Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Kingly Thoughts

I discover unknown phrases and novel thoughts while commuting to London while reading Shakespeare's history plays. These "empower" me all day.

Today, it was just two lines Henry VI.II, Act V.1. This early play shows that Shakespeare was a talented, but thoroughly human young man, a playwright growing line by line into the mysterious mature Bard. The whole play which is rarely if ever acted, shows where Shakespeare was "coming from", in a way that his mature works do not. I am really enjoying reading it.

The sheer dramatic power of some of the royal scenes, so often set in Westminster Hall or Palace, the site of the Houses of Parliament, sometimes leaves one breathless. There is the same thread too, the constant questioning of what makes and is required of a king, a theme running throughout Shakespeare's plays. He was fascinated by the question of kingship and how it requires a painful contradiction between nobility and power, which Queen Elizabeth 1 had to suffer.

King Henry VI is portrayed as a very kind, saintly, even feminine man who thinks well of everyone and loves philosophizing in a holy manner. Others, more "savage" and more worldly, call him cowardly and "simple". The reader presumes that Shakespeare admires his goodness, but also sees that he is not the right man in the right job, unlike his father, Henry V. There is a phrase which sums up the difference:

"Priests pray for enemies; but princes kill."

One scene concerns the Duke of York, father of Richard III, royal in bloodline descended from Edmund Mortimer, telling others that Henry VI is not fit to be king because kings are born to be kings through having blue bloodlines:

"I am far better born than is the king,
More like a king, more kingly in my thoughts."

We see in these lines York's snobbery, self justification and hidden pride. But wider than that, I was arrested with the power of the idea "kingly thoughts".

Is this what St Paul means when he urges Christians only to think about what is "noble" and "pure" : to have thoughts worthy of a king. This is true of Christ, the King, Himself. How kingly were His thoughts and words! Surely it is true that one identifies a real king, by the nobility of his thoughts, words and deeds.

The splendid irony is that the thoughts of the blue-blooded Duke of York are in fact, very "unkingly" and the thoughts of Henry VI , the descendant of Henry IV who "snatched" the throne, are typical of a true king.

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