Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shades of green
or how handling Michael Collins's inamorata fuelled Malcolm's drink habit

There are many enjoyable ways of irritating Malcolm, but two came together this week. One was a particular song; the other was a lapse of memory.

The link between the two was Four Green Fields.

Pub songs

The late Tommy Makem did a lot of good work, but his 1967 song, of which he was inordinately proud, grates on Malcolm. Makem in performance made it just a trifle too saccharine sweet and maudlin for Malcolm's palate. The New York Times's Neil Strauss implied something less than boundless enthusiasm, too, in his review of the 1999 New York Fleadh:
... backed only by an acoustic guitar, Tommy Makem bellowed a stentorian ''Four Green Fields,'' the hallowed Irish leave-us-alone-with-our-beauty ballad he wrote in 1967, as the audience members pumped their hands in the air and sang in spellbound unison.
Perhaps Malcolm is being over-pernicketty here, but over the years he has fallen out of love for the whole Clancy and Makem Oirish soft-soap, which owes more to the White Horse, Greenwich Village, than Malcolm feels comfortable with.

He totally sympathises with Dominic Behan for what Liam Clancy did to The Patriot Game. Cutting the references to Connolly and de Valera changed the whole tone, making an apology for blood-sacrifice out of a much more bitter, darker, socialist text (here with both versions):
This Ireland of mine has for long been half free,
Six counties are under John Bull's tyranny.

And still de Valera is greatly to blame/So I gave up my Bible, to drill and to train
For shirking his part in the patriot game/To play my own part in the patriot game.
Hardly a game

If anyone is not aware of the background to Behan's song, it relates to the shambles that was an IRA attack on the RUC Brookeborough Barracks on New Year's Eve, 1956.

Seán Garland's dozen Volunteers rode a commandeered dumper truck into town, and parked too close to their target, thus warning the RUC men within (who would have been alert after previous IRA activity in "Operation Harvest"). Under covering fire, the Volunteers tried unsuccessfully to plant a mine, but were driven off by return fire from the RUC sergeant. The IRA men retreated to the mountains, recovering the badly-wounded Seán South and Fergal O'Hanlon, both of whom died, in Dublin's Mater hospital, within hours, of "motor accident" injuries.

The main consequence of these events, apart from the ballads adding two more heroes to the pantheon, was Seán MacBride wrapping the green flag tightly round him, and causing the downfall of the Dublin coalition government and of his own political career.

The most beautiful woman in Ireland

MacBride's mother, Maud Gonne, is the link back to what Malcolm expects is the origin of the "Four Green Fields" metaphor for the four Provinces of Ireland. She appeared in the title-rôle of a one-act play,
Cathleen ni Houlihan, on April 2, 1902 at St. Teresa’s Hall in Dublin. WB Yeats (who would hardly have been neutral) later said of the performance:
Miss Maud Gonne played very finely, and her great height made Cathleen seem a divine being fallen into our mortal infirmity.

The setting is the 1798 Rising, near Killala, at the moment of the French landing. The climatic moment, and mathematical centre of the play is:
BRIDGET: What was it put the trouble on you?
OLD WOMAN: My land that was taken from me.
PETER: Was it much land they took from you?
OLD WOMAN: My four beautiful green fields.
Immediately after that:
PETER: [to Old Woman] Did you hear a noise of cheering, and you coming up the hill?
OLD WOMAN: I thought I heard the noise I used to hear when my friends came to visit me.
We then are given the notion of the blood-sacrifice:
OLD WOMAN: ... there were others that died for love of me a long time ago. MICHAEL: Were they neighbours of your own, ma'am?
OLD WOMAN: ... There was a red man of the O'Donnells from the north, and a man of the O'Sullivans from the south, and there was one Brian that lost his life at Clontarf by the sea, and there were a great many in the west, some that died hundreds of years ago, and there are some that will die to-morrow.
Having thus name-checked the national martyrs, from Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill to Donal Cam O'Sullivan Bere, not omitting Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, she identifies herself:
BRIDGET: You did not tell us your name yet, ma'am.
OLD WOMAN: Some call me the Poor Old Woman, and there are some that call me Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.
The message:
Many that are red-cheeked now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to
walk the hills and the bogs and the rushes will be sent to walk hard streets in far countries; many a good plan will be broken; many that have gathered money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that have red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that, they will think they are well paid.
A terrible beauty

A powerful myth, but not one that Yeats created. Indeed, there is some doubt to what extent the play is his. Lady Augusta Gregory claimed the the opening scene, and that the rest was her and Yeats. Yeats himself would later wonder:
Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman's reeling brain?
There is, indeed, a direct link from Cathleen ni Houlihan to Easter Monday, 1916. Malcolm will return to that in a later posting, and try to ascertain where the notion began.

In this respect, one is either with Yeats or with Joyce. Yeats (who had briefly flirted with the IRB) knew the effect his play would have, and deliberately willed it. Joyce, according to Stanislaus in My Brother's Keeper, "was indignant that Yeats should write such political and dramatic claptrap."

So, with one bound, we are into the psychology of Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais. Malcolm has long been exercised by this, and fortunately even the most extreme of Pearse's apologists now have problems with it:
Many revisionists point to extracts from Pearse's writings to support the blood sacrifice thesis. Yes, without doubt, Pearse's use of language was often extreme, but also - and this should not be overlooked - typical of the age.

"Typical of the age", perhaps, and frequently blamed on Sigmund Freud, though, as far as Malcolm can see, Freud's key text did not become available until after 1918.

