As I finish the second tetralogy's finale, King Henry V, I contemplate Shakespeare's effect on the presentation of history. He devotes nearly half oAs I finish the second tetralogy's finale, King Henry V, I contemplate Shakespeare's effect on the presentation of history. He devotes nearly half of his theatrical contributions to stories plotted in reality rather than born of his imagination. I have argued before that Shakespeare, blessed with a genius' perspective, sees art not only in the creative arena but in reality. The presentation of the human condition happens among humans and not within the faculties of one's mind. Yet in order to present these conditions to his audience, he carefully embellishes, contrasts and juxtaposes the characters and circumstances that best display them. If we want to know the events and scenarios in which these kings lived and acted, we can read school text books. If we want to know the people, the conditions of their lives, the reasons for their choices, we must turn to Shakespeare and decide if his character interpretations best suit history. Perhaps while in school as a boy in Stratford Upon Avon, he studied his textbooks and imagined the joys, sorrows, regrets, ambitions and malicious conceits in each of these kings which best helped him understand and learn the history of his native land.
In King Henry V, we see the clergy, sparked to cunning by a present bill which would strip much of their wealth, manipulate a king into a conquest of France in order to protect their assets. The king would depend on their funding and would never dream of undermining his own enterprise by passing a bill which would rob his benefactors. Yet Henry V transforms the bitterness of such purposes, born of deceipt and cunning, into a resulting eden of unity and equality, love and justice. If John Falstaff truly ascended to Arthur's bosom, he must feel right at home, as if in Prince Henry's good graces again.
Outside the royal court, Shakespeare presents microchosmic examples of this unity. Almost immediately after the nobles resolve for France, Bardolph mediates between Pistol and Nym and begs of their friendship with his sword. And, most apparently, he devotes Act V to the wooing of Princess Katharine, an effort equalled to that of conquering France on the battlefield. Yet the union of England and France comes with their marriage rather than with Henry's sword. Such a union signifies love and peace rather than dictatorship and enslavement. A marriage of love and justice constitutes a unity and differs from a marriage of dominion enforced by a heavy hand - only the former resounds with true unity as both parties maintain a semblance of themselves whereas the marriage of the heavy hand leaves only one party truly alive. How can one unite with nothing?
Alas, with master craftsmanship, King Henry V guides the circumstances under which he administers his justice and promotes equality. He manipultes Cambridge, Scroop and Grey to pronounce the severity of their own sentence rather than condemn them as one higher and of more import. He allows justice to decide the matter and in so doing thinks himself below justice and equal in human value to the defendant. Consider also how he and Williams, under false pretense, exchange gloves to don in their caps as a mark of their violent bet. Then compare this to the feud between Bardolph and Fluellen over the cultural mark of the leek in Fluellen's cap. Both scenarios pit two men, of social, economic and cultural differences, against each other only to resolve in a sense of equality. Whereas the king's disguise, possibly more appropriate for his character, allows Williams to see him as a social equal, the king again allows mercy and justice to waylay the promised violence rather than crush him as a man with more power. And in this action, Williams feels worthy and of equal import himself. Then Fluellen, a Welshman like the king, not only revels in this common ground, but displays his cultural heritage proudly and feels empowered to squabble with Pistol who would rebuke it.
The king not only preaches lofty poetics to inspire his soldiers to war, but acts equally valiant and just which inspires his soldiers to a level of respect and brotherhood. By disgarding signs of distinction and leaving only their common bonds as men, they find their unity amongst themselves and their equality. On the eve of battle, Henry, once again, wallows among the likes of Bardolph, Poins and Falstaff. Even now the pomp of majesty has failed to intoxicate his spirit. He calls ceremony a pitiable reward for the strains of kingly duty when compared to the simple happiness enjoyed by peasants. He does not abandon that strain and revel in ceremony as Richard II had. He carries the soldier's lives on his shoulders and his father's guilt for Richard's fall on his brow. And all the while he finds a way to disrobe himself of all such pomp and unite himself with his countrymen under common banners of honor, bloodshed and English spirit - inspiring in them a feeling of worth and in him a share in the peasant's simple happiness.
We can call this war an imperial conquest, and surely the history books describe it thus. But like a parent reading a storybook aloud to their children, enacting the voices and characters from the page, Shakespeare resurrects a character, the man behind the historical events, and therefore lends meaning and empathy to those long dead. King Henry V may have inspired a renewed sense of worth in us and revived our sense of humanity within the monarchs.
I miss Falstaff. But in closing my reading of the second tetralogy, I credit him for this king. Their times together cultivated a benign monarch who never forgot his naturally common bonds with his base countrymen....more
King Henry IV Part Two ends in transition, both for the English political atmosphere and for the central characters. Part of this transition takes pKing Henry IV Part Two ends in transition, both for the English political atmosphere and for the central characters. Part of this transition takes place in the audiences' perspective. We witness the rise of a young prince and the deterioration of an illegitimate king amidst the fog of civil war. And yet Shakespeare twists the end. The truly naive patron cannot predict precisely how these events will resolve. I did not imagine King Henry IV repenting the means of his ascension, nor did I imagine King Henry V severing his friends, nor did I imagine John Falstaff capable of so much sorrow. However, despite these twists, the resolution holds firm to the true nature of each character and one might argue that any other resolution would seem forced.
Through the first three acts, I labored through what seemed a time-abiding story. The rebellion continues with Northumberland and the Archbishop of York. As the story follows the same plot outlined in the first part, with leaders of the rebellion meeting under a banner of peace with the king's spokesmen, the first twist pricked my ear. The rebels accept the same offer made previously to Percy from their royal opponent only to suffer a stab in the back as Prince John arrests them and sentences them to death for high treason. As opposed to Hotspur, York maintains a reasonable disposition and wisely condemns these rebellious actions as results of the time, not necessarily of Henry IV's malice. It seems that York views these events through a transcendent mind, as a clergyman and not a soldier, and willfully plays his part in the cascading political revolution. As Shakespeare would instruct us through these two plays, Bolingbroke's ascension revolutionized England's political landscape and reformed the minds of nobility and royalty alike by presenting fallibility and cracking the invincibility of the throne. Henry IV's party quells the rebels, not with honorable arms or merciful heart, but with trickery and by manipulating the integrity of an honest clergyman.
