Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shakespeare on a "Just" War and Checking in with Captain Moroni

So, back from the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival, which I highly recommend, I was moved again to patriotic (British) passion for the Earl of Richmond, who becomes Henry VII, in his victory over the very evil Richard III. When he gave his speech to his troops before the battle, he ended with "God and Saint George, Richmond and victory!"  His followers shouted, "Amen!" joined loudly by me with an elbow from my wife (although she first thought it was the guy next to me.)

It doesn't get any more "God, and St. George!" than this.

I know, I know, I have to get all the caveats and historical revisions out of the way (not to mention the straw men), so I'll start with my declaration that I am a temperate pacifist. I doubt Shakespeare was though I'm sure he preferred peace over war as long is it was a benevolent king on the throne. And I'm not a monarchist yet respect British heritage as there is a lot to understand as to how we got where we are in our Western and strongly British cultural tradition along with all the infusions from other peoples, many of them positive as well. (Besides all the universal, psychological insight about human nature of the great literary genius.) And the Bard certainly wrote to be PC in his day as his Queen was the granddaughter of Henry VII. Maybe Richard didn't have those princes in the tower killed. But history does not dispute that he had himself declared king when he was supposed to be their protector. The princes went into the Tower and never came out. I mean, maybe you can lose one prince with him falling down a well or into the river or something, but two? And there were an awful lot of other heads piling up enough so that a lot of Yorkists (including my ancestors) switched sides to support the Earl of Richmond over Richard regardless of whether he ever was really an ugly hunchback.

Coming to my point, I will attempt a little High School English analysis, comparison/contrast of the two speeches on the eve of battle. (I only got to study the "Scottish Play" in High School which was great because it let us swear "Lay on, MacDuff! And DAMN'D be him who first cries,'Hold! Enough!'" Besides, my English Teacher made a great Lady Macbeth, just attractive enough and plenty scary! But I'm digressing again.)

The two speeches are very similar in form and substance. Yet, besides the glaring differences in stage delivery, one from a hunch-backed toad whom even his mother wants to see dead and the other from a good-looking, noble, heroic, future king, there are some significant differences in the meanings.

Richmond (the good guy) goes first:

More than I have said, loving countrymen,
The leisure and enforcement of the time
Forbids to dwell upon: yet remember this,
God and our good cause fight upon our side;
The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls,
Like high-rear'd bulwarks, stand before our faces;
Richard except, those whom we fight against
Had rather have us win than him they follow:
For what is he they follow? truly, gentlemen,
A bloody tyrant and a homicide;
One raised in blood, and one in blood establish'd;
One that made means to come by what he hath,
And slaughter'd those that were the means to help him;
Abase foul stone, made precious by the foil
Of England's chair, where he is falsely set;
One that hath ever been God's enemy:
Then, if you fight against God's enemy,
God will in justice ward you as his soldiers;
If you do sweat to put a tyrant down,
You sleep in peace, the tyrant being slain;
If you do fight against your country's foes,
Your country's fat shall pay your pains the hire;
If you do fight in safeguard of your wives,
Your wives shall welcome home the conquerors;
If you do free your children from the sword,
Your children's children quit it in your age.
Then, in the name of God and all these rights,
Advance your standards, draw your willing swords.
For me, the ransom of my bold attempt
Shall be this cold corpse on the earth's cold face;
But if I thrive, the gain of my attempt
The least of you shall share his part thereof.
Sound drums and trumpets boldly and cheerfully;
God and Saint George! Richmond and victory!

