Curtis Dahlgren
Merry Ol' England, regime change, & Iowa; Eyes like a Hawk?
By Curtis Dahlgren
January 28, 2016

"True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings; Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures Kings." -William Shakespeare

A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas . .
Pray God our geatness may not fail
Thro' craven fears of being great.
Alfred Lord Tennyson

"Comment [by journalism] is free, but facts are sacred . . At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted." – Charles Scott (in the Guardian, 5/6/1926)

"To tell the truth, to tell it right, there is no app for that, nor any appetite." – author unknown

GEORGE WASHINGTON refused, angrily, to be made a king, and ever since our first contested election (1796) we've had drama in our "regime changes." However, our dramas are nothing like the Brits used to have in theirs. The following are a couple of examples, condensed from Shakespeare's versions. First, Richard II ("Richard Two"):

England, bound in with the triumphant sea . . .
This royal throne of Kings, this sceptered isle, . .
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infections and the hand of war . .
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Against the envy of less happier lands,
blessed plot . . this dear, dear land.

Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
And tell sad stories of the death of kings . .
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd

My sceptre for a palmer's walking staff,
My large kingdom for little grave,
Or I'll be buried in the king's highway . .
For on my heart they tread now whilst I live;
And buried once, why not upon my head?

"Richard Two" became king at age ten, which gave the aristocrats some practice in sharing power with the Crown. He was king from 1377 to 1399 when he was deposed by his cousin Henry IV (royal family squabbles were a big deal, even within their religion). Richard II died in 1400 in exile, possibly of starvation.

Shakespeare's other "Richard" play was about Richard "Three," sometimes called Uncle Richard. My knowledge of the family, so far, is limited to Wikipedia:

" . . he was crowned on 6 July 1483. The young princes [his nephews and possible heirs to the throne] were not seen in public after August, and accusations circulated that the boys had been murdered on Richard's orders, giving rise to the legend of the Princes in the Tower."

He reigned just two years, 1483 to 1485, when he was killed in battle, the last to do so on home soil according to Wikipedia. That is the Richard who was re-interred last March, 2015. If your Shakespeare appetite is even slightly whetted, here's an excerpt or two from "Richard III":

I have pass'd a miserable night, so full of ugly sights;
Methought I saw a thousand fearfull wrecks
Inestimable stones, unvalu'd jewels,
All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea.
Some lay in dead men's skulls; and in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept
As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
And mock'd the dead bones that lay scatter'd by . . .
As snow in harvest, woe to the land that's govern'd by a child!

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!


My actual Specific Purpose Statement this week isn't really about Iowa. If I were a voting and/or betting man, I wouldn't have a clue as to how to advise you. I hope that Iowa voters have eyes like a hawk, because I have no idea who could/should win the canvassing. No, what this column is really about is to stimulate some interest in Shakespeare and Western Civ in general (but if I had said that at the outset, you probably wouldn't have read past the intro).

Last week I went to a used book sale and – for $2 – bought one published in 1876. It is volume #22 of a series of bound-copy excerpts from The Galaxy magazine – July through December 1876, our centennial year. It was the predecessor of The Atlantic and lasted from 1866 to '78, underlining my "old books are the best books" idea. You can read, for example, the recollections of people who actually lived through the end of the Whig era and the Civil War – rather than second-hand accounts from biased historians.

Anyway, one article from October 1976 was "On Reading Shakespeare." Admittedly, I came very late to the table on classical lit. I'm still of the opinion that you have to put on waders and slog through a lot of crud and crap in Shakespeare; it's kind of like panning for gold, but I've cheated by using the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which gives him more pages than given to the Bible. When I was in high school I never could have spent any time on his works because we had cows that had to be fed, milked, and cleaned up after, speaking of crud; we barely had time to read the daily newspaper (which came a day late by postal service).

A Richard Grant White wrote the piece on "How to read Shakespeare" (just read him!). His first rule: "Read him only" for a while ("Throw commentators to the dogs"). Next advice: don't hurry and read just for the story, not to criticize. Third tip: "Don't skip anything; his very peasants and beggars drop jewels." As an aside, he says (remember this is the 1870s):

"On the whole I am inclined to think that Shakespeare is not a woman's poet. He deals too largely with life; he handles the very elements of human nature . . . Women, with the exception of a few who are not always the most lovable or the happiest of the sex, like something upon a lower plane, something that appeals more directly to them . . Shakespeare's humor, which is equalled by no other . . is appreciated by still fewer women than the number who find pleasure in his poetry and creativeness."

Wonder if those words still apply in the 21st century? Most of the villains in his plays were males of the species, of course. One item of fact is that the female of the species is dominant in modern schools, colleges, and universities – and – Western Civ is now out of fashion (especially in public schools), as is patriotism! The first page of my hard-bound Galaxy was the 7/04/1876 issue containing a poem written for the occasion (excerpts of which follow):

A CENTURY old to-day!
Upon our spiritual sight there steals
A vision of old age; a spectre gray
Creeps to an open grave, and trembling kneels
And kneeling, fades away

Yet, 'tis not death we celebrate,
Nor yet decrepitude, nor wan decay.
The shouts with which the nation greets the Day
Are full of lusty life, and faith in Fate.
Time has not lessened, but increased our might;
No spectre rises, but a giant, armed for peaceful fight.

What is this hundred years?
How come those grand discoveries which place
A thousand years of knowledge in our hands?
We boast our limits, washed by either sea;
We boast our teeming millions, and that we
All, all are free!
Wakening the tyrants' fears,
Our jubilations shake the world.

[Ah, if we have "Hawkeyes," we might still "renew America"! And give her a new "lease" on life toward the 300th anniversary, eh?]

Curtis Dahlgren

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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