The play moves into the king's counsel and finally his chamber where we meet him for the last time. And what a time! The audience witnesses both the sickening effect of paranoia within a king and the resurrection of a man, desperate for love and a connection with his boy as father and son rather than king and prince. As the king and Prince Henry counter over the crown, we hear the king repent the road which brought him to it, but also warn of its overwhelming power. The crown displaced his virtue with fear - fear of losing it despite its debilitating quality, like his "Precious". The crown consumed his spirit and left him empty, caring only for its safety, like a vessel to an alien symbiont. Yet Prince Henry proves wise enough to respect the crown's agency:
Thus, my most royal leige, Accusing it, I put it on my head, To try with it, as with an enemy That had before my face murder'd my father, - The quarrel of a true inheritor. But if it did infect my blood with joy, Or swell my thoughts to any strain of pride; If any rebel or vain spirit of mine Did with the least affection of a welcome Give entertainment to the might of it, Let God for ever keep it from my head, And make me as a vassal is, That doth with awe and terror kneel to it!
The prince, aware of the crown's poisonous power, but unavoidably destined to wear it, may yet prove a worthy and just king, by understanding the true nature of it and prizing humanity above power.
When John Falstaff hears of Prince Henry's coronation, he leaps from his chair, promises high positions to his friends and thanks God for presenting him with a winning lottery ticket! How like Falstaff - eeking through these plays as a rusting anchor on honor, nobility, integrity and all other virtues which righteous upbringing instills in us. But love. Falstaff never cheated love nor shamed loyalty. When King Henry V banishes him, I hear his spirit seep from his often lively mouth and envision all his putrid breath of charm flow from his nostrils. I feel the heat of his tears boiling in his eyes and his blood pause within his heart. Falstaff does not care for his lost position nor do I imagine he laments the suddenly collapsing thrill of his imagined future. But to lose Harry - to the crown - to him King Henry V's royal procession appears as a funeral march.
But we cannot abhor the new king for this! On the contrary, we would likely do so if he abused his position and turned the court into a lavish party with Poins helping him roast Falstaff and Doll bouncing from one sack to the next. The new king enjoys the ability and privilege of washing away his past and renewing himself as a dedicated king while Falstaff must suffer alone the bed he has made for himself. As York said, these things result from the times, from the conditions of our lives and the longings of our vanity, our virtue and our hearts. All must play their role and suffer their fate.
You wave to his administrative assistant from within the elevator. The doors slide shut. You stand motionless for a time before finally pressing the button which will bring you to the lobby. When the bell rings and the doors open, you step out and the boy before you leaps out of your path just before you collide. The flicker of downtown bustle shimmers on the window panes. You tell yourself, with a grin no one can see, "Shakespeare made me sympathize with a fool before kings."...more
You stiffly force the turn of the revolving door flanked by glass panels flashing the buzz of the downtown street. You traverse the shimmering lobby fYou stiffly force the turn of the revolving door flanked by glass panels flashing the buzz of the downtown street. You traverse the shimmering lobby floor and sway with your shifting weight as you await the arrival of the elevator. When it arrives, you leap from the doors as a rush of people flood from the car. Then you enter, alone, light the button for the wrong floor, then the correct floor, and dance your hyper finger on the "Door Close" button. You relax, stare at the glowing numbers count closer to your goal. The doors open. Close. You shouldn't have pushed that wrong button.
After subduing the receptionist with your charms and forged press badge, you enter his office and find him lying on a sofa tossing a ball in the air to himself. Papers laze about his desk like beastly cats on a hot day in the Savanah and you look for his absent computer, then quickly to the point at hand. He looks to you, your lips quiver and you hold out the bottle of wine which dried up your last paycheck.
You just want to ask one question. You will have no other opportunity to question Shakespeare. He bends his brow, sits up impatiently...What will you ask him?
"Why John Falstaff?"
Amidst more civil strife, spawned by an uncomfortable seat which provides only the opportunity to fight for its keeping, we witness two sides of a politically epic tale. One side, starring Henry Bolingbroke as King Henry IV, portrays the warring factions of Lords Northumberland, Worcester and Percy, the very men who aided Bolingbroke's apprehension of King Richard II's throne, against the new King, their one-time friend. Henry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur for his reckless and cavalier temprament, counters a paranoid King obsessed with protecting, washing and wringing his hands, as Jon Finch plays him, in order to parley the guilt of King Richard II's deposition and murder. If only Richard could witness the accuracy of his prophecy when he said to Northumberland,
The love of wicked friends converts to fear; That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both To worthy danger and deserved death.
True to his form, Shakespeare urges sympathy to both sides of this historical conflict, since all angles bear the kink of humanity. I sympathize with Percy's faction because the new King returns the courtesy of their previous aid with scorn and mistrust. Although, to a small degree, I blame Percy's reckless thirst for action which likely exaggerates his intentions against the King. But I do not find his complaint against Bolingbroke without merit. In this, the new king learns how he opened the gate for equality amongst nobility and royalty by usurping a throne designed for the security of perfect succession. How can he assert his dominance when he owes so much to others? How can he expect others to live submissively when he whom they serve sits on the throne by their actions? Humanity has now tainted the divine sanctity of the English monarchy and bears conflict with her.
Shakespeare might have better entitled King Henry IV - The First Part as The Rise of Prince Henry. Beyond the perilous drought of political conflict, we meet Henry, Prince of Wales, who galavants through inns and taverns with baseborn commoners and insignificant, cowardly villains. Presumabely, he abandons the royal court for the court of paupers where he still maintains his title but enjoys a life a bit outside of the law, like a youth above it. But Shakespeare begs his audience to remember the prince's own words:
I know you all, and will awhile uphold The unyok'd humour of your idleness: Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That, when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at By breaking through the foul and ugly mists Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work; But when they seldom come, they wish'd-for come, And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents, So, when this loose behaviour I throw off, And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men's hopes; And, like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend to make offence a skill; Reckoning time when men think least I will.
