The magic of Shakespeare – and a voice for England

All my life as a writer I have been in awe of Shakespeare’s way with words. All human life is contained therein. His timeless messages and understanding transcends the minutely observed circumstances and daily items of his own age, as they leap out of the page.

For anyone interested in politics the perceptions of Macbeth show just how easy it is for power to corrupt. Loyalty and friendship are replaced by violence and deception in the pursuit of the crown. King Lear reminds us how close to madness court life can bring people, and how a powerful man who gives away his powers lives to regret his folly. As the Fool reminded him, it is not a good idea to get old if you do not also become wise. Hamlet captures the difficulties for a thoughtful Prince to decide what to do where some urge strong forceful revenge whilst others might favour forgiveness and acceptance of the state of the world.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favourite of the comedies. The beautifully crafted play within a play never ceases to amuse. The magic verse of Puck and the fairies enchants, as they play with the fickle feelings of mere mortals, getting into bizarre pickles of their own.

On today of all days we think of the histories set in war torn England before the Tudors. These great dramas capture the shifting fortunes of the rival houses of York and Lancaster. They portray perfect martial kingship in Henry V, weak vacillating kingship in Richard II, and calculating kingship in Henry IV. Their hero is England, long suffering England. We know, as Shakespeare knew, that England emerged from her long time of troubles and strife. England of 1600 had claimed many more glories than the England of the wars of the roses could even dream about.

Let us hope the same is true again today. I look forward to England casting off her current European tribulations. Her greatest days surely lie ahead, as Shakespeare knew they did when writing about the fifteenth century.

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  1. Denis Cooper
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Let this be understood, that insofar as 82% of MPs are elected in England it is above all the English electors who are preventing England from casting off her current European tribulations. Not the Scots, who elect only 9% of the MPs who decide these matters, nor the Welsh, nor the Northern Irish; the English should justly blame themselves for their own poor electoral choices, not try to blame others.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Not so much the English Electorate as the party structures, the BBC, the electoral system, the ruling elites, the EU/multinational company conspiracy, the say one thing do the other ratting of our politicians and the line taken by most of the state sector.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        All of which are lazily tolerated by the English rather than being imposed upon the English by the Scots or anyone else.

      • Hope
        Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        This is the same Cameron who had government solicitors to fight in the ECHR to ban the wearing of crosses at work while content for the hijab, turban and burka. 22 nd May cannot come quick enough.

    • J A
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      People vote along tribal lines – mistaking Tories for Tories. This is about to be broken, the UKIP election broadcast has hit exactly the right tone. Attack Nigel Farage he wins votes – don’t attack him and he wins votes. Even the Daily Mail must be careful how it deals with him or it will get ditched just like the Tory party if it isn’t.

      All Europhile candidates should wear an EU badge and be prepared to do so proudly. They should also have the EU flag displayed prominently on their campaign literature. If this had been done in previous elections then I would agree that English voters should be blamed, Denis. As it stands I fail to see how they can be. They were deceived.

      The EU has come way down on electoral agendas but since ministers began throwing their hands up and saying that they were powerless to deal with things ‘because of the EU’ then they can hardly be surprised that there is now a large movement against continued membership.

    • JoolsB
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      England gave the Tories a handsome majority in 2010 but as England, the only country in the UK and western world not allowed the government of it’s choosing, England has to accept the Government chosen for it by the rest of the UK despite them having their own governments. As a result England is governed by a coalition consisting of Lib Dums who will not allow the Conservatives on behalf of England to cast off it’s current European tribulations even if they wanted to. (Not sure Cameron does)

      82% of MPs may very well be elected in England but it counts for nothing as long as we have the undemocratic system we have now where MPs not elected in England can still make decisions which only affect England, often decisive ones at that and in some cases even over-ruling the decisions made by those who were elected in England.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        2010 was one of the 4 general elections since the war where the outcome would have been different if people in Scotland had no representatives in the UK Parliament, one of just 4 out of 18 general elections.

