Shakespeare’s expectations as an important power. Shakespeare never wrote a play expressly about the achievement of Elizabeth. The speech from his Henry VIII points to the crowning glory of England’s achievements under the great Queen and has to suffice.

 

Henry VIII Act V, Scene V speech on the birth of Elizabeth “This royal infant….”

SCENE V. The palace.

CRANMER

Let me speak, sir, For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth. This royal infant–heaven still move about her!– Though in her cradle, yet now promises Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings, Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be– But few now living can behold that goodness– A pattern to all princes living with her, And all that shall succeed: Saba was never More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces, That mould up such a mighty piece as this is, With all the virtues that attend the good, Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her, Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her: She shall be loved and fear’d: her own shall bless her; Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn, And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her: In her days every man shall eat in safety, Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours: God shall be truly known; and those about her From her shall read the perfect ways of honour, And by those claim their greatness, not by blood. Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix, Her ashes new create another heir, As great in admiration as herself; So shall she leave her blessedness to one, When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness, Who from the sacred ashes of her honour Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was, And so stand fix’d: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror, That were the servants to this chosen infant, Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him: Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, His honour and the greatness of his name Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish, And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches To all the plains about him: our children’s children Shall see this, and bless heaven.

 

 

Meanwhile, we can all enjoy again the passion of Henry’s St Crispin day speech, a peaon to our country, to honour and to bravery.

 

 

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. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England: God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more, methinks, would share from me For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made And crowns for convoy put into his purse: We would not die in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to die with us. This day is called the feast of Crispian: He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’ ……………………

 

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

 

 

 

Henry V Act 2 Prologue, Chorus – “Now all the youth of England are on fire”

PROLOGUE

Enter Chorus

Chorus

Now all the youth of England are on fire, And silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies: Now thrive the armourers, and honour’s thought Reigns solely in the breast of every man: They sell the pasture now to buy the horse, …………………….

 

 

O England! model to thy inward greatness, Like little body with a mighty heart, What mightst thou do, that honour would thee do, Were all thy children kind and natural!

 

 

The fitting end to this tribute to Shakespeare’s England must lie in John of Gaunt’s immortal words. He captures the magic and majesty of our country, damaged though it is by civil war and human failings.

 

 

Richard II Act II, Scene I, John of Gaunt “This royal throne of kings, this sceptre isle….”

 

JOHN OF GAUNT

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings, Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth, Renowned for their deeds as far from home, For Christian service and true chivalry, As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry, Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son, This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, Dear for her reputation through the world, Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it, Like to a tenement or pelting farm: England, bound in with the triumphant sea Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame, With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds: That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself. Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life, How happy then were my ensuing death.

 

England’s glory shines through even in her times of adversity.

 

 

 

 

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54 Comments

  1. eeyore
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    What an eloquent celebration of Shakespeare the Patriot! Yet that’s but one aspect of his mind. Some comments here on JR’s St George’s Day post have tried to claim him not for England but for Europe, and made him out to be a proto-Remainer, and so he was too, if we take him to be only what he wrote.

    The truth is that in Shakespeare, as in the Bible (and Churchill, another immensely prolific commentator on the world at large) support for almost any view can be found if you look for it.

    So far as one can tell he was simultaneously a political conservative and a philosophical anarchist, a professional celebrity who hid behind multiple masks, a secret Catholic atheist, a gentle, lovable man who viewed the rest of us with icy contempt:

    “. . . But man, proud man,
    Dressed in a little brief authority,
    Most ignorant of what he’s most assured.
    His glassy essence, like an angry ape
    Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
    As make the angels weep.”

    There’s no genius more enigmatic. He knows us through and through, but we don’t know him at all.

    • eeyore
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      There was no Shakespeare in the 15th century. The earliest use of the word in English dates from 1566, when Shakespeare was two.

      Marlowe and Hobbes (to name but two of Shakespeare’s eminent contemporaries) were widely regarded as atheists. Hobbes denied it. Marlowe didn’t.

      • Protestant Reformed
        Posted April 30, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Marlowe and Hobbes (to name but two of Shakespeare’s eminent contemporaries) were widely regarded as atheists. Hobbes denied it. Marlowe didn’t.

        >
        Atheists tend to look back in history and confuse opposition to the Mother Church as evidence for atheism. This is evidence of Protestantism.
        Atheism would seem illogical to any 15th century mind.