He plays this part so successfully that the King, his father, preaches to him about his holiday behaviour, comparing it to that of King Richard II, and beckons him to behave as he did, humbly presenting himself to gain favour and support as king. Perhaps I prematurely sympathized with Bolingbroke during King Richard II's time, imagining he only wanted his birthright from Richard. But it would seem, according to his advice, he had his eye on the throne all along, deposing Richard when his birthright would have done. Now in this conflict with Percy he knows his enemies have just grievance against him. So this meeting between father and son, King and Prince, full of advice, with a hint of regret and nostalgia in comparing the prince to King Richard II, and both indicative of the prince's successful ploy and the King's apparaent guilt, marks the prince's return to the royal fold after a very different upbringing than Bolingbroke. After all, Bolingbroke came from Gaunt and nobility while Prince Henry, though of the same blood, wallowed with commoners and miscriants. He has a deeper potential for character and may avoid the shallowness of envy and animalistic paranoia of possession. I wonder if the prince's humble actions with the likes of John Falstaff, conspiring to rob robber friends, mirrors the pompous political circumstances of the state. The king, then, shares this reunion with a purified and strengthened son who can better lead England.
After the battle, the prince describes the nobility of his heart with mournful praises of fallen Percy and mercy for Douglas in return for his valor. But his true grace lies in his love for men like John Falstaff, jolly cowards who provide good company and unshakeable loyalty despite distastes for war, rebukes of honor and shameful behavior.
Yet who is John Falstaff? Like many other characters in your plays, he beckons so many different interpretations. Why did you write him? What purpose does he serve? You spend so much time on this obvious fiction juxtaposed to the historical plot...why? What sort of past does Falstaff carry with him? Who is he?
While away from court, perhaps the prince embraced Falstaff as a kind of father figure. Falstaff brought him up in all his vulgar practices and they enjoyed an intimate familiarity of loving speech and knee-buckling slurs. Falstaff outweighs the prince in years and pounds and they even perform the part of father and son opposite one another, taking turns imitating the prince and the king. Perhaps Falstaff willingly accepts the prince's projections of feelings for his father, perhaps he foreshadows the prince's fate should he choose to hide himself behind the base contagious clouds too long. If Falstaff does serve as a father figure, it would indicate a dual parentage for the prince which serves to strengthen his character for the commons and the nobility - and needless to say, in love, for I do not doubt that Falstaff loves the prince. And all these things combine to create a character that Vernon described:
He made a blushing cital of himself; And chid his truant youth with such a grace, As if he master'd there a double spirit, Of teaching and of learning instantly. There did he pause: but let me tell the world, - If he outlive the envy of this day, England did never owe so sweet a hope, So much misconstru'd in his wantonness.
Thus play I, in one person, many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treason makes me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing
Thus play I, in one person, many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treason makes me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing penury Persuades me I was better when a king; Then am I king'd again: and by and by Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke, And straight am nothing: - but whate'er I am, Nor I, nor any man that but man is, With nothing shall be pleas'd till he be eas'd With being nothing.
I read an act, then watched the act performed by the company supporting Derek Jacobi as King Richard II. I saw the words. Then I heard them. I imagined the words. Then I lived them. Shakespeare wrote The Life and Death of King Richard II completely in verse. He only gifted one other play with such diligent artistry. Because of this rare decision, I must imagine that Shakespeare saw something in Richard's story which wanted poetry's aesthetic purity, its demand for perfect word choices and allowance for multidimensional meaning. Using this form, Shakespeare both plays with language and gracefully crafts it into the clearest and most prodigious form of expression. He masters every angle of a word, frolicking with puns and ruthlessly wringing the word wet towel for every meaning and application to an idea, a feeling. He displays a simple duality, stripped naked and vulnerable, of compared and contrasted characters and situations, opposing viewpoints flipped at the turn of circumstance, which construct the very personage of this English king!
The play seems to divide itself in two. Before he embarks for Ireland, King Richard II plays the dunce with the carefree zest of an adolescent child unchecked by the guidance of responsibility or ethics' urgency. His counselors offer their opinions freely in his presence and those on trial rebuke his entreaties to abandon their griefs at their honor's cost or soul's compromise. Yet he does not rage, or flash his merciless power. He listens but to no consequence. Not because he fears them, but because, like an ornery child facing the chastisement of his elders, he does not care. He cares about his will, the coffers, and the luxuries of power. John of Gaunt eloquently argues against Richard's lease on England and York bitterly pleads against his seizure of Bolingbroke's inheritance. Yet when he returns from Ireland, he endures a harsh reckoning with the world and the pain of invincibility vanished. He must now pay for these stolen eyes with his own.
I wholly embraced this new Richard, this deposed and woeful Richard, who finds himself within the belly of nothingness after the long fall of the blessed. He contemplates his own dual nature as man and rightful king. When facing the insecurity of his position, Richard's convictions swing like a manic pendulum. He wrestles internally with a king's mortally uncomfortable burden and the high spiritual calling and civil duty of his office, owned by him as anointed to the task. Suddenly, Richard, once an immature cliche of a carefree, flattered and corrupt king, transforms into a person contemplating his newly divided nature, a nameless identity. And while Richard splits, so does the world. Men must now speed familiarity with a world newly starred with common royalty, "base glory", enslaved sovereignty, and kingly vulnerability - a world in which fathers prosecute sons and ill-succeeded kings open gates to civil strife as the delicate vale between subject and king weakens and faith in the king's incontestable grace shatters. As Richard must understand his new identity, so must humanity, like newborn babes, understand a world reshaped.
Richard, who embodies this split, this duality of humanity's longing and the dogmatic infliction of position - while we contemplate new worlds pioneered as if into uncharted wildernesses never before seen - reaches out to the patron and begs them to project their own struggle onto the himself. Let him wail for you! Let him contemplate himself for you! Let him grow into a sympathetically tragic martyr on your behalf as he calls his counselors Judas', washing their hands with Pilate, and himself Christ led to his crucifixion. Let him ascend the steps of consciousness and unity between self and identity, leading into the depths of death and social deposition. And listen to the master playwright's language represent the beautiful complexity of our birthright, our guaranteed struggle, our condition....more
As a play, The Life and Death of Richard III shocks audiences with Richard's abhorrent and frightening exhibition of evil. As a conclusion to the firsAs a play, The Life and Death of Richard III shocks audiences with Richard's abhorrent and frightening exhibition of evil. As a conclusion to the first tetralogy, it dazzles the mind.