  2. Lifelogic
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Human nature is human nature. All that has changed since Shakespeare’s time is the huge (and rapidly accelerating) advances in technology and engineering. Largely alas squandered by the bloated state sector, idiotic regulations, pointless wars, daft legal systems, daft religions (like the expensive energy one) and endless state sector parasites.

    Also changed of course is the silly modern idea that one spelling (and often a completely idiotic one) is right and the others all wrong! Thus killing sensible evolution and improvement in spellings.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      And now technology gives anyone the complete works of Shakespeare, free of charge, instantly, searchable, with a look up dictionary, notes and countless other authors too free of charge and lighter one book, to carry with you anywhere. It can even read it to you or play you music as you read.

      Yet still we have endless doom mongers, luddites, AGW exaggerators and con men almost everywhere, what misguided anti-science miseries they all are!

  3. Iain Moore
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    “Let us hope the same is true again today.”

    I hope you are right, but I fear by the time the British establishment has finished with England it will be one sorry mess. It is rarely the enemy that destroys a people, but the traitorous activities from within. English people naively think/thought the British state had their interests at their heart, but it seems they don’ t. Where Phillip of Spain, Napoleon and Hitler failed, the British establishment subjugated us under the EU without a whimper.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      That’ll be the British establishment which is above all English.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      I agree fully. Traitors from within the Tory party – Heath, Major and now Cameron in the main, but Labour and Libdems too. At least with the Libdems they never pretended to be anything else unlike Cameron.

    • Anonymous
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      In spite of extreme provocation from Parliament and from violent minority groups over decades the English have remained tolerant and passive.

      – They didn’t take to (retaliating against ed) Irish people over the IRA atrocities
      – They didn’t take to (retaliating against ed) ethnics over the near decapitation of a policeman
      – They didn’t take to (retaliating against ed) Muslims over the near decapitation of a soldier

      They dare to choose the due democratic process and on the flimsiest pretext (a poster campaign) are called racists.

      When will the establishment credit the English people for their forbearance and put down these lies which are told about us ?

      The Tories should be doing this but they aren’t.

      A few thousand people throwing petrol bombs or setting of explosive devices have done more to affect change in Britain than millions who voted Tory.

      David Cameron (now that he has defended Christianity) could do well to stick up for us overtly on this issue. Alas he knows we are scared of being racist (not just being called racist.) This is to our credit but because of it our rights to representation are denied.

      Reply English people do not retaliate against whole groups for the misconduct of the odd person for a whole variety of good reasons. Nor should anyone suggest they should retaliate. I do not agree that violent terrorists have achieved more than elected governments.

  4. Robert Taggart
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Having never studied Shakespeare at skule – one has never had a disliking for his works – quite the contrary.
    Shakespeare must be good – all the Celtic whinge countries having since tried to conjure-up their own Bards – if only not to be left out !
    A Midsummer Nights Dream – indeed Johnny – excellent, but, better still when enacted to the music of Mendelssohn. An Anglo-German pact worth celebrating !

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, I do tend to agree with David Starky that Robert Burns was a “deeply boring provincial poet.”

      We should also of course speak like Shakespeare with short, pithy, northern pithy “a”s rather than these silly baarths, get off the graarss and baarnkers draarfts. Not that I would want to mandate it any more than I would spelling. Accent is to the spoken word what spelling is the written, neither should be mandated from on high. or even from Mr Gove.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Skule is quite a good spelling I quite like it.

      • Robert Taggart
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Speaking as a ‘Reasoner’ rather than a ‘Religiouser’ – spelling like Life be all about logic !

      • Excalibur
        Posted April 25, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        The spelling of a word in our beautiful language is often dictated by its etymology. Conrad was able to become one of the great writers in the language because of his mastery of French. It requires effort to master correct spelling. Let’s not always settle for the repudiation of scholarship. Dictionaries and spelling guides mean there is no excuse for getting it wrong.

        • Robert Taggart
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          A high ‘calibur’ reply, but, are you a dagger which I see before me ? !

  5. Bill
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Let’s pick the moment for action. Another Shakespearean quotation below:

    There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat,
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures.

    Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

  6. The PrangWizard
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I fear we will never be allowed to leave the EU short of taking to the streets. We have only to look across the water see how action pays and is later rewarded. And just look at how effective a few bricks and scaffold poles in Trafalgar Square ended the Poll Tax.

    • bigneil
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Also across the water in France, they get a hate preacher – they eject them and its two gallic fingers to the EU. Whereas here -they are rewarded with a free house money and healthcare for evermore. Yesterday it was reported that the French police want to clear all (generalisations left out ed) people who cause nothing but crime (john deletes whichever term so this might not get through at all). – -yet here they are straight into free housing and a pile of cash every month then down to register at the doctors. -And politicians want us to vote for them – -John how on earth can you expect us to vote for our own destruction?

    • peter davies
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      The problem with the EU is its sly and stealthy chip away method. The man/woman on the street naturally look at their personal circumstance so local and national govts become their target. If you did a poll now I guess that most normal people would not put the EU at the top of their priority list so stick with their traditional parties – labour strongholds may get a strong UKIP showing in many areas due to immigration but not I fear enough to start taking their parl seats – this is what’s needed, particularly in the North of England.

      The whole nature of supranational govt means decisions/policy which filter from them go through national govts so they look like domestic policy.

      I fear the bricks and scaffold poles will only come once govts have been so hollowed out that they resemble county councils then it will probably be too late.

      On the bright side at least we still have the £ so could conceivably backout of the EU without too much damage if one day the electorate really does wake up and the political class falls into line – otherwise we are looking at being an EU version of Hong Kong – own currency but all major social & international policy decisions being taken by people we have never heard of behind closed doors – you couldn’t make it up.

      Had we gone into the Euro we would be toast – I fear for the smaller EU states.

  7. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    The joy of Shakespeare does not negate the joy that the era of the Divine Right of kings is well and truly over. I am a monarchist for one main reason – if the Queen is Head of State then the Prime Minister isn’t. The PM and his cabinet have to appear regularly in the Commons and be held to account. Not for us an Obama strutting to the podium and demanding that the Congress hear his State of the Union message without interruption.

    I often wondered why Shakespeare did not write about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. It transpires that Shakespeare was baptised 450 years ago, i.e. about 1564. That means that his prime must have coincided with that of Good Queen Bess, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Now I know why. Much safer to write about MacBeth, an early Scottish king long since dead.

    Reply He did write a play called Henry VIII

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      My mistake, sort of. The play Henry VIII was written in 1613 and co-authored by Shakespeare and John Fletcher (about 50/50). Shakespeare was 50 at the time, fairly elderly for those days. Good Queen Bess had been dead for 10 years and was much revered by the English. The play starts with the time of Catherine of Aragon and ends with the coming of Anne Boleyn. Nothing of the decapitation or the final 4 wives. Not one of his better efforts.

  8. peter davies
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “King Lear reminds us how close to madness court life can bring people, and how a powerful man who gives away his powers lives to regret his folly.”

    I wonder how many of the political establishment read this blog – I’d love to hear the response of (they know who they are) politicians that have rammed through the several hollowing out parliamentary treaties over the last 20 or so years.

  9. Iain Gill
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I did Jane Austen for my literature O level… have not got a clue what you are going on about 🙂

  10. Iain Moore
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    One day after St George’s day we have a Scottish elected Minister from the Treasury preferring minority status on Cornwall.

    Can you imagine the uproar if an English Minister did that to Scotland?

    What the hell is going on?

    Was this debated and agreed in Parliament?

    It seems that constitutional goodies get handed out to everybody bar the English. Devo Max for the Scots ? No problem. More powers for the Welsh assembly? No problem. And completely out of the blue minority status for Cornwall. Yet to get Westminster political parties to honour their manifesto promises to answer the English Question is like trying to squeeze blood out of stone.

    I get the feeling that a decision has been taken that by hook or by crook, and regardless if there is a mandate, to break up England.

    Where did this outburst from Clegg come from talking about disestablishing the CofE, and removing the Queen from the head of my Church.

    It seems while Parliament has been sent on holiday, not that MP’s cared much while they were there (bar one of two exceptions), the wheels have been set in motion to dismember England.

  • 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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