Being powerful and being food for worms
A colleague reflected on William Shakespeare, on the ordinariness of the bard’s life and on his insights on mortality.
Times being what they are, when intellectuals are despised and when expertise is derided as elitist, William Shakespeare would probably be as regarded as controversial now as he was at the various moments in the past four centuries when various among his plays were banned from being performed. It’s hard to imagine that a playwright would be regarded other than as a bleeding-heart liberal.
Who, in a world of brash egotism, would pay heed to a fictional tale of a medieval court in a remote country? Yet while the tragedy Hamlet may be ignored and dismissed, there are lines that create a proper perspective on the figures who fill the television screens at the moment.
Hamlet’s father, who had been king of Denmark, had been secretly killed by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, who had taken the throne for himself. Polonius is Lord Chamberlain at the court and has been killed as a spy and conspirator by Hamlet. King Claudius comes in search of Polonius The conversation that ensues is a reflection on the nature of power:
Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
What dost you mean by this?
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
It was the Right-wing populist politician Enoch Powell, who once declared that, “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” It is the nature of human affairs that human beings are mortal; it is the nature of human affairs that Shakespeare’s words spoken by Hamlet reflect a reality uncomfortable to those who would have a high opinion of themselves; that ultimately we become food for worms.
However big the egos of those in the news, as with all of us, the maggots and worms await.
This last number of years I’ve felt myself to be a bit of flotsam. Back in the noughties I saw the end of the bubble. I saw the insanity of Bush 2 heading into Iraq, knowing what would occur, for it or near it occurred before.
But what caused me to wonder what was going on was the election of Obama, pushed by the Dems for the sole reason to put a black man in the White House. When they could’ve gotten a plank of wood into the WH. But should have gone with a solid left of center politician who could’ve rolled back many of the insane policies of RR, Bush1 and Clinton. Someone like Trump was certain.
In the UK Blair didn’t help the lower income voter nor did he cause an increase of income merely used the feel good factor of increasing house prices to quench any real ire. Then Cameron et al, went hell for leather at the poor whilst using policy to make those that usually felt save really scared. Hence the ire that has us with Brexit and the odd concoction of a telly personality as PM, a weird preying mantis on the Privy Council, with a foulmouthed goul as Johnsons hitman in #10. All pushed by a bunch of business bandits from publican to people living on an island the is three times off shore for tax reasons.
On the plays.
I like them now, but as a kid and teen, no. They were beyond anything that connected and that’s where the core of Art lays for all of us. By reading Classics in Galway the plays of Seneca. Important because he wrote in the time of Nero and the attendant instability.
The present resident of Number Ten appears to have learned little from the Classics.