Richard III kills without remorse, his plots cunningly slither through the royal community and construct a political and psychological power around the feeble hunchback. But most importantly, he strikes fear in others because he forges his path by his own rules. He embodies the very antithesis to Henry VI's guiding piety and idealism. Richard consults no ideals other than the image of himself on the throne. No honor or nobility shapes his mind in order to provide peace for those who must trust him. He chooses to live as a rogue unto humanity, embracing his physical form as the shape of his character, and isolates himself in the process.
This isolation and ignoble defiance of virtue cultivates the base fear of dictatorship and tyranny. Shakespeare uses Richard to ellaborate on the cause of that fear and the characteristics of those who instill it. His hunchback does not frighten us, most of the characters disrespected it, even his ambition does not frighten us - at least not as much as the ambition of others. His lack of roots, his failure to believe in anything other than himself, fosters a true fear in people because they cannot trust him or predict his actions. Richard has no nature, no character, other than shameless and pitiless greed and ambition.
I noticed the women, the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Margaret. As they dwelled outside of the action, offering curses and contemptuous words rivaling any passionate disdain offered by sorrowful women, they exhibit a certian unity because of Richard's actions. These women unite under the banner of like suffering from Richard. Queen Margaret curses the house of York, and it seemed that Richard personified that curse, while Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York endured all loss and the most primal and fundamental heartache. Because of this, they found common ground with one another.
Furthermore, as Richard plagues the country with his brutality he isolates himself from friend and foe alike. The two feuding houses now have a common enemy because Richard attacks them both. In his speech in Act IV, he contemplates this isolation and argues internally over how he can condemn himself, run from himself or expect love or support from others. Richard presents himself as an enemy to all and therefore all houses find cause to unite against him.
As Shakespeare guides his audience down into the most repulsive degradations of political evil, he unexpectedly shapes it as a light bleeding into the cave. When divisions begin with Henry VI Part 1, we witness a steady decline toward embittered civil strife which naturally climaxes into the form of one man who undertakes every evil unto himself only to present the people the way to peace and unity. Richard seats himself at the furthest extreme of the pendulum's arc and lets the weight swing back away from him.
I must admit I did not like the ending very much. For Shakespeare to literally present the ghosts of Richard's victims seems tasteless and to finish the play with Richmond's Diney-esque speech about unity strikes me as overly romantic. But though the presentation did not suit me, the idea stands the test of criticism. In the spirit of tasteless romance, I will end with a growing cliche: The night is darkest before the dawn. ...more
Full well hath Clifford play'd the orator, Inferring arguments of mighty force. But, Clifford, tell me, didst though never hear That things ill got had e
Full well hath Clifford play'd the orator, Inferring arguments of mighty force. But, Clifford, tell me, didst though never hear That things ill got had ever bad success? And happy always was it for that son Whose father for his hoarding went to hell? I'll leave my son my virtuous deeds behind; And would my father had left me no more! For all the rest is held at such a rate As brings a thousand-fold more care to keep Than in possession any jot of pleasure.
With these words, Henry defies those who accuse him of cowardice, including myself. As I conclude this story of King Henry VI, I find myself concerned solely with his character. I understand that with a broad enough scope, discontent and sedition prove cyclical without an end point where justice stands victorious over her enemies and all wronged parties contendtedly relieve themselves. After all, as it may always sway with politics, the powerful alone define the truth of justice.
Yet Henry VI introduces me to an unfamiliar type of king, one who remains so much in the background of the civil warring in his kingdom yet still symbolizes the boon of one side of the fight. It seems Shakespeare inverts the story arch with my emotional reactions to Henry's behavior. Where a story begins by setting the scene, then introduces the rising conflict, the climax and finally the falling resolution, I held Henry in a high regard, then he fell when the story rises and climaxes, then he rose again, for me, during the falling resolution. I esteemed his wisdom and sense of priority regarding the kingdom above himself in Part 1, began to question his conviction and will to defend his moral integrity in Part 2, then let him fall entirely in my regard as he agreed to York's succession. But then I embraced him again, more fully than any other time during the trilogy, as a righteous philosopher who understands more of a man's contentment and the false promise of happiness included with the purchase of a crown.
As the next generation enters the stage, after the tumultous revolting of Henry's younger years, I wondered if Henry might have his own son's true interests at heart when he gives up Prince Edward's right to the crown. Of course, Queen Margaret, a beautifully bold feminine image of power and conviction in a man's political world, violently defends their son's right to the crown. But where they hold in common purpose for Prince Edward's happiness, they differ in their methods. She thinks raising him to the highest office in England means providing his joy. Henry fundamentally disagrees as he comes to understand the true nature of this game and life.
In Act II, Scene V, Shakespeare illustrates a wonderous portrait of civil strife. First, Henry delivers a moving soliloquy on his perspective, one which he may have always had but finally puts in words and owns as his stance, then the image of fathers killing sons and sons killing fathers. The language would crush the heart of any horse-blinded warrior but I appreciated its simplicity most - an image of a corpse, colored in white by his pale cheeks and red by his blood, embodying both the red and white roses of this civil conflict. Such strife serves only to pay tribute unto death, nothing more. The victor dies as much as the vanquished as both share the same body politic.
We now look forward to the exploits of Richard III. I loved his confrontation with Henry VI when he decides to forfeit the effort to keep the nature of his soul and intellect differentiated from his body - a difference the public had ignored and considered his parts one and the same in monstrosity. With develish words Richard surrenders the battle to keep apart the magnetized aspects of his being and allows his spirit to reflect his physical form as so many in ignorant bigotry had marked him. What a tragedy, but no more tragic than the end of a life which wanted nothing more than to know God, serve his realm justly and live happily....more
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted! Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just, And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel, Whose consc
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted! Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just, And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel, Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
In this second part of Henry VI's story, we see the bricks of the English realm begin to fall and crumble into wasted building blocks.
It seems that any bold citizen would dip their hands into the bloody cauldron filled with the jewels of English power. From lowly laborer to noble duke, conspiracy and revolt surround Henry VI. Every character played a role in this seditious plot by either promoting it or by aligning themselves with the honorable and noble few who would suffer only an untainted heart as consolation.
I enjoyed Shakespeare's loud and sometimes bombastic language in this second part. I imagined villainous players bellowing their words in passionate dynamics and dramatic conviction. It contrasted the tone of Henry VI who, I admit, frustrates me a bit. Despite the tumult and revolt happening all around him, he does not take control of the situation or exhibit any ability to bring down an iron fist. It seems he stands only as a flat symbol of his position while the other characters portray personality, ambition, honor, malice and other aspects of humanity. Henry VI might have made a better priest than king and York and others see this as an opportunity to overthrow such a king.
