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Friday, October 21, 2016

Observing Washington politics close-up has given me a new appreciation of Shakespeare. Now I see where he got his ideas.

“Today, you could say that almost all of our political rhetoric, comes from two books from the 16th and 17th centuries: the King James Bible and Shakespeare’s plays,” Michael Witmore, director of Folger Shakespeare Library, told me last year.

I recently talked to Witmore again at the 71-year-old independent research library and theater, which sits only a block east of the Capitol.

What, I wondered, would Shakespeare say about today’s era of government shutdowns, debt-ceiling showdowns and Obamacare website meltdowns? He wouldn’t be surprised, Witmore said with a smile, “After all, he wrote the script.”

Indeed, after perusing some of the Bard’s most famous quotes, it is not hard for me to look at today’s headlines and imagine, say, President Barack Obama confronting congressional Republicans with, “Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” (Hamlet).

Or Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reporting on job growth: “We have seen better days.” (Timon of Athens)

Or House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) looking over his shoulder at Tea Party rivals: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” (Julius Caesar).

Or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) defending his ill-fated push into the partial government shutdown: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” (Hamlet).

Or maybe Health and Human Services Secy. Kathleen Sebelius as Lady Macbeth dealing with Obamacare’s website woes: “Out! Out, damn glitch…!”

But Witmore called my attention to As You Like It, a comedy that in Act 5, Scene 4, delivers “one of the great comic treatments of the politics of brinksmanship (that) we in the capital know well.”

In the scene, a jester named Touchstone instructs us in the etiquette of giving “the Lie with Circumstance,” a gesture to soften disputes — of which today’s Capitol Hill has many.

To express disagreement, he recommends the little word “if” in a way that almost sounds like you are conceding agreement — as in, “If you said so, then I said so.”

“Your If is the only peace-maker,” Touchstone concludes. “Much virtue in If.”

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • Bryan Blake

    As the quote of Mr. Witmore points out We The People are divided by two great bodies of fiction. The Bible was and is a political document. Constantine, an emperor of Rome, chose christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire. He convened the Council of Nicea to formulate Christianity. The principles and dogma were debated and voted on by the delegates. Even those in attendance did not agree on key points. Many did not believe Jesus was divine. That he was crucified. And especially that he rose from the dead. Nor that he was born of a virgin. Even Jesus’ ability to deliver salvation was extensively debated. The Council produced a religion that was favorable to Constantine and therefore the lust for power inherent in the new Roman Catholic Church. So right wing Christian extremist are merely reflecting the “original sins” of their founders. Throughout history the primary role of religion has been to support the despotism of wealth and power and that is the plague this country is suffering from. All revealed religions are easily integrated into political dogma. That is the main reason that The Founders went to great lengths to keep religion out of The Founding Documents. The Constitution does not contain any reference to god – but does explicitly state that there will not “be a religious test for office”.

    So every time I hear a politician or fellow citizen evoke Christianity and god as part of our government I know one thing: I am listening to a willfully ignorant person. I respect their right, under the First Amendment, to freely practice the religion of their choice. But my patience is exhausted by their constant attempt to oppress the rest of the nation by imposing their beliefs upon us through the various levels of government.

    Here in Texas, Shakespeare as been a favorite target of the right wing Christians – especially at the local school board level.