Beauteous Mary

Paul Muldoon suggests Pearse's poem Christmas, 1915 takes the notion of blood-sacrifice a stage further:
Pearse is ... only too conscious of the image of Christ in the arms of his mother, the mother being Ireland, the 'pierced' Christ Pearse himself ... That the coming battle should be joined at Easter, when Pearse/Christ might be expected to triumph over death by welcoming it, was a brilliant piece of timing, one that assured the longevity of the term "Easter Rising", and gave Pearse an emblematic status as the main rhetorician of Irish nationalism. I'm referring, of course, to Yeats's distinction between rhetoric and poetry, one stemming from a quarrel with others, the other from the quarrel with oneself.
The truth is that it the blood-sacrifice seems particularly and sadly persistent in Iris
h myth and iconography (and, as promised above, a topic Malcolm will return to). In the context of Cathleen ni Houlihan, though, a more promising and immediate route is through Lady Gregory's youthful reading of Sheridan LeFanu.

Translucent beauty

As we said at the outset of this entry, Malcolm was annoyed with himself because he could not immediately relate to the source of the "Four Green Fields" metaphor. He got stuck on Evie Hone's 1939 stained-glass window (illustrated). Hone made this for the Irish pavilion at the 1939 New York World Fair. It then came back to Ireland, and, years later, was displayed in O'Connell Street, in the CIE head office. Then it went back into storage, before finally being accorded a place in the Government Offices at Upper Merrion Street.

There's obviously a story behind Hone's design: there is an earlier 1938 design showing Saints and Scholars with St. Colmcille, more typical of Hone's religiously-inspired work. Who made the change to the more political motifs for the finished work?

Before Malcolm leaves Cathleen ni Houlihan and her small-holding problems, there are two other thoughts he appends.

Beauty and the beast

The first is a curious political inversion. Her image was conscripted by the British Government for recruiting posters, during the First World War, as these examples show:

The most beautiful girl in the Mid-West

Then came the stunning magnificence of the Irish maiden who featured on the Irish banknotes between 1928 and 1975. They went out of circulation in 1982, but the £100 design was used until 1996. She was derived from a portrait by Sir John Lavery.

The Notes Committee of the Central Bank of Ireland approached Lavery, an Ulsterman who had sided with the Nationalists, and whose house had been Michael Collins's (of whom more in a moment) London base in the Treaty negotiations.

Here's an account of the intention:
In preparing the portrait for the note, it was Lavery’s intention to produce a painting of Cathleen ni Houlihan, the legendary heroine who had been made popular by William Butler Yeats. Interestingly, Lavery was known to have in his possession at his death a portrait by Sean Keating, a young Irish artist, which was titled ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’. It is possible that ownership of this painting predated his commission by the Note Committee and this work may have influenced his portrait.

Lavery worked on his portrait over Christmas 1927 and evidently sent a photograph of the painting to the Note Committee ...

The final portrait shows ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ leaning on a Cláirseach (Irish harp), supporting her chin in her hand. She is dressed in simple Irish clothing, with the lakes and mountains of Ireland in the background.
The result was one of the most attractive (in all senses) currencies around: the high value notes (the "Persian carpets") were exquisite.

In this case Cathleen ni Houlihan spoke with a distinct Mid-West twang, all the way from Chicago. When she married Lavery it was a second marriage for both of them. What causes much speculation is her relationship with Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins: was it more than flirtation? Collins certainly had a letter to "Hazel, dearest" in his pocket when he was shot. She went into mourning for his death. The current mode is that the relationship went unconsummated: this is, apparently, based on the assumption that, if had been been, the IRA would have shot her as a possible double-agent.

That ignores the obvious rider that Collins ran the gun-men and IRA intelligence.

And if you must have Four Green Fields on your iPod, do as Malcolm does, and make sure it is Dick Gaughan giving it an authentic angry edge.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 26, 2007

Knocking spots off Redmond

It's Leopard day, and Malcolm is starry-eyed and on his way to the MacExpo, armed with credit card.

At least it stops him bemoaning that he didn't, in the late 90s, buy Apple shares at $13 (at a time when Apple had the equivalent of $13 a share tucked under the mattress). They closed last night at $182.78: down $3.15 on the day. Ah, he muses, the wisdom of the Market.

Phew! say the rest of us. Another quiet day on the Malcolm front, just as he was waxing loud and lyrical about Percy French and the West Clare Railway. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Comment, at least, is free:
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Culture test?

Malcolm subscribes to the BBC Newsnight email. This means that, each evening, he gets a heads-up on the main items for the 10.30pm broadcast.

It usually comes with a funny. Here's today's
A burglar breaks into a house and as he moves from room to room he is terrified when he hears a voice which says:

"Jesus is watching you."

Heart pounding he looks around and sees nothing.

He gets back to work, disconnecting the DVD player when the voice calls out again:

"Jesus is watching you."

He switches on his flashlight and in the corner of the room he sees a parrot.

"Did you say that?"

"Yes," replies the parrot. "I'm just trying to warn you."

The burglar relaxes.

"Yeah, thanks. You got a name, parrot?"

"I'm Moses," the parrot replies.

The burglar laughs.

"What kind of idiots would name their parrot Moses?" he scoffs.

The parrot squawks "The same kind who would name their rottweiler Jesus."
Now, Malcolm found that funny. It made him laugh aloud.

A few moments later he realised this was as much of a shibboleth as Norman Tebbit's "cricket test" (frequently failed north of Hadrian's Wall).

So Malcolm nows wonders whether anyone, any intolerant religious bigot, chooses to voice an objection to the Beeb's sense of humour. He guesses not. On the contrary, he suspects the same joke may have emerged (or soon will do) from many pulpits. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 22, 2007

A nod is as good as a wink

During the Rugby World Cup Malcolm caught it for the second time, and found himself saying to his (ironically) self-proclaimed Rugby Groupie daughter, "Watch this. It's a terrific ad."