  2. Lifelogic
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    It is only England that will give Theresa May her majority. It is only really May who could rescue the UK’s economy from the misguided socialism of Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and Osborne. Will May turn out to be the misguided socialist she seems to be? Or can she be turned in to someone more like Thatcher. Someone who actually cuts the largely parasitic sector, the over regulation and the over taxation down to size.

    Allister Heath in his excellent article today points out that more than half of British households now take out more from the state than they pay in, in tax, according to official figures. This is hugely depressing and urgently needs addressing by some real Conservative
    Policies for a change we’ll before the next election.

    • Mitchel
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Lifelogic’s irrascibility brought to mind the rude letter Ivan the Terrible sent to Queen Elizabeth I when she failed to reply to his marriage proposal:-

      “Wee had thought that you had beene ruler over your lande,and had sought honor to your self and profit to your countrie,and therefore we did not pretend those weightie affairs between you and us.

      But now we perceive that there be other men that doe rule,and not men but bowers(boors) and marchauts(merchants)the wich seeke not the wealth and honnor of our majesties,but they seeke there owne profit of merchandize.

      And you flowe(flourish) in your maydenlike estate like a maide…..That priviledge that we gave to your marchaunts be from this daie of none effect”

      As he got through more wives than her father,probably just as well!

      • Mitchel
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        In the end just a tiff-the Moscovy Company continued to trade until the 1917 revolution and ,as consolation,Ivan turned east and grabbed something even colder(but ultimately far more profitable)than Gloriana-Siberia from the Mongols.

    • Derek Henry
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      There you go again talking as if we are still on the gold standard and taxes fund government spending.

      I bet not once in your life have you studied the accounting between HM Treasury and the Bank Of England ?

      If you did you wouldn’t keep posting such tripe.

      • Edward2
        Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Ah, a believer in the magic money tree.

      • Peter D Gardner
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:49 am | Permalink

        Do try to elevate the debate on this occasion above the level of accounting.

    • hefner
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Just for LL (and possibly Allister Heath): given the distribution of both wealth and the tax system in the UK, the fact that “more than half of British households now take out more from the state that they pay in” simply shows how skewed this distribution is (plus the fact that these distinguished commentators might not know the difference between a mean and a median).

    • Peter D Gardner
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      See the article on Conservative home by Paul Goodman. If you think what has been announced is bad enough think, after reading it, what Mrs May might have done, and, if she gains a large majority might yet do. It is frightening for Leavers.
      http://www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2017/04/free-marketeers-and-interventionists-battle-for-the-soul-of-the-conservative-manifesto.html

      Reply I do not agree with some of Paul’s analysis of how the policy is being formed or what is likely to emerge.

  3. alan jutson
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Yes history has a habit of repeating itself, but do we learn from the lessons of history ?

    Very rarely, hence the same mistakes are often made over and over again.

    Power can corrupt, and in the wrong hands it frequently leads to conflict.

    Thus all Nations should be very careful who they put into power, or give power to.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      “but do we learn from the lessons of history?”

      Rather rarely is seems in politics buying votes seem to be the way. Corbyne is promising higher wages for all, lots more bank holidays, more union power, more council houses, more state sector pay all funded by his magic money tree. Sure mate that is bound to work well.

      Then we have T May.
      https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/04/energy-price-caps-since-when-did-tories-offer-1970s-socialism/#

      Well they did with Ted Heath, John Major, David Cameron and now with Theresa May. Even under Thatcher the dire virtual state monopolies of the NHS & education were not really touched nor was the state sector really cut down to a sensible size.

      Let us hope that post this election T May can have some proper economics explained to her. This rather than her childish aping of Miliband’s socialism. She needs to do what will actually work for a change.

  4. Old Albion
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    This is the most important paragraph and needs to be displayed to all residents of England. Moreover it needs to be thrust into the faces of the England denying politicians that inhabit Westminster.
    Quote;
    To me England is the once and future country. One of its most famous kings is Arthur, a figure more of legend than of historical record. No-one today expects Arthur to come again, but many now anticipate an awakening of England as a vibrant democracy and cultural centre. Removed from the political maps, it has not proved possible to erase England from people’s hearts or to forget its impressive contribution to world freedom and democracy today. The more some have tried to split England up into artificial regions and to balkanise the great country, the more there has been a resurgence of belief and love for it. Where once many were persuaded our flag had been demeaned by extremists, today we can be proud of it again.
    end quote;

    Democratic equality for England is long overdue. We must have an English Parliament.