I also appreciated Shakespeare's presentation of justice in this second part. It would seem that justice does not save the blameless but it assuredly avenges them. Henry VI and Gloucester, and even Lord Say, have faith that the law will protect their untainted hearts, that no man can attack the righteous because of their blameless character. Of course, this proves far from a reality. Are we to lose our own faith in justice - the virtuous falling to the discontented? Why would anyone, then, adopt virtue?
Yet while the loyal fall, the villains suffer the resulting justice - not directly by the hand of Henry VI but seemingly by natural course. While the honorable remain so remembered in the annals of history, the villains lose life and name as well. Perhaps justice acts as an avenger rather than a protector. And if this theme carries into the third part, I anticipate Henry VI's demise and an even more horrible fate for his opponent....more
I recently learned about what the scholars have called Shakespeare's two tetralogies. The first quartet includes Henry VI Part 1, 2 and 3 and RichardI recently learned about what the scholars have called Shakespeare's two tetralogies. The first quartet includes Henry VI Part 1, 2 and 3 and Richard III and the second includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. When I discovered these organizations, my eyes bulged and I may have vacuumed all oxygen from the room. I love order. As an example of my quirk, I found a collection of Hardy Boys books tucked away in the storage crevices of my parent's basement and, after seeing numeric labels on their spines, I instinctively yeared for #1. Also, when I decide to tackle an author, I like to begin with their first work. When journeying through literature, with its monumental scope and canonical subjectivity, order helps the traveller gauge their progress while that gentle stretching feeling of a broadening perspective helps them endure the painful acknowledgment of the minimal mileage they've wandered. It also reminds them of the value in those few steps.
I had trouble deciding how I would read these two tetralogies. Should I read them in the order that Shakespeare wrote them, starting with Henry VI Part 1? Or should I follow history and begin with Richard II and the second tetralogy? Well, everyone loves a prequel.
In My Time of Shakespeare, I look forward to reading all of his histories. While reading this play, I suddenly basked in the idea that Shakespeare triumphed in the writer's arena because he saw art in the real world. All the world's a stage! Perhaps he does not advise us like a parent, but laughs in uncontrollabel joy at seeing art in life. It might mean that we have parts to play, destinies to fulfill in the writer's plot, but it can also mean that art, beauty and truth can be gleaned from the very circumstances of reality in the same way as we see it in a staged story. The writer, or any artist, need not fully create their truth and beauty but simply replicate what they see in the real world. Therefore, these histories excite me!
Shakespeare ripens Henry VI Part 1 with suffocating division on all fronts of the world - Henry versus Charles, Richard Plantagenet versus Somerset, Gloster versus Winchester, etc. The play begins with the mourning of Henry V and the end of a unified time when all England rose behind their king in one cause. I imagine the audience must immediately look for characters with whom to allign themselves but, because of the great rhetoric surrounding Henry V's passing, they must look for those characters who would labor for his legacy. Shakespeare does not hesitate to influence their allegiances either. During occasional lonely soliloquies, he reveals the deceiptful schemes of Winchester and Suffolk which contrast the noble minds of Gloster and others and, with Exeter's words, he chastises those who would bring about the demise of Henry V's England.
One of the main divisions, between Plantagenet and Somerset, the origins of the War of the Roses, carries a theme not uncommon to other Shakespeare plays. Plantagenet, stripped of his noble rights because previous kings convicted his forebears of treason, has something to prove. To those who would insult his family and threaten, what he understands as, his rightful inheritance, he gnashes his teeth quickly and with a hot head. Those opposed to him feel they defend the crown and the order of England but Shakespeare asks us to determine whether a man ought to suffer judgement for his individual merit or his noble blood. Two ideas, one traditional and one revolutionary, fester within the spirit of England. And, until a certain point, we entertain the idea that a noble heart and just merit might endure!
I admit I will continue on to Part 2 with an affection for Henry VI. Despite his age, he shows wisdom and a care for the well-being of his country, moreso than for his own pleasure and glory. Throughout his time in the play he implores his subjects, and finally France, for peace, speaks of the importance of schooling before marriage, cannot reason why two countries professing the same faith fight, and presents himself as a kind of Solomon on the throne of justice. However, with all the division within England, which Exeter prophesies as the root of its coming demise, I began to question the hypocrisy of Henry VI's views on division and unity in his relationship with France. I promptly applauded his demand for peace amongst his English nobility. But knowing that he saw France as his rightful domain like he does English soil, why would he not immediately demand peace between the two countries in the same fasion? After all, in his view, France and England are one kingdom. Later in the play, he presents a peace accord and ultimately stops the fighting but it does not resemble the same moral fortitude which governed his treatment of Gloster and Winchester's feud. I suppose we will forgive him politics.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare romances his audience back and forth between England and France. In France, the idyllic image strikes the audience in gross contrast to that of England. After meeting Joan of Arc, I imagined her as David (and perhaps Shakespeare did as well with her shepherding background) battling Goliath. She brings spirit and prophesy, pours confidence down the throats of the French government and armies. Of course, the English slander her as a witch and I rebuked their sore losing. But her under-dog status beams so brightly that it blinded me to the fact that she does little to help France on the field. She bolsters their spirits but loses cities as soon as she regains them. They suffer setbacks after their first battle. And the eventual outcome of the war looks little like what she promises. But Shakespeare perfectly plotted her role against her Goliath.
Talbot, who spends his time in France battling the French armies and compouding his monolithic legend and reputation, truly embodies the once-loved warring nobility and romantic bloodlust of Henry V. All of France fears him, all of England loves him and both nations revere him. Shakespeare cleverly reveals him as a man of average stature during a meeting with Lady Margaret, but his armies comprise his limbs and his spirit swells with conviction. Perhaps he resembles the real historic possibility of Goliath who Israel may have symbolized as a giant because of the same qualities embodied by Talbot.