It was the brilliant pastiche of the British Airways' 1989 "Face" ad, now downsized and humanised for Silverjet.

Patrick Collister, today on First Post, does a critique of just that ad, saying, quite rightly, that it's A Slap in the Face for British Airways. Malcolm quavers in admitting he should also have acknowledged the BBC website's Magazine with Giles Wilson doing an even better job on the ad, back on 5th October.

Collister gives the low-down on the ad: to Malcolm's surprise it is the work of the same ad-man (Graham Fink) and the same director (Hugh Hudson) as the original. Different cast, different budget though.

Thomas J. Barrett married Mary, the eldest daughter of Francis Pears (at which point Malcolm wonders how many have guessed where the anecdote is going). Barrett was arguably the earliest great advertising genius. He was so radical that Francis Pears took all his money out of the firm, and left it in Barrett's hands.

Barrett imported 25,000 French francs worth of 10 centime coins, had them stamped with the name "Pears", and put them into circulation as substitutes for the English penny. He solicited Lily Langtry and the Presidents of the various learned Societies to endorse Pears soap -- for no fee. He tried to get his advertisement printed on the back of the UK census form, but the Government turned down his offer of £100,000.

His greatest coup was to pay £2,200 to the owner of the Illustrated London News for the painting "A Child's World". That painting was by Millais, and was a portrait of his own grandson (who went into the Navy, worked in intelligence in the famous Room 40, decoded the telegrams that led to the Battle of Jutland, and became an Admiral, Sir William James -- but that's another story).

Barrett then persuaded Millais to allow the painting to be "adapted" by the addition of a bar of Pears' soap, and "Bubbles" was created. It is still number 14 of the 1168 "Icons of Britain".

The "Bubbles" campaign cost Barrett £30,000, and put millions of reproductions onto walls of ordinary British homes.

Vladimir Trechikoff, Martin Elliot (of Tennis Girl fame) and Jack Vettriano all (less deservedly) profited from where Barrett led. He went on to devise the annual "Miss Pears" competition and the Pears' Annual (which used remarkably high-quality reproduction techniques).

Malcolm's point here is that Barrett saw advertising as the poor man's art-gallery (and served the poor man very well thereby). Today, the best television advertising fulfils something of the same rôle. The very best ads (like BA's early stuff done by Saatchi, Guinness, Honda and the like) achieve artistic levels which deserve to be recognised.

We should not be too haughty to celebrate them. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fiddling on the woof ...

Here's Matthew d'Ancona on the EU treaty in today's Telegraph:
Mr Brown's hope is that the duration and tedium of parliamentary ratification will force the media and electorate to lose interest (more mysteriously, he believes the debate will open up crippling divisions in Tory ranks, which it will not).

He will ask whether Britain really wants to jeopardise its position in the EU by tinkering with something, by implication, so technical and dull.

In politics, the attention deficit of voters and foes alike can often be exploited by a determined PM. "The dogs bark," as William Waldegrave likes to say, "but the caravan moves on."

Well, Malcolm has already suggested a sure-fire way to drive the wedge into the Tory fragile consensus of a referendum: up the ante.

Since the treaty now includes a trap-door clause for leaving the EU, that's what any referendum should be about. So sincere ultra-EUsceptics (and the Tories play this oneupmanship game of being more sceptic than thou) should be moving towards getting the treaty debate out of the way (by approving it as soon as possible), then regrouping for the main event.

But, of course, that won't happen, because the referendum-on-the-treaty is the fig-leaf that preserves the Tories' lack of ...

To issues of greater importance, however.

Malcolm is intrigued that the dogs and the caravan are now allocated to William Waldegrave. He cannot be allowed the credit for their currency.

The expression seems to have become more common after Truman Capote used it for his 1977 book The Dogs Bark. He based that title on an episode:
It must have been the spring of 1950 or 1951, since I have lost my notebooks detailing those two years. It was a warm day late in February, which is high spring in Sicily, and I was talking to a very old man with a mongolian face who was wearing a black velvet Borsalino and, disregarding the balmy, almond-blossom-scented weather, a thick black cape.
The old man was Andre Gide, and we were seated together on a sea wall overlooking shifting fire-blue depths of ancient water.

The postman passed by.
A friend of mine, he handed me several letters, one of them containing a literary article rather unfriendly toward me (had it been friendly, of course no one would have sent it).

After listening to me grouse a bit about the piece, and the unwholesome nature of the critical mind in general, the great French master hunched, lowered his shoulders like a wise old . . . shall we say buzzard?, and said, "Ah, well. Keep in mind an Arab proverb: 'The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.'"

It has been around in English some time before 1977, long enough for Dodie Smith to invert it in One Hundred and One Dalmatians:
The shut-in Romany dogs heard [the Dalmatians] and shook the caravans in their efforts to get out ... "The caravans bark but the dogs move on," remarked Pongo.
That's from 1956, so we need to go still further back.

Scott Moncrieff used it in his translation of Proust, in the first chapter of Within a Budding Grove:
“In the words of a fine Arab proverb, ‘The dogs may bark; the caravan goes on!’” After launching this quotation M[arquis] de Norpois paused and examined our faces, to see what effect it had had upon us. Its effect was great, the proverb being familiar to us already.
Even that is not the end of the chase.


There is an earlier appearance, which Malcolm finds quite fascinating. John Lockwood Kipling, in 1891, published Beast and Man in India, wherein we find:
'The dog barks but the elephant moves on’ is sometimes said to indicate the superiority of the great to popular clamour, but the best form of the phrase is, ‘Though the dog may bark the caravan (kafila) moves on.’
John Lockwood Kipling? India? Any connection?

Yes, indeed, Malcolm reassures us. The dear dad of the said Rudyard (the only person of whom Malcolm has heard tell to be named for a reservoir). And a man of considerable distinction in his own right.