    • Mark B
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear !

    • John
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      The most telling part for me was “Step by step Parliament wrestled control from the Crown”. Today parliament has wrested control from the ENGLISH people. Without an English parliament we are not a country or be considered an entity to be respected by the British.

    • Peter D Gardner
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      There is a case for an agreement between England and independent Scotland and Wales on the lines of New Zealand and Australia’s Closer Economic Trade Relations Agreement and other agreements. There comes a time when the rising cost and hassle of dependents means we should say, enough, you’re moving out, let’s be independent adults from here on.

  5. hefner
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Interesting series on Shakespeare’s plays.

    Another very interesting three-part story “Brexit by timetable” by David Allen Green originally published by the FT. If this is true (and it is difficult to think it is not), the UK is presently driving to the wall at speed blind-folded with the road nicely laid out by the EU.

  6. JoolsB
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Our ancestors would be spinning in their graves if they could see England now – the last remaining colony in the western world. Scotland has it’s own parliament, even the Welsh & NI, but England, once the Mother of all Parliaments has been denied the same rights. Instead the English are now ruled by the Scots, Welsh & British elite.
    Shame on your party John for ignoring this injustice to England without whose support they would not exist. Why England continues to vote for any of the three anti-English parties is a mystery.

    • Ed Mahony
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Don’t give up! We can make our country great again! But only i believe through Christianity (and in particular, Roman Catholicism, for nearly 900 years, the official religion of this country, although great i have great respect for traditional C. of E., Quakers, Presbyterians, and Methodists etc .).
      With Christianity, you get: love (soft + tough love), hope, hard work and diligence and work ethic, patriotism, sense of responsibility towards others, appreciation for the arts and beauty, that the strong are able to strive but they must also remember the vulnerable as well, just war – and so on. Everything that allows us to explore our talents, and for the good of our family and country (and others), but always remembering that this life – great as it can be – is merely a stepping stone to one much greater, please God.

      • Ed Mahony
        Posted April 30, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        ‘We can make our country great again!’ – but in a modest, not arrogant/puffed-up way ..

  7. DaveM
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Mr R,

    I am a great fan of English history, and indeed studied it when I was younger. However, as much as the events from the past repeat themselves, and as similar as our past and present leaders may be, there are one or two things which have changed:

    Our past leaders would never have allowed themselves to be threatened by foreign bureaucarats, and the idea of someone promising to “punish” England would have been met with derision and strength. Can we see some of that again please?

    I also like the story of Arthur, and have read many books on the subject. If we choose to believe that he was a historical figure – which I believe he was – his greatest victory was at Badon…….fighting with the native Britons against the invading Anglo-Saxons!!

    • Mitchel
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      I loved the “bureaucarats” typo…given what they cost carat sounds most appropriate.I might,with your permission,even use it myself!

  8. Bert Young
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    What a post !!. “England forever England ” is my quote – one I fervently believe in .

    The events in the world today suggest there is as much turmoil as there ever was . I have just emerged from reading “The Silk Roads” by the immensely talented and capable historian Frankopan . His book -that recounts history virtually from the year dot to today , indicates that mistakes in the past are still perpetuated in just the same way as they ever were . I sincerely hope all those in the Foreign Office and Government are aware of this history and will learn from it .

    • Mitchel
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I haven’t read that book yet(it’s on my list)but,with my interest in the history of Russia and Central Asia,the Byzantines and the Mongols,I come across Peter Frankopan quite a lot and he is very good.I’m currently reading Jerry Brotton’s “This Orient Isle:Elizabethan England & the Islamic World” which touches on similar themes.

      Yes,it’s a pity more people don’t inform themselves about the (admittedly hugely complex) history of this part of the world-they would understand the present far better.

  9. acorn
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I thought Brazil was The Once and Future Country, (Palgrave 1998).

    Meanwhile, back in the 21st Century, the EU [according to W. Keegan], “is frustrated that May’s team has not, as they see it, “engaged with reality” on David Cameron’s promises to pay into the EU budget until 2020 – a promise Brussels insists the British must stick to. “They [the British] are not just on a different planet, they are in a different galaxy,” said the source.”

