Melanie Phillips writes here about her worries that British people are turning completely uncivilised, violent and "brutish". This is a sentiment expressed throughout Shakespeare's history plays. Deep in his images and frequently hidden by his complex language is a preoccupation with the fine line between a human being and a "beast" (a brute). He describes barbarism as "hardness of heart". For example, as Falstaff knows, in Elizabethan eyes, a women who gives up on womanhood become little more than a "beast". Equally men, who give up restraint become "barbarians". It is well known that Shakespeare was wary of crowds, the dangerous mob. He was not liberally indulgent to the raucous, uncouth section of the "commons" who lacked any work ethic, to petty criminals and to undisciplined young men, whom he called
"The unsettled humours of the land".
Incidentally, the word "commons" is the origin of the "House of Commons". We also know that Shakespeare highly prized true nobility, order and cleanliness. For him, nobility was not just about "good blood" or, as we would say, "aristocratic genes". He believed that a "nobleman" lacking the virtues and manners of his forefathers, not practising Christian values, particularly humility, was little better than a beast. He could not be easily termed an elitist, or snob.
I was impressed last night by gifted "Gareth the choirmaster" who miraculously turned an apathetic, fearful, alienated local community near Watford into a choir, on BBC2 TV. It was clear that local people's potential for discipline, work and order had never been supported by their education and the wider influence of their community. People had been left to their own devices, to fear and social isolation - until Gareth arrived. They soon flowered as a result - and stood tall, even performing a difficult choral work, in St Albans Cathedral. One thinks of Martin Luther's quotation:
"Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given"
Gareth's is the level of engagement that Christian England has to recapture to reassert itself, today. However, without the support of a TV crew, it is a daunting task. If Gareth had not had a camera crew with him, would he have been shunned (or worse) for stopping people in the street and asking them to sing` Some locals thought so.
Perseverance and authentic relationships would carry the day, but only just. The veneer of lost or half-forgotten Christian values is wearing thin and we are losing senior citizens brought up in the 1930s who still recall England as "a Christian country", another country.