When Kim was first published, the New York Times (24 August, 1901) gave the senior Kipling prominence in its review:
... it is illustrated by the author's father, Mr Lockwood Kipling. It is not generally known that Kipling, the elder, was for several years one of the central figures around whom the artistic education of native India flourished... His work would have sufficed to make the name of Kipling famous even had there not been the brilliant Rudyard to add lustre to it. All the Kiplings are clever, and the head of the family is as many-sided and gifted a man as need be sought. He has a taste for literature himself, and has written a valuable work, Man and Beast in India. His illustrations of his son's newest novel are immensely interesting as accurate presentations of the living characters of Kim.
Now, for the hunters of literary trivia...

... a link from Kim to Pongo to Gide to Gordo can't be bad. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Several stops beyond Barking

Back at the time of the 1975 Referendum campaign, when the grass was greener and so was he, Malcolm spoke from anti-EEC platforms. After one such evening, where the platform panel out-numbered the audience and its dog, Malcolm began to question what the antis were about.

That re-appraisal led to him not voting in the Referendum itself (the only time Malcolm has not used his vote).

Today, while not rabid, he is a sincere believer that the European project deserves more than a degree of support. He is confirmed in this by any open debate on the issue. For example, today's Daily Telegraph has a typically inflammatory piece, Brussels dictatorship will face day of reckoning, by Charles Moore, which concludes:
The European project now resembles the state of the eastern European Communists after 1968, when party members gave up believing in their doctrine and just settled for comfortable jobs. They shored up their power and ignored their unpopularity. After 20 years, it all collapsed, because people started to take down the Berlin Wall, and no one quite dared stop them. The EU is not such a sharp oppression as was Soviet Communism, but it is similar in this respect - it tries wherever possible to avoid the democratic judgment of the people it rules. When that judgment does come, therefore, it will be merciless.
Pick the factual bones out of that dog's dinner.

Then consider the tone of the reader responses:
  • The fact that we now have a leader who is acting like a dictator by giving away something our forefathers fought and died to protect. I honestly believe that this will lead to insurrection, it may not happen now, but 10 or 20yrs from now. The English are always slow to react, but we always do react in the end.
  • I don't suppose anyone in the Military is of a mind for some serious action? like rounding the whole lot of this lying government up and finding somewhere to keep them for a few years (the Tower).
  • AT LAST - the truth behind the political smoke screen. Charles Moore has graphically expressed the cynical way the politicians and beaurocrats who benefit from the European Treaty continue to ignore public opinion. Democracy really is under threat. If, as seems likely Mr. Brown does deny the British people the referendum that was promised we must be prepared to embark upon a national display of civil disobedience. The people's will must prevail. Remember Britons, never, never, never shall be slaves.
  • Sudden death - or the death of a thousand cuts - Gordon has chosen.
  • We, once a independent Great Britain, would be dragged into it a new "soviet super state" with out so much as a whimper or a bang by Noolabour fuelled with lies, spin and more lies. We are it appears being lead to our certain demise, also it seems by political "inbreeds" with a low intellect toeing the party line with an appetite for absolute power. It looks as if Trotsky and Lenin live on in Brussels, and London.
  • I suppose We could have a military coup, but the army is away on other business, in a corner of a foreign field. There is going to be a reckoning, and Brown's name will go in the same category as all those puppet communist leaders of satellites eastern European states.
  • A region of Britain in the future disagrees with a ruling from Brussels. Civil disobedience and refusal to obey the ruling follow. Troops are sent to restore order. They will not be British troops. Never happen? Has any federation of sovereign states survived without bloodshed? Because daily life appears to go on as normal, we sleepwalk further into submission. But there will be a tipping point one day, most likely over something unexpected. How long until the "freedom fighters" commit the first outrage? Hopefully the ultimate collapse and disintegration of the EU will not be accompanied by the wars between member states as happened when Soviet Communism ended.Referendum now or Revolution later - and that is a promise.
  • we are sleepwalking to a civil war
Malcolm, for once, ventured into this mad-house, along these lines:
Most of these contributions (and even parts of the original article) seem to come down to:
• either a genuine criticism of and chronic complaint against the EU,
• a prescience of the Apocalypse.

The first should be complained seriously, the second is a serious complaint.

On what basis, apart from paranoia, can one presume the EU must fracture into an armed conflict? Or that there must be blood in the gutters when the poraille rise against their masters? Yet many of the plaints above show total surety of either or both.

Now to the real issue: how is the democratic deficit in the EU to be compensated?

It is valid to ask how an institution with 25 operating languages can become trans-national. That's a problem of comprehension at and of the organisational centre. Since so many of those petty nationalists represented above work for, shop with, deal with trans-national mega-corporations, they already know the answer there.

The other solution is devolution. Funnily enough, the EU is in favour of that principle, the UK Government welcomes it, but the little Englanders resist it equally on principle. Yes, very funny, were it not serious.
For some reason, perhaps on grounds of spelling, punctuation or good taste, Malcolm's comment was not immediately worthy of inclusion (though, after an interim of several hours -- presumably the electrons of cyberspace were going slow in sympathy with the CWU, it eventually did).

So, to the voice of reason, the first leader of today's Irish Times,
The new treaty is a substantial document which ushers in significant new offices, powers and procedures in the EU’s political system. A president of the council of ministers will be elected for two and a half years, renewable once. A High Representative for foreign and security policy will be appointed, and there is a new mutual defence clause. The European Commission’s size will be capped and a strict rotation of membership introduced, so that not all states will have representatives on it at any one time. Majority voting will be extended to 40 more areas, including justice and home affairs from which Ireland and Britain are opting out for the time being. The European Parliament will gain influence through the consequential extension of co-decision with the commission. So will the European Court of Justice. National parliaments will get more time to scutinise EU legislation. The EU gains new competences to deal with energy policy and climate change. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will have legal effect. And there is for the first time a right of exit from membership.
Now, to Malcolm, that is an exemplary and cool summary. If that is the treaty (and he has not yet gone to any original text), Malcolm finds it difficult to quibble too much.