    Keegan adds, “After the election there will presumably be a July budget, accompanied by forecasts from the estimable Office for Budget Responsibility, which will begin to show the economic consequences of the government’s acceptance of a referendum that was conducted beneath a veil of ignorance and deceit.”

    Anyway, according to David Marquand. “The problem with “Brexit”, as shorthand for “British exit”, is that there is no such place as Britain. Once upon a time there was a Roman province called Britannia, but it did not include Ireland, or Scotland north of Hadrian’s Wall. What does exist today is a state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is not a nation state like France or Denmark. It is a multinational state, like the former Yugoslavia or the Austro-Hungarian empire.”

    So, as a legacy “multinational State”, with its two centuries out of date parliamentary system, the UK of GB and NI, is way past its its sell by date.

    Nice flanking manoeuvrer by the EU to re-unite Ireland, they should go for it.

  10. Antisthenes
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I am Welsh by birth but English and Scottish by ancestry and if asked I declare myself to be British Welsh with a feeling of pride and being immensely lucky to have been born on this sceptred isle. That feeling of pride I have has been gradually tempered with sorrow as that England that you so eloquently elude to speaks of greatness and an indomitable spirit. Not as it is now and certainly not an improvement of what went before. That England and UK you speak of was still apparent until the end of WWII after which it all but disappeared. Standards, values and traditions that made us have been tossed aside in favour of moral turpitude and the socialising of society in the name of progressiveness.

    • Peter D Gardner
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      Socialism had a lot to do with that. If it is recoverable, the first step is to leave the EU. Then we will at least have democratic accountability of the people who really do govern us. We still might not recover, but it will at least be up to us and not imposed by a foreign overlord.

      • Antisthenes
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Socialising and socialism are synonymous the latter is a complete anathema the former has it’s place if applied wisely and when it seeks to bring out our better instincts. Generally it is used unwisely and applied to many areas of society that are best left to their own devices. By those who profess goodness but are driven by far more baser desires and generally pride themselves with epithets such as progressive, liberal and anti-fascist. They are no such thing but lack the wit to see themselves as they really are. They are quite the opposite.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Excellent.

  12. norman
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you John. A brilliant exposition, reflective of that great hiatus in our country’s future course. The historical resonance of that time is being repeated before our very eyes. Yet how many then, or even now, saw it? Cranmer’s ‘prophecy’ over the infant Elizabeth is apocryphal. For me though, it was the light that came from the Reformation that shone through at every level. As fellow martyr Latimer expressed to Ridley, which was so outworked in history: “‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out!” A light, indeed, by God’s grace, that spread throughout the world, yet often ‘unseen’ by the many, as if under a bushel. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

    • Ed Mahony
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      The Reformation was a European, continental movement, not just English, with a Frenchman (Calvin) and a German (Luther) at the heart of it …
      It was an Englishman – Sir Thomas More – who played the most important role, from a political POV, in ALL of Europe at the time, in defending the traditional religion of England (and Europe) – Roman Catholicism of the time. For nearly 900 years – up until the Reformation – England had been Catholic. And it was thanks to Catholic England that we have the following: Oxford, Cambridge, grammar schools, guilds, rule of law, magnificent cathedrals and churches, patronage of the arts, parliament, and the monarchy – all the things at the heart of our English culture.
      Most people hadn’t a clue, at the time, about the religious arguments of the time. The Reformation was essentially political with both ‘Protestants’ and ‘Catholics’ (Henry VIII, the Pope and others) shamefully using religion for political reasons. Just as most people haven’t a clue about what the Reformation was really about today, and just suck up lots of mindless anti-Catholic propaganda (just as Catholics did about mindless anti-Protestant propaganda in Catholic countries).

  13. Doug Powell
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    “…… That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; ……. We would not die in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

    Methinks the Bard knoweth a Remoaner!

  14. margaret
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Shakespeare himself understood the wheel and the variables which were added or taken away at each revolution. He makes a picture out of the chirality of life and enlarges and makes human the very DNA of life. His cyclical approach talks about the wheel dragging people down the hill with them or all stepping on to the cycle of a superior influence is ever present . .
    Yes England .. great England , but to understand and feel it and to show that whatever daily foibles and tasks present themselves , is to understand the whys and the wherefores. We understand why people behave in such a manner and we understand why some deny that they are behaving in such a manner , for power , individuality and survival of the species and family line is the genetic motivator.
    I am heartened to see that you do not separate yourself from the emotions and understanding of Shakespeare himself as some lofty specialists do .