Shakespeare pivots the story on Talbot's death and also foreshadows England's coming demise with it. His death may jerk more tears from the audience than any other scene in the play. Shakespeare couples him with his son in battle and they argue in lofty sentiments of a warrior's honor and duty. Yet they would both sacrifice their lives and legacy so the other might live with honor. Ironically, Talbot's warrior sentiments do not keep him on the field. His son does. And with words of simple rhyming poetry, father and son intertwine in speech and fate - all because of the bickering between Plantagenet and Somerset! Talbot's death divides the under-dog sympathies for the noble heart in the earlier parts of the play with the vile stench of foreboding as the deceipt and cunning of noble birth begin to dominate the rest of the play. We see Winchester successfully purchase his position as Cardinal though we know him as a treacherous man lusting after power. We see the King break his word to a French woman because of Suffolk's manipulation. We see the noble heart revealed as a farce as Joan conjures fiends like a witch and goes to her execution with a crumbling integrity. We see Charles cross his fingers while accepting a peace accord which places him as viceroy of France answering only to King Henry VI. Where noble sympathies once ruled, evil trickery amongst noble officials now reigns.
And this is Shakespeare's twist. To tease the audience with victory for the noble heart - the conjurer of Talbot's Goliath-like legend and imagined stature, the holder of the shepherd peasant Joan of Arc's place at the head of the great table of French history, the key to Plantagenet's seat in York - but give the play's reward to sedition and the cunning of birthright.
Oh, how audiences must feel...and impatiently await Part 2!...more
He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and hor
He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” - I Samuel 8:11-18
The Ides of March, described as the middle day of the month in the Roman calendar, represented a day for settling debts. On this day, Marcus Brutus says that great Caesar paid "ambition's debt" in the most infamous assassination in world history. Like in so many of his other plays, Shakespeare exercises his genius in studying these characters and events from all sides and virtually eliminates our chance to concretely label anyone as wholly good or wholly bad, infallible hero or wasted villain. With passionate dialogue and lines resounding down through the ages, Shakespeare portrays the great and regrettably incurable dilemma of civilization - the corrupting faculty of power and the slippery slope of good intentions.
Shakespeare designs Julius Caesar as an immortal among men, the colossally powerful Roman conqueror whose history has manifested into mythical proportions and credits him with immortal ancestry. His companion, Mark Antony, speaks with the tongue of a serpent and Marcus Brutus, Rome's favorite son, known for his honor and noble heart, bears responsibility for his murder despite the many hands stained with his blood. Shakespeare intends that a fourth entity not go unnoticed. Perhaps the citizens of Rome, the mob, wield the most influence to these events and conduct the course of history like a fiery muse.
Yet as these entities intertwine with one another, Shakespeare carefully gives each one their full dimension while simultaneously developing a schism of sorts within each individual. The opposition between Brutus and Antony illustrate the dichotomy within Caesar himself - man or powerfully ambitious god? Antony seeks vengeance for a wronged man while Brutus seeks balance to Roman political power. In their speeches at Caesar's funeral, we hear Brutus condemn a position, an ambitious dictator, while declaring love for the man. And Antony glorifies a human man unjustly murdered. Also, to hear Caesar speak in the third person throughout his short role in the play, one must either think him crazy or divided, as if he stands outside himself speaking for the man who will act on his behalf. He imparts wise anecdotes and speaks often selflessly but, like the mob, falters between convictions easily at advise from different people. Like an honorable man, he declines the people's offered crown but grimaces like an ambitious godhead denying his right for the sake of his reputation with others in government. His position imprisons the human man who speaks his mind but ultimately must do what Rome expects of him.
Antony, with his brilliantly manipulative tongue and detestable tactics, regarding Lepidus for example, admirably seeks to avenge Caesar's death. Do we respect his moral conviction or abhor his slimy character? If his words with the conspirators after Caesar's murder, pre-sanctioned in truce by his servant with his safety fully dependent on the honorable word of Brutus, embracing them as friends, and his words at the funeral, repeating Brutus' nature as an "honorable man" while slandering him for accusing Caesar for ambition, do not reveal to the audience a two-faced coward, I maintain that Shakespeare did all he could to illustrate the character. Consider Antony's absence during the murder and for most of the play before its occurrence. One might argue that Antony, though not accomplice to the act, desired its occurrence for his own benefit. He did nothing before it happened, spoke carressingly to save himself after it happened and manipulated the mob with words rather than act nobly at Caesar's funeral. But Antony then valiantly unleashes his armies in defense of the fallen Caesar and with all the pomp of political admiration.
Cassius, though like a tempter, would not falter under an interrogation regarding his love of Rome and his belief in the Republic free from a dictator. Though he disrespected Brutus by pestering him, and bears the sin of murder, one might respect his wide breadth of love and service to his country and ideology.
Marcus Brutus - oh, Brutus - the true victim of tragic mischief, lived as the noblest of Romans, protecting a reputation of humble civil service even unto the funeral when he implores the mob to use the murder weapon to kill him should his death serve his country. One could argue that Cassius' desperation in recruiting Brutus to the conspiracy stemmed from Brutus' notoriety in Roman society. Brutus bore the task with a sickened heart after accepting Cassius' reasons for its execution in his mind. He embodies two adverse contagions: the moral heart and the ideological mind. Alas, I sympathize with a murderer! an honorable man who, in his weakness, succumbed to the dramatized logic of ideology! Shall men condemn Brutus the assassin or honor Brutus the heart of Rome?
While Cassius woos Brutus to the conspiracy, Brutus notes; "...for the eye sees not itself / But by reflection, by some other things" (Act I Scene II). Shakespeare planted these lines, from the mouth of nobility and integrity, to set the tone for the rest of the play. Each angle - Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and the mob - see reflections of themselves and by these reflections know themselves. During the overnight storm preceding the assassination the next morning, Calphernia, Caesar's wife, hails it as a omen of doom on Caesar's life. Yet is the storm the doom of Caesar or the people of Rome under his dictatorship? Brutus' wife attempts to console him and notes his ailing health during the storm. And to the conspirators, coming and going between homes before the senate session, the storm could signify their intent or perhaps its unforeseen consequences. In many cases, the storm, as an example, represents the reflection which the eye sees of itself - to Brutus, his conflicted conscience and declining health, to Caesar, his demise, to Cassius and the conspirators, their murderous intent. Yet the reflection shows destruction, fear, violence and calamity for each of the players. Caesar's blood stains all.