Surely, he says, there should be a direct challenge to the antis:
  • Endorse the treaty as quickly as possible.
  • Go for a Referendum to exercise that right of exit from membership.

That is not going to happen, because the Conservative Party could never agree on withdrawal. The braying about a referendum on the treaty is a ploy to conceal that. Their friends in Big Business would not allow such a thing, and the ordinary bloke and doll would be allowed to bite into the real meat ...

For the record, last time (June 1975) it was 67% to 33% in favour on a 65% turnout. And, no, the Great British Public were not deceived; at enormous expense, they simply, sanely, coolly got it right. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back square

The daily "trailer" for the BBC2 Newsnight drops into Malcolm's in-box each evening. There is usually a "funny", so
Today's Quote for the Day: "In the event of fire, open a window and announce your presence in a seemly manner" - notice in a Copenhagen hotel.
Ho! Ho! or something similar.

However it reminds Malcolm that, in the early 6os, Trinity College, Dublin, decided to review the fire precautions.

Probably for the first time since 1592.

This resulted in a notice being posted in the famous 40 Trinity College*:
In case of fire, shout "Fire!"
Well, one would, wouldn't one?

*40 Trinity College? In Back Square? Used to be the Department of Classics? And the Department of Statistics?

Still not got it? Ah, then you haven't met Sebastian Dangerfield! Sphere: Related Content

Malcolm unreservedly admires ...

... many of the blogs he reads. Though not necessarily all of their content.

He is an admirer, for example, of Zach's Misanthropy Abroad. Zach is a busy lad, and he's recently married, so postings are infrequent. When they do come along, they are pointed and frequently poignant. Under no circumstances should one mess with Zach on US labor history or Texas singer-songwriters. He also seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the wilder frontiers of Irish nationalism. Malcolm awards Zach precedence here because he is one of the few to have been positively critical and critically positive. Here's to you, Our American Cousin!

That leads Malcolm (depicted above, in full blog-mode) to the megaliths of Irish national cyberculture.

Slugger O'Toole has to be the main portal for all things to do with Norn Iron, with sporting and other excursions further afield. The heat-death of the rest of the blogosphere is supposedly when the thread degenerates into accusations of Nazism or a point-by-point rebuttal of the death of Diana at the hands of aliens. Slugger threads not infrequently degenerate to the "durdy Prod"/"feckin Fenian" level. It's fun getting to that point, though. All credit to Mick Fealty and his team keeping the show on the road.

From Slugger, it's a simple click of the link to the other sources on Ireland:
  • El Blogador for the social democrat point-of-view, a sane voice of quiet authority across the minefield;
  • Chris Gaskin's Balrog for the Shinner take on life, but well on the safe side of the Mental Health Act; and
  • the eclectic Johnny Guitar befriending all and sundry from the North.
Nor can Malcolm pass over
  • the Unrepentant Kerry Communist, not just because he purveys sense, but anyone with instant links to Christy Moore and Edith Piaf must deserve a seat among the elect.
Somehow that left out the cerebral world-view of
Back in the UKSR (if only ...), Malcolm avoids critiquing lefty sites (so many do it so consistently better than he). He tends to work through the daily Bloggers4Labour list of postings, where it is usual to find worthwhile efforts from the likes of:

Malcolm believes it is necessary to keep an eye on the voices of unreason, in particular:
  • Iain Dale for his diary, and the confirmations that the inner workings of the Tory Party are as unpleasant as can be expected. Dale is a remarkably house-trained modern Tory, with a touch of wry humour,
especially compared to
  • the wild and wasteful Conservativehome, where Malcolm (under various thin disguises) trolls and takes his sport therein. It reminds Malcolm how easy it is to detest a Tory, and that frothing bloody-mindedness prevails among the oiks of the Ultra-Vile-Bent end of the political spectrum as much as among the Trots.
Malco-psychologists will have already detected the man's LibDemphobia. Malcolm attributes that to the sheer pretentiousness of too many individual LibDems, their unremitting self-promotion. This developed rapidly from exposure to the puffery of the Lynne Featherstone tabloids stuffed through his door in the last Parliament. On one occasion he calculated that the name "Lynne Featherstone" appeared substantially more often in the four pages of one issue of this vanity sheet than the name "Jesus Christ" appeared in the whole of the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles combined.

However, there are a couple of LibDem sites worth the effort:
  • Jonathan Calder's Liberal England has the strap-headline: An amusingly eclectic mix of culture and politics. Malcolm is occasionally amused and approves the light touch on literature and landscape: so it's not just because Calder has cited Malcolm -- twice.
  • Nicholas Starling's Norfolk Blogger gets Malcolm's nod of approval because of two place-names: Norfolk and Fakenham. They almost take Malcolm to his birth-place.
All of these sites have one thing in common: they look far better than Malcolm Redfellow revivus.

Now, from time to time, Malcolm makes the effort; but he is always thwarted by his cack-handedness with the code. He also suspects that there is a degree of prejudice against Macusers .... but that's another disgruntlement. Sphere: Related Content

Any man's death diminishes me ...

Alan Coren 1938-2007

Alan Coren's death saddens, but mainly because of his age and the cause.

His mourning should celebrate the fun he gave to so many for so long, for creating a Cricklewood of the mind, and for his sheer delight in language.