  15. Mark B
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    Very good. And thanks for sharing. 🙂

    We English do indeed benefit from being comfortable with ourselves. Unlike so many others.

    It is true that all our woes come from the continent and all our wishes from the wider world. I think that is to do with others being envious of us. Friends they have never been or shall be. It is only our far flung friends that have shown us any kindness and I think that is where our destiny lay.

    Goodbye little Europe. Hello BIG World 🙂

  16. Ed Mahony
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Shakespeare was a great Englishman and an enigma / paradox.
    He clearly loved England. He was a patriot. But he also saw beyond England. That we are part of a world community (Shakespeare loved Italy in particular). And, above all, we’re all aiming for Heaven (and trying to create Heaven on Earth). It’s strongly believed that Shakespeare was a Roman Catholic (his patriotism, love of internationalism, and above all, things spiritual all reflect this).

    In the Tempest, we see Shakespeare writing about the new dangers of the rational age (Prospero is a rationalistic control freak). And in Macbeth and King Lear, we see Shakespeare writing about the dangers of power and ambition. Shakespeare was both hopeful but also concerned where England was going (not forgetting that Shakespeare was a businessman and there is a degree of romanticism in his history plays that don’t reflect his deepest thoughts about life, but rather to promote his business in the world of theatre – so we should take a lot of what he says in the history plays with a pinch of salt).

    Regarding the reformation, so much of it was about power and politics not religion. Some of the Popes at this time were just as bad as many of the kings and queens of Europe, and used religion as a tool for power grab. With Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth also using religion for political purposes. And those men who tried to blow up Parliament were just religious nut cases like those behind the inquisition (condemned by Pope John Paul II).

    So Shakespeare was most likely a Roman Catholic (the religion of England, until then, for nearly 900 years, not forgetting that Protestantism was something fairly new, with the Frenchman, Calvin, and the German, Luther, playing a key role in it). Shakespeare was an English patriot. An internationalist. He was a businessman. But also a deep thinker and a philosopher as well as, of course, a great poet and dramatist.

    • Ed Mahony
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      And, yes, the Gun Power Plot was terrorism. But don’t forget the terrorism of Oliver Cromwell to Catholics in Ireland. And how Catholics were persecuted in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales for generations. (And, yes, Catholics persecuted Protestants as well). Both often as bad as each other, but the Gun Powder Plot was often used for anti-Catholic propaganda for generations.

  17. John B
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Nicely put Mr Redwood.

  18. hefner
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    And in the Happy Johnson Family, please give me the sister.

    • James Matthews
      Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      You are most welcome to her. Please promise not to bring her back,

  19. Russell
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Am I English or British?

    Sometimes I struggle to remember. But this blog post helps me clarify I’m English in so many ways, even though it lay dormant. These written words uncover the pride and confidence I have in my home country. I suddenly realise how down on my country I have, unconsciously, been.

    England and Englishness has been too quiet. I can see that now and it’s suddenly so obvious, despite being previously obscure to me.

    I’m awakening to my heritage.

    Thanks for this thought deepening post.

  20. Fearless
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    A pretty piece.
    A ripple of applause.
    Well done ! How eloquent and learned they all agreed
    Before they returned to the matter in hand,
    the deliberate destruction
    of the aforementioned England.

    We will make this scandal vanish
    and our ensuing deaths WILL be happy.

  21. Chris S
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    What was that about shorter posts ???

    Reply That was for people replying!

  22. Eh?
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    If Shakespeare were alive and writing today (!) Well he wouldn’t be writing for publication would he! Just who would be his audience? “Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house”
    “So you wish to build a wall. I believe in building bridges! ” ( Hillary Clinton ). She is of the few who can read and listen too!
    The fact is William Shakespeare wouldn’t get past this morning’s In-Tray at any Publishing House.
    There has been a genetic and educational deterioration since the late 1500s if in fact one percent of his audiences understood a gnats earlobe of what he scrawled.

  23. We
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
    I’ve just read the official etymological explanations of “sans”. But when I first read it with my Old Yorkshire dialect hat on, I understood it as an exaggerated “piping” whistling old man with his added sibilant sounds as he should say ” Wi-arn teeth, wi-arn eyes, wi-arn everything ” ( That is, in New English ” Without teeth, without eyes, without everything ”
    It doesn’t mean that’s what Shakespeare meant or wrote. but that is my automatic hearing of it Wi-arn mi hat on ov AEric-shire or, bar hat on it may have played differently for me.

