Sunday, October 3, 2004

A Message to President Bush, From an Ally

The British have fought beside your soldiers, President Bush: they have almost single-handedly in substance led the "coalition of the willing". Therefore, it would seem meet that their brightest literary and cultural light of all their long history--and perhaps the greatest of all poets who have sung in war and peace upon our planet--be allowed voice as you, President Bush, face your own decline, and that of your imperial ambitions.

Our selection is from King Henry V, Act IV, Scene i. Amid the English campsite on the night before the battle of Agincourt, the King appears, disguised, to mingle with his warriors and measure their mettle. He enters a spontaneous debate with a soldier who, most interestingly, is named "Williams"--perhaps a self-reference on the part of our worthy author. Let us hear what Shakespeare has to tell our President, through the mouth of "Williams":

Bates: Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough if we know we are the king's subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.
Williams: But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all, We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeared there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that had them to it; who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

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