He will be remembered for many reasons, but Malcolm treasures one particular incident, recycled here from Simon Hoggart's Guardian column:
I was chair of the News Quiz at the time Princess Diana died. The studio audience was always slightly younger than the average Radio 4 listener, but was still a handy cross-section of Middle Britain. We noticed that jokes about Fergie always got a laugh, but anything that seemed disrespectful of Di was met by a sharp intake of breath. That changed between 1996 and 1997 - we forget now that the public was beginning to lose patience with her playgirl life. (A letter in the Guardian that summer said: "I read that Princess Diana is to have a holiday. How can they tell?")

This was the time she brushed up her image with the landmines campaign. But when Alan Coren said on the show, "I don't know anything about landmines or Princess Di, but I do know you'd be mad to poke either of them", there was a moment's stunned silence, followed by a huge howl of delighted laughter.

That was recorded on the Thursday night. The show went out on Saturday lunchtime, and the joke - slightly to my surprise - stayed in. That night there was the fatal crash. The producer came specially in to Broadcasting House to lock the master tape in a safe so that it could never, ever be broadcast again.
Malcolm has related that incident frequently, though his recollection (presumably incorrect, but transferred from another edition of the programme) was that Coren's comment had been "if she had one more brain cell, she'd be a plant." Which also got the laugh and added a metaphor to the language. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Malcolm has reservations...

... about aspects of this blogging lark.

For one example, take Fraser Nelson in the Spectator's warm and cosy Coffee House. After PMQs on Wednesday, Nelson was doing the requisite lambast on Gordon Brown, which included:
Brown again repeated the lie that Cameron was the "economic adviser" to Norman Lamont, rather than a special adviser. Remind me, what was he doing when he was 25?
Predictably Malcolm managed a minor tut, tut over the ungrammatical "he" in the final sentence. "A decent Dollar Academy education should do better than that..."

Before he could expand on the beauties of a sound grounding in the Classics, distraction therapy moved him onto issues of relevance. So this was part of Malcolm's response:
What's with the jesuitical quibble over Cameron's rôle vis-a-vis Lamont?
Is it that:
  • an adviser to the Chancellor, even one with an Oxford First in PPE, does not have any input into economic discussion, any presence in the Treasury?
  • he doesn't like to be reminded of the events with which Lamont was concerned?
  • or reminded that, after 1993, poor Lamont was stuffed into a political oubliette and his subsequent treatment by the Conservative Party has been less than noble?
Malcolm was rather pleased with that "political oubliette" expression (though he had to check the spelling), if only because it helped him avoid the cliché derived from Georgy Malenkov and the Ust-Kamengorsk power station.

But, what's this in Simon Hoggart's political sketch in today's Guardian?
Soon afterwards Vincent Cable stood up in place of Ming Campbell, who is running a power station in northern Scotland - or some other oubliette. "Where's your knife?" carolled happy Labour MPs.

Behind that lies a moment Malcolm would like to record.

Norman Lamont was MP for Kingston-on-Thames until that seat was redistributed for the 1997 Election. Because he was the designated can-carrier for the EMU debâcle, Lamont had some difficulty in being adopted as a retread in another constituency. He hit lucky (as he thought) in the spa town of Harrogate.

That notion fell apart when Harrogate went for Phil Willis of the LibDems.

In that annus mirabilis, there was an incredible swing (down from 13% to under 9%, and the Party's fifth worst performance anywhere) against Labour in Harrogate: all those Labour tactical votes piled up for Willis.

Good night, Harrogate, for Lamont.

But that's not the story.

At that time Malcolm was in Harrogate on a regular basis. He anticipated that the Tories were ankle-deep in the mire when he noted that they had been reduced to fly-posting, in purple ink, with no obvious party affiliation to Lamont's name.

But that's not the story, either.

Chores done, Malcolm would retire to a place of liquid refreshment. The place in question is situated a bare 150 yards from the Conservative Club. There, in a corner, was Lamont, alone, unaccompanied, unnoticed. Twice a candidate himself, Malcolm felt that violated several cardinal rules of campaigning, for any party.

Sad, really. Almost made Malcolm feel sorry for Lamont. It certainly told him what to expect when the count came in.

So, asks Malcolm, how come Hoggart gets paid for stuff others do for free? Sphere: Related Content
Change is coming

When the world was far younger, Malcolm started to point out the bleeding obvious.

He observed, like many others, that the Northern Ireland economy, as presently constituted, underwritten and subsidized, was completely unsustainable in the New Dispensation.
There is nothing original in that point of view.

Only two things have kept the thing going:
  • the sheer gritty determination of Westminster (under both Tory and Labour Administrations) not to give up on a basket case; and
  • the ineffable insouciance of the English (yes, English) tax-payer about all things Irish.
The Economist (Gawd bless it!) came on board last May:
Over the 40 years of the troubles, the place has become a subsidy junkie that receives from Westminster £5 billion ($10 billion) more than is raised locally by taxation. More than a third of the 770,000 people in jobs are directly employed by the public sector (which accounts for nearly two-thirds of economic output), while half a million are officially classified as inactive. Part of the problem is the scarcity of private-sector investment, which is crowded out both by the omnipresent state and the large black economy that “peaceful” paramilitaries on both sides of the religious divide hold sway over.
Even the ranks of Tuscany...

Now even the
Belfast Telegraph is recognising the inevitable. Barry White was doing a useful piece, All you need is, er, lots of State cash, in Tuesday's edition. He was reading the runes in the pre-Budget statement:

The Times had an interesting table last Thursday... Headed 'state spending as a proportion of national or regional income, 2007 estimates', it had Northern Ireland far and away the winner - or loser - with 70.5%.

That means that £7 out of every £10 in the tills of every shop or supermarket originated from the taxes or borrowings of the UK government, meaning the British people. Wales was next, with 64.3%, the North-East with 64.3% and Scotland was fourth with 55.6%.