As war ensues between the two camps of Brutus and Antony, and prototypical Shakespearean misunderstandings spark the demise of certain characters, the audience surely thinks of justice. As one cannot forgive someone on behalf of someone else, Antony cannot revenge himself on Brutus and Cassius on behalf of Caesar - nor does he care. Antony has every intention of claiming power behind Octavius, Caesar's son, and securing his own power in Roman government in the next regime. While Brutus and Cassius fall on their own swords, honorably holding to their ideals, but suffering a sort of true and justified vengeance for killing Caesar. In this end, they suffer death for committing murder but retain their honor on the battlefield, reconciling the internal struggle within their hearts.
But the people! Oh, the fical swaying mob quick to abandon the reasoning of Brutus for the manipulative power of Antony! The audience gazes on these citizens and observes a reflection of itself. Shakespeare, you clever nuisance! One must question their stance in these events. What sort of curses or defenses would you shout to Brutus or Antony? Would you fling the crown over Caesar's brow? Would you raise your dagger to promote the republic? Would you scurry about in search of secure power in the aftermath?
Though some urged Shakespeare to stage his histories as propaganda, specifically playing on sentiments for and against particular figures, Julius Caesar lasts as a work lacking such motivation and pursues an examination of the good and bad within each character while beckoning the audience to question their own ideas and politics. Shakespeare presents men struggling to perfect a civilization which many look back to as the most powerful pinnacle of society in the history of the western world. But these are but men - full of honorable intentions, susceptible to corruption and confused by lofty ideals....more
Shakespeare's prologue instantly drew me into the play's fandom. However, I don't think I finished the play as part of that same group.
During the prolShakespeare's prologue instantly drew me into the play's fandom. However, I don't think I finished the play as part of that same group.
During the prologue, I imagine Shakespeare defending the purpose of his historical fiction while simultaneously revolutionizing the medium of stage plays.
How soon this mightiness meets misery: And if you can be merry then I'll say A man may weep upon his wedding-day.
Patrons of such plays expected humour or tragedy. To impress ones political or historical perspectives onto an audience seeking relief from every-day stressors may result in unhappy patronage and the tarnishing of a good reputation - an invaluable necessity for making a decent living in such an industry. Shakespeare sounds like a modern popular music act dictating their own political beliefs to people who paid to sing along to Top 40 songs. Yes, I can appreciate that.
What mightiness does Shakespeare speak of? And what brings about its misery? And, surely, we do not weep for the demise of Goliath or the victory of those under a mighty thumb.
Therefore I began reading Henry VIII expecting that Henry himself would fall. However, with a more accurate understanding of the history upon which Shakespeare based his work, the reader will likely gain a deeper insight into the one theme he choose to develop. Without spoiling the outcome, I will only say that this theme of "how the mighty have fallen" plays a prominent role - one which I relished. This theme provides an element of literary romance which the patron or reader, like myself, guzzles like a tenth glass of wine. It also exemplified the kind of power which Henry enforced. His policies were generally transient and self-serving, leaving anyone in his good graces vulnerable to an impending fall. Of course, Shakespeare jots down numerous stanzas, soliloquoys and characters which illustrate such universal and timeless truths regarding this theme that I prize them among several others of from his works. But this theme illustrates a misery which generally shrouded the reign of this king.
However, towards the end, I honestly found myself wondering if Shakespeare did not rush to complete this play, or promise to alter his themes and messages to powerful political gendarmes. Because suddenly, after abuses of power and the fickle consequences of irresponsible ambition, the question of the self-made man versus the nobility, the play sounded and read much like a homage to the Princess Elizabeth, born of Anne Bullen, and glorified above all children by Archbishop Cranmer and Henry himself, possibly swayed by the archbishop's lofty rhetoric after hearing that his child left his mother's womb without a penis.
And the Epilogue made no reference to anything mighty and fallen, surely nothing which would cause men to weep. On the contrary, it seemed to celebrate the rise of something new.
The play crept from under the rays of humane truths, the inherent quality of men and the tragic lessons of ambition and unchecked power, to a prequel for the great Queen Elizabeth I who happened to bare from Henry VIII. It read beautifully but after comparing the prologue and epilogue, so different in tone, I have to imagine that Shakespeare contrasted his initial theme with its antithesis - its annihilation and a celebration of a better day....more
Night and the day, when united, Bring forth the light.
I am an addict.
Yet I do not scrounge for my fix, nor do I hope for it. But when I find it, I hark
Night and the day, when united, Bring forth the light.
I am an addict.
Yet I do not scrounge for my fix, nor do I hope for it. But when I find it, I harken back to all the previous times when it satisfied me and shiver at the shock of its course. Then again, my drug fills everything and everytime. My needle and my pipe neither inject nor bellow smoke but rather peel away the layers of exhaustive thinking which blanket the brilliance of my drug.
When concluding a book, certain last sentences release the unutterable radiance of understanding - not an idea or a smart conjecture, but something already in existence, simply noticed. And I reach the high of a blown mind.
No other writer, for me, deserves my unwavering trust to fulfill my need for this graceful electricity. Bug-Jargal, albeit an overly-romantic novella, measures the quality of humanity in its capacity for true justice, honor, friendship, sacrifice, love, vengeance and failure.
Hugo bases the story on the Haitian slave uprising in the late 18th century. His protagonist, Captain Leopold D'Auverney, narrates his experience during the uprising. Hugo knits the entire story in the first-person narrative style which, in my opinion, adds a certain level of fallibility but humanity to it. I shutter to hear some readers chastise this work as inexcusably racist when the white Captain, a product of French imperialism and racial injustice, tells the story! And tell me: if the events dictated from his perspective began as morally obligatory to sensitive racial issues, what room is left for Hugo to transform the Captain himself? His judgement throughout the narrative had proven erroneous so why wouldn't we, the reader, condemn him as a bigot with an opportunity for redemption rather than chastise the book as a promotion for racist sentiments?
Hugo layers his theme of justice and brotherhood through personal and societal levels. After the uprising, D'Auverney describes the character of the newly formed black army which, after several examples brilliantly symbolic of mental and physical oppression, simply emulates the oppressions of their white masters. Hugo readily condemns nearly every suppressive weapon employed by those in power by mirroring their uses by blacks on whites. Some readers may choose to end their reasoning here and enjoy the ignorant comforts of condemning one race for attempting to right a wrong with the same wrong - and thereby defending their wrong by displacing it on those perpetrating the same evil. In either case, the cycle of vengeance never ends! Where some see evil, reason to fear and hate, I see humanity! I see equality!