  24. Peter D Gardner
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    Very good, John Redwood and thank you.

  25. hefner
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    So clearly David Allen Green’s three-part story “Brexit by timetable” is “opus non gratum” on this blog.
    Oh well.

  26. Ed Mahony
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Lastly, in Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet, regarded as the greatest piece of literature by most in the world, Shakespeare holds up the head of a skull, and points out it could have been the head of a lawyer or a politician. Shakespeare is merely pointing out what the Bible says about Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity. That so much of our public (and private) life is an illusion. It’s about people desperately trying to give their meaning some life, through their own efforts, but often at the cost of misery to others, and to themselves. Many great kings and queens (including some Popes and kings and queens of England and of other countries) who thought they were great, and that they were creating greatness, are all dead as doornails, to borrow from Dickens, whose flesh is now being consumed by worms or else dust being consumed by the earth.
    Of course, Shakespeare (nor the Bible) is saying that all life is vanity or an illusion. But that we can only find meaning and purpose and real power through Christ. If everyone followed Christ, this world would be amazing. England would be amazing. But England and all the other countries around the world aren’t amazing, because so often they follow illusion, and it ends up in world wars, civil wars, division within families, division within communities, economic boom and bust, crime, addictions, Satanic Mills, slavery, poverty, greed and all the rest.
    So there is hope. But in God. Not man.

    • words
      Posted April 30, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Sometimes the words vain and vanity are used in error for nobler qualities.

      • Ed Mahony
        Posted April 30, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Not sure what you mean?
        I think that some think Vanities of Vanities is 1. some kind of atheist mantra (what’s the point of it all?) 2. And/or life is all an illusion 3. And/or there’s something fundamentally bad about life.
        I think Vanity of Vanities is saying that nothing in life – both the good things in life and the bad – ultimately fulfill man’s desires. The bad things, never. However, the good things are meant to point to something greater, God. And that it is ultimately only in God that we find ultimate fulfillment (not forgetting that God made all good things, anyway).
        So, yes, to the good things in life but never to take them out of context and not to forget that they merely serve to point to a greater good, to God Himself, whilst helping us on our journey towards God.
        And Hamlet standing in the grave – the greatest passage in all world literature – is inspired by Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity.
        What do you think?

      • Ed Mahony
        Posted April 30, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Btw, our world today is so terrified of death, that it fails to enjoy life properly!
        The older generations (people such as Shakespeare and the way he makes Hamlet hold up the skull in the grave) weren’t so frightened of death because they saw that it led to something greater – a new birth – Heaven!
        Rumi, the great Sufi poet, saw Death as The Wedding Night. And we all know what happens on a Wedding Night!
        Rumi’s Wedding Night is in fact, biblical, inspired by the erotic, exotic, romantic and beautiful Song of Songs. That this life is really all about getting to know God so that when we die, we’re wedded to Him (not in a human, earthly sense, but in a divine, heavenly sense).
        Which is why the great saints were never afraid of death. And why they loved life so much! Because they looked forward to a better world – Heaven (and returning again to our world again – Earth – once our world is glorified again at end of time). (As well as trying to create Heaven on Earth during their mortal life on earth). So it’s WIN – WIN. You cannot lose. Although there is some suffering along the way (but no-one can escape suffering, whether you believe in God or not). However, Christianity takes the sting out of suffering, giving it meaning, and even an element of redemptive power.
        Sorry, sermon over ..

        • Ed Mahony
          Posted April 30, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          ‘Which is why the great saints were never afraid of death’ – not forgetting, of course, the great saints were the happiest people you could ever find, often experiencing great ecstasy of the soul and other joyful and peaceful and inspiring experiences.

  27. Ed Mahony
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Apologies for writing so many comments. I’ll stop posting on this site as i’m positing far too often (i just think Shakespeare is great and so thought-provoking). Thank you and best wishes.

  28. words
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I love your posts Ed. Don’t stop posting because you are right on many things.

    I’m not, and never have been afraid of death and am blissfully happy in life.

    The definition of God though is something to be debated.

    Still trying to find a better word for vain as I mean it.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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