In the UK as a whole, the percentage was 44.1%, the same as Germany, which represents a rise of one-fifth under new Labour, and that's lower than France, 53.2%, Sweden, 52.4%, Denmark 50.1% and Italy 50%. But it's way ahead of Spain 38.5%, Japan 38.4%, USA 34.9% and Ireland 34.1%.

Malcolm has mentioned before his historian daughter's definition that a happening becomes an "historical fact" only when a quantum of recognised historians have cited it (and the corollary is that n=4). Similarly, the trigger for, at last, recognising the mendicant status of Northern Ireland is the magic number of £10 billion a year.

It may be that the most significant moment in Chancellor Darling's statement last week was:

Mr Speaker, I can also set out the total settlements of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland giving them their full entitlement:

Scotland rising to £30 billion in 2010;

Wales rising to £16 billion; and

Northern Ireland rising to £10 billion.

This is in addition to spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that is not devolved – like defence, tax credits and pensions – that benefit all parts of the United Kingdom.

Here begins the real debate on devolution.

This time, it may be the English 83.8% evaluating the worth of the 8.4% Scots, 4.9% Welsh and 2.9% Northern Irish in this mystic Union. Just as (and Malcolm thanks Bob Mitchell for this one) it was the dollar-a-day Irish immigrant who rendered the "peculiar institution" of slavery uneconomic, so it could be the reluctance of the English taxpayer to continue financing the Union which brings about the end of the Saxon Empire. In the circumstances, Malcolm would not recommend this as the moment for too loudly asserting "Scotland's oil": be careful lest you are granted your wish.

Liberal economics reach the Belfast Telegraph

White's article continues with a just comment on relative "success" in the local economies. He borrows the free-market economist view (which he ascribes specifically to the Times, but no matter):
the less reliance there is on government intervention, the better regions and nations perform.
Wherever the best salaries and security are to be found in publicly-funded employment, and the state picks up the tab, the rest of the economy will struggle to compete.
Then he brings the issue home in a powerful way:
we have to devote far more of our effort not only to devising incentives to businesses big and small, but to cut the public sector down to a size more appropriate to a small region. The trouble with devolution is that although it means politicians taking on more responsibility, it also encourages them to spend, spend, spend on unnecessary administration and projects that make them feel more important.
He makes two further points:
  • an Assembly of 108 members, of whom nearly half qualify for extra payments, 11 departments (which become a round dozen when justice and policing is added) and 26 councils represent far too much government even for a divided Northern Ireland. We can't afford to duplicate everything, like Belfast's leisure centres, so that politicians get elected.
  • It's up to the Executive - which has issued just two statements, on flooding and foot and mouth, in six months - to reach difficult conclusions, soon.
There's the end of any Stormont honeymoon, then.

It's a hard life, being a well-paid politician

It's the delegated duty of the political leader to go from heroic champion to national scapegoat in one easy stride. We elect them because we need both the leader and the whipping-boy, and it saves time to combine the two rôles. Similarly, it is the chosen duty of the tabloid press to mark the moment of transition from one state to the other.

That, of course, disguises the true matter.
It isn't just the administrative structures which are over-engineered to our needs. Freeing-up the economy is a "big bang", not a political squib.

White is wrong to make the simplistic parallel:
the comparison between Northern Ireland and the Republic is staggering - 70% compared to 34%, as bad as the differential in corporation tax paid by successful companies, 30% here and 12.5% in the South. No wonder all the economists, and politicians, are adamant that the only way to achieve the 'step-change' in our prospects was to find a way of closing this gap.
That ignores the other parts of the tax equation: VAT at 21% for example, and missing ingredients like the cost of health insurance.

Again, be careful what you wish: you may get it.

Malcolm would want to take the debate a stage further.

The second law of thermo-dynamics

The danger for Northern Irish politics and political economy is a drift into entropy. Indeed, that is the consummation devoutly wished by most: a dissipation of energy from the centre into ineffectual generality.

We have had too much excitement in the last generation:
  • We now want a normal "quiet" life.
  • We have an octogenarian First Minister who, naturally, wants a measured, orderly and respected end to his glittering career.
  • We have a Secretary of State who is competent but unscintillating.
  • The poraille of Assembly members is still amazed at ascending to such respectability and glory.
There is a general lack of initiative, a sense of walking on egg-shells. Play it straight; play it quietly; play it long. Things can only get better. Enjoy the moment. Every day, in every way, I'm feeling better and better.



Into the mix we have to toss Peter Robinson's well-trailed speech to "former colleagues on Castlereagh Council". That in itself rings a bell. When Malcolm, in his days as a Parliamentary Candidate, needed an instant press release, he would declaim his prejudices to his long-suffering lady-love across the dinner table. In the interests of truth and weekly journalism, this automatically qualified as "Speaking to a meeting in X Ward ..."

Robinson seems to be hitting the right buttons:
an economy that creates wealth not merely one that consumes public spending... The system of Government in Northern Ireland also needs reform... it may be necessary to build confidence in the process before more radical changes can be delivered [but] I hope that change will not be too long delayed.

And, cryptic, but most noticed and most significant:

A four party mandatory coalition with no effective opposition is not in the best interests of decision making in Northern Ireland.

Malcolm is aware that Robinson sees himself as the coming man, perhaps even a man who has waited too long already. At this moment Malcolm is averse to commenting here on the subsequent CTI kerfuffle, which is not relevant to the wider issue (and is constantly developing). However, all in all, we are left with queries about Robinson's speech: why? why now?

An unkind answer is provided by Margaret Ritchie (note caveat above):

Miss Ritchie ... said that Mr Robinson seemed to think he personally ran the Assembly.