Hugo also sees disease - which spreads through all close-quarter groups whether in the grips of battle or the beds of separate peace.
Pierrot, a slave with a mighty history, patrols these happenings like Dostoevsky's Christ visiting the Spanish Inquisition. He both commands obedience and the worship of his fellow slaves and befriends our captain. The nature of their relationship and the intrigue of his character add a particularly romantic, mystical and entirely fascinating element to the novella, which I will not spoil here. But I found their relationship and the circumstances which cultivated it starkly different from the relationship between the groups of blacks and whites. For D'Auverney and Pierrot, two individuals guided by virtue rather than vengeance, love for humanity rather than brother, the end proved bitter in a bloated and selfish worldly system without space for their substance.
My drug paraphernalia reads,
'Who can tell if the bullets of the enemy nay not have spared his head for his country's guillotine?'
If a man fights an enemy to take their power, he will likely enjoy the praise of those he leads. But a man who fights to liberate humanity, a true liberation of all life, will not only find an enemy in evil but also in those he seeks to save. In order to transcend such opposition, at both ends of the power pendulum, the liberator must honor his code of virtue, as opposed to the approach taken by oppressors, even to an unjust and ungrateful end for the sake of righteous living under the dictation of justice and love rather than pride, for the sake of all people whom he endeavors to liberate.
Through both Pierrot and the captain life itself seemed liberated from the chains of injured pride and hateful recompense. Where both white and black stood enslaved to the guttural urge to take the other eye, to shift power from one to the other only to perpetrate the same lingering evil, two men willfully succumbed to the graces of virtue, the abandonment of that evil, and the best of enlightened man.
In this sense, we can all be "the slave become king, the prisoner a liberator."?...more
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I could stop there, since no other words would provide due credit and justice to this work, but, of course, I won't.
IBrilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I could stop there, since no other words would provide due credit and justice to this work, but, of course, I won't.
Is there anything as effective in the contemplation of the human condition as war? If we can learn so much from the grace within a human being, there is surely as much to be considered from our monstrosity.
I have a special affinity for this period in history. It fascinates me, even since a very early age. To this day, I still find myself contemplating WHY men would raise up to kill their own countrymen, similarly as Tom Chamberlain fumbles with the idea that so many good men would slaughter and be slaughtered to preserve something as genuinely and plainly EVIL as slavery. Surely there is more to this conflict than slavery. Before 1861, southern citizens were fellow countrymen; people that any northerner would equate to themselves and the general American nobility. Slavery was not instituted in 1861. The war of "Northern Aggression" was not spurred by slavery, yet it was the reason many soldiers quoted when mustering the courage to charge into a line of fire.
Here inlies the brilliance of Shaara's book. One can study strategy, history, records, etc but there is always that hazy glass wall between the man of study and the men of war. Shaara puts forth a magnificently effective effort to introduce us to those of the past.
When the author discusses General Lee in the afterword as being the most revered military commander in American history, he is thinking of my own views on Lee. The greatest military mind of the age was coupled with the most refined moral and dignified convictions to create the force of Lee. As Shaara dictates, Lee would not raise a hand against Virginia. When secession was official, Lee made the hard choice to neglect his vow to the Federal army and to the United States of America and defend his home. The man had no cause. He did not fight to preserve political assertions of the Confederate government. Jefferson Davis be damned or glorified. It did not matter. He would not turn on his own sons and fellow Virginians. Could I have done that? Could I have put aside my own values? In most cases, it is honorable to fight for your own moral convictions. But would it not be considered selfish to not only stand by them at the risk of your family and home, but to LEAD the attack on them?
Yet, as we see in the relationship between Longstreet and Lee, this could have been the Union's best asset. Lee was desperate to finish the war to the point of making poor decisions to reach that end. Gettysburg was likely the turning point of the war because Lee lost the composure to make sound military decisions and risked annihilation for the chance of squashing the conflict then and there. Lee often told Longstreet that it was all in God's hands. If this were true, then I imagine God chose the best man to LOSE the war. Men needed to follow him, have faith in him...to honor him before themselves - to LOSE. That character, combined with an insatiable desire to end the war, would lead to Union victory. If Lee would have fought for the Federal Army, they would have been destroyed since Lee would have had a much harder time being the man he was against his home.
Longstreet's European friend, Fremantle, said the Confederacy was fighting to, essentially, go back to a more European social structure. That this idea of class equality was nonsense, a failed experiment, and that noble hierarchy needed to be reinstated in America. Most men in the Confederate army WERE NOT FIGHTING TO PRESERVE SLAVERY! They fought to preserve their way of life which, unfortunately, and secondarily, slavery was a part of. In modern times, it's become cliche to justify American wars and foreign conflicts by saying we're preserving our way of life. Politically, this was why states seceded. Morally, like Lee, the Confederate leaders couldn't turn on their people. The political justifications played no part.
Union officials, like Joshua Chamberlain, fought for the idea that America held a new promise quite the opposite of European nobility and class hierarchy.
By the way, I actually found myself relating to Chamberlain quite a bit as a read through the first half of the book. He's assuredly an idealist, a scholar and a man with clear cut moral credence but little political and military prowess, at the time. The depiction of his legendary "Swinging Door" maneuver on Little Round Top swiftly brushed my ability to identify with him aside. That takes an instinctual courage and self-denial to accomplish.
Anyhow, he fought for the promise that each man would be judged by the content of their character. Equality was simply a true fact of humanity that held sway throughout the world. Governments like the Confederacy neglected this truth and that's why the Army of the Potomac, specifically Joshua Chamberlain and Kilrain, fought. In my own opinion, I think this is a bit empty, hot air...bullshit. I believe, to my core, that this is a truth that people simply turn away from. Arguing its existence is a waste of time. The sky is blue, all men are equal. Yet if the Federal government was fighting for this ideal, why did it take another 100 years for Civil Rights? One can't hold a government responsible for bigotry and hatred by her citizens. But legal protection of equality was a long way off from Gettysburg.
I commend Shaara on a masterpiece. I had known these historical figures but was meeting flesh and blood, fallible, emotional and lively PEOPLE. Because of Shaara's talent, the idealism and majesty of this period resonates violently with the reader. ...more