Daniel Hannan, Margaret Thatcher And Shakespeare

Daniel Hannan, Margaret Thatcher And Shakespeare

I am a Shakespeare geek and I am also an immense fan of Daniel Hannan who is a member of the European Parliament, representing South East England for the Conservative Party. When I saw Daniel Hannan had written this article about Shakespeare’s words and what he said about Margaret Thatcher, I wanted to repost it for some of our local Tea Party members who might not have seen it. The talk of Thatcher’s funeral was overshadowed by the terror attack in Boston and Shakespeare’s birthday was April 23rd. This was originally posted last week by Hannan but it is worth a read. – Alexis

By Daniel Hannan via The Guardian UK

Political comparisons of Shakespeare are odorous-

To the left Shakespeare is radical, the right thinks he is a Tory. More reason to celebrate him this week.

After Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I spoke at a tribute meeting organised by her supporters in a pub next to St Paul’s. I had planned to quote TS Eliot’s Little Gidding, which had appeared in the order of service, and to talk about history being “now and England”. But, when the moment came, without having intended it, I instead found myself falling back on Shakespeare: When that this body did contain a spirit, A kingdom for it was too small a bound; But now two paces of the vilest earth Is room enough …

We often turn to Shakespeare at times of heightened emotion. Daniel Patrick Moynihan reacted to President Kennedy’s assassination with Our revels now are ended. Roy Hattersley recalls greeting the news of the disaster at Dunkirk by chanting, along with his primary school classmates, Come the three corners of the world in arms, and we shall shock them! Small wonder that we traditionally mark the date of his birth and death on England’s national day, which falls on Tuesday.

The aptness of the words often has nothing to do with their original context. Last year, the British Museum exhibited the Robben Island Bible, a copy of the Complete Works which had been smuggled in to the South African prison and read clandestinely by the inmates. Each man had marked the words that meant most to him, and Nelson Mandela had chosen a passage from Julius Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once …

On one level, it was an odd choice. Shakespeare’s Caesar is pompous and vainglorious, never more so than here, addressing his wife as if she were a public meeting. Having declared his intention to go to the senate, he first gets cold feet, but then changes his mind when told that the senators plan to offer him the crown. Off he goes, boasting of his courage – only to be murdered.

We can safely assume that Mandela knew all this; yet the words, stripped of context, were apt to his mood. Herein lies the eternal appeal of Shakespeare, his unfathomable ambiguity, what Keats called his “negative capability”. As Mandela himself put it: “Somehow, Shakespeare always seems to have something to say to us.” Indeed: something intimate, immediate and apt to our circumstances. How this sorcery works, I don’t understand, but, if you know the plays, you’ll know what I mean.

Foreign writers – especially Germans – often feel that Shakespeare is really one of them, that he was somehow accidentally born in the wrong country. In much the same way, leftists sense in their bones that he was a radical, rightists that he was a Tory. GK Chesterton was convinced that he was a Catholic. And, in a sense, they’re all right. Or rather, as Eliot himself put it, the most anyone can hope for is to be wrong about Shakespeare in a new way.

This inexhaustibility is reason enough to cheer the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s plan, backed by ministers, to promote the canon more widely in primary schools, even among five-year-olds. I have watched children as young as that listening rapt to the stories. Obviously they’re not getting the same experience from the works that you do. But then, you won’t be getting the same experience in a few years’ time, either. No one does.

As a young man, Goethe loved the plays for their rawness and realism. By the end of his life, he had reached the view that the lines were so pure that they shouldn’t be acted at all, only read as poetry. As Goethe’s tastes shifted from romanticism to classicism, Shakespeare shifted with him. Most of us, Goethe-like, are drawn to the plays for different reasons at different stages in our lives. And we find, each time, that they illuminate our experience more than our experience illuminates them. How Shakespeare was possible, I still don’t know. But there isn’t a day I’m not glad that he speaks to me in my own language.

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