That should achieve Robinson's presumed ambition; to be number one in a two-party parliament: just like that other nice bigot, James Craig.

Time for tea

For the moment, the questions and answers to any debate on Northern Irish development rest in the six counties. That will not last long.

In short order, we can expect further (and, for Northern Irish politicians, unwelcome) interventions from outsiders, those 83.8% of the people who foot that £10 billion bill.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Malcolm gets all pedagogic, and goes

Into the breach once more

When English spine meets brickwork, out come two clichés. Both were given their outing in Saturday's Times: "England expects" (front page) and Ben Macintyre reduced to finding himself in Agincourt, looking for the "Band of brothers" (page 6).

It took Malcolm quite a while to recover from the way Henry V was taught him, which went very little further than Olivier's propagandist and bombastic heavy edit. In due course, he had to teach it himself, and always to fifteen-year olds mugging for a GCSE. Eventually he applied himself to the text, seeking something more than the mud-and-blood stuff.

The first problem is that it seems a play without much in the way of dramatic tension. From the beginning we know what to expect:
... can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? ...
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high-upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder: ...
... jumping o'er times,
Turning th'accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass.
In passing, Malcolm notes the Prologue to Act V tells us the play was performed soon after Essex left for Ireland (24th May 1599) but before the disaster of that campaign was known. This suggests the "wooden O" was the Curtain Theatre, not the Globe (which the Chamberlain's Men occupied about July of that year). The audience at those early performances would be acutely aware of the historical background and the legendary victory.

Was that enough to carry the play?

Of course, everything seems to depend on the depiction of Henry himself. A year earlier the same audience had seen Prince Hal become King Henry, and in doing so renounce Falstaff and his own youthful follies:
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Henry V begins with the reminder that Henry is a changed man:
The breath no sooner left his father's body,
But that his wildness, mortified in him,
Seem'd to die too.
Then there is that long scene which introduces Henry (and is a swine to teach).

It involves the long account by the Archbishop of Henry’s right to the throne of France, a debate over what precautions to take about a possible attack from Scotland, and then the clear decision by Henry:
Now are we well resolved; and, by God's help,
And yours, the noble sinews of our power,
France being ours, we'll bend it to our awe,
Or break it all to pieces: or there we'll sit,
Ruling in large and ample empery
O'er France and all her almost kingly dukedoms,
Or lay these bones in an unworthy urn.
This is before the entry of the French Ambassadors, and the tennis-balls insult. Henry makes the decision personally, and without anger.

Neither Olivier nor Branagh seem quite to follow the text here: Branagh in particular uses the tennis-balls episode as a way of marking Henry's arrival at maturity and royal stature. Branagh’s Henry is a small and immature figure, who does not yet fit the great shadow he casts, dominated by older, bigger figures of Canterbury, Ely and Exeter - until he stands and delivers his first big speech:
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
And we understand him well,
How he comes o'er us with our wilder days,

Not measuring what use we made of them.

We notice, in passing, Henry’s first apology for his wild youth - we shall see this again in the play, at a particularly significant moment.
... tell the Dauphin, I will keep my state,
Be like a king, and show my sail of greatness,

When I do rouse me in my throne of France.
That puts the Dauphin effectively in his place. We might have expected the Dauphin to be developed as a worthy opponent for Henry, but that is not so. Shakespeare would then need to alter history even more than he does; and clearly it is not his intention to use such a Punch-and-Judy approach.

The scene ends with Henry's first great monologue, which establishes two significant ideas.
  • First:
For that I have laid by my majesty,
And plodded like a man for working-days ...
That sounds very much like a foreshadowing of his later words, dismissing Mountjoy’s final demand for ransom:
We are but warriors for the working-day;
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch'd
With rainy marching in the painful field.
  • Second:
But I will rise there with so full a glory,
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us.
What catches Malcolm's attention here was the curious confusion of pronouns: the singular “I” (presumably Henry as a man) and the plural “we” (Henry as royal personage, the personification of his country).

Malcolm therefore posits:

The dramatic contrast in the play is not between Henry and his opponents, or even between the English national character and the French: it is the conflict between different aspects of Henry’s own personality, between the man and the King.

Malcolm swiftly moves on to the scene at Southampton, when the Scrope plot is exposed.

Olivier omits this scene entirely: its moral ambiguities and questioning of loyalty did not fit the mood of 1944. Branagh, though. developed it into something quite extraordinary. He picks up Exeter’s passing description of Scrope:
the man that was his bedfellow,
Whom he hath dull'd and cloy'd with gracious favours,
That he should, for a foreign purse, so sell
His sovereign's life to death and treachery!
In Malcolm's schooldays, and long after, the bedfellow was explained to mean nothing more than “childhood friend”, “close companion”.

Branagh reads into it a homosexual relationship. Branagh’s Henry becomes personal, spiteful, and embarrassingly exposed. This is not the characterisation of a remote royal personage: it is a man teetering on the edge of self-control. We are being shown a very violent streak in Henry here. To Malcolm's mind, the scene gains in significance by being sandwiched between the two scenes set in the Boar’s Head Tavern, with Falstaff dying upstairs, off-stage, -- dying, in part, of a broken heart because of being deserted by his Prince Hal.

The warrior-king, and the cruelty of war

In Act III, Henry spells this out his ultimatum to the people of Harfleur:
look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls;
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds.
These are not empty threats: Henry intends to carry them out if he is not obeyed instantly. There is good historical evidence for this aspect of Henry’s character: when he besieged Rouen in 1418, he starved thousands of “bouches inutiles” (the women, children and non-combatants evicted from the city) trapped between the lines.

It is not only his enemies who face Henry’s anger. His former friends receive no special favours:
Fluellen: ... one that is like to be executed for
robbing a church, -- one