Then, Richard's speech:
What shall I say more than I have inferr'd?
Remember whom you are to cope withal;
A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and runaways,
A scum of Bretons, and base lackey peasants,
Whom their o'er-cloyed country vomits forth
To desperate ventures and assured destruction.
You sleeping safe, they bring to you unrest;
You having lands, and blest with beauteous wives,
They would restrain the one, distain the other.
And who doth lead them but a paltry fellow,
Long kept in Bretagne at our mother's cost?
A milk-sop, one that never in his life
Felt so much cold as over shoes in snow?
Let's whip these stragglers o'er the seas again;
Lash hence these overweening rags of France,
These famish'd beggars, weary of their lives;
Who, but for dreaming on this fond exploit,
For want of means, poor rats, had hang'd themselves:
If we be conquer'd, let men conquer us,
And not these bastard Bretons; whom our fathers
Have in their own land beaten, bobb'd, and thump'd,
And in record, left them the heirs of shame.
Shall these enjoy our lands? lie with our wives?
Ravish our daughters?
[Drum afar off]
Hark! I hear their drum.
Fight, gentlemen of England! fight, bold yoemen!
Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head!
Spur your proud horses hard, and ride in blood;
Amaze the welkin with your broken staves!

. . . .
A thousand hearts are great within my bosom:
Advance our standards, set upon our foes
Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George,
Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons!
Upon them! victory sits on our helms.

The obvious, first difference, is that while both invoke St. George, only the heroic Richmond invokes God. But I would think that more Elizabethan Protestant posturing, because we know from sad experience, most armies invoke God as on their side. Few leaders of war would consider whether they were actually on the Lord's side as would our own noble President Lincoln (read the second inaugural some time, folks!)

Richmond's motivation here is clearly to put down a bloody tyrant even if in fact, he may have desired a little of that kingship for himself. And the motivation of that kingdom can help a better man replace a lesser.

And while Richmond certainly lists his grievances against the king which would tend to justify his cause, Richard, no less, rattles off a lot of complaints he has towards to the other side but note how they tend to be disparaging and cruel prejudices of foreigners- scum of "bastard Bretons" and low-life "base, lackey peasants" injecting a little class arrogance into the mix.

One of the principal similarities yet expressed in strikingly different tones is the protection of wives and daughters. Of course, in the play, we have seen Richard disgustingly woo or at least attempt to woo princess after princess having dispatched their spouses or brothers on his way to the crown. And he does seem to be much more obsessed with the "ravishing" than the "safeguarding" of family.

That brings me to the Captain Moroni standard for war we see here:
he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it— In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole
Book of Mormon, Alma 46:1

Assuming Richard was more like modern villains and would not hesitate to invoke God to go to battle, everything else seems to check, religion, wives, children-- oh wait. We're missing something else. Richard does not invoke freedom and peace. Richmond most certainly does and even connected to the memory of wives and children:
If you do fight in safeguard of your wives,Your wives shall welcome home the conquerors;If you do free your children from the sword,Your children's children quit it in your age.
It may seem a little trite, but it is appropriate to fight a defensive war for family, freedom, and peace. My only hope is that the political villains of our age, while perhaps appearing fairer than fouler than the good and evil represented in a play, can be understood when they truly seek for the standards of Moroni rather than the greed, lust, revenge, and hatred of an evil king or misguided people.

I'm sure both Captain Moroni and Saint George would "Amen" to that!

Raglan Castle between Abergavenny and Monmouth, 20 August 2010.
The Future Henry VII spent some time here as a child under the protection of the Herbert Family.
Sir Walter Herbert appears in Shakespeare's Richard III as one of Richmond's supporters. 

Addendum of August 22, 2011, the 526th Anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field:

Window from Sutton Cheney Church near Bosworth Field battle site

1 comment:

  1. Amen to that!

    It's too bad that in today's world the words of Robert E. Lee standing upon Mayre's Heights at Fredericksburg are not remembered: "It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."

    Too often modern Presidents will rush into war without considering the cost against the outcome (LBJ and W come to mind); while invading Afghanistan may have been justified, in order to catch the man responsible for the horrific crimes of 9-11; invading Iraq was not, there were no WMDs and Saddam was not in league with Bin Laden - to be sure he was not our friend, but he was not aiding those who were fighting us.


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