Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Death of Kings

Gordon Brown's frail situation this week, caught on TV with his head in his hands, after being overheard abusing an OAP has solved for me some of the strangest lines in "Richard II". Do you know them:

".....let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war;
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives; some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That round the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchise, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit
As if the flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king".
Richard II Act III Scene ii

Shakespeare was really fascinated by the death (and even the "resurrection") of kings, queens, princes and rulers. Most of his play have this plot, in some form. It "turned him on" as an artist. Today, our "kings" and "queens" are our Prime Ministers: they have a more weighty destiny than the rest of us. One recalls that young Winston Churchill knew at school that he had a destiny- he told a school friend that one day he would be "called on to save London" from a fierce destroying enermy.

Shakespeare and Greek dramatists saw that the drama and "truth" in the murder, or fall of a leader has a dramatic pathos and power, which transcends time. I recall feeling a sense of history, during the last day of PM Margaret Thatcher. I was on a bus passing Downing Street and saw in a car beside me, Chris Patton rubbing his hands, having just told her to go. It was like being a spectator at the death, of a modern "queen". One recalls hearing about the death of President Kennedy and the moment one heard about the death of Diana, a media queen. The Gospels tell the story of another kind of King.

We do not think much these days about "destiny". We may not know what it is but we sense its weight, the way it tells the ultimate truth about someone famous.

Surely the hand of destiny belongs to God. This is the "king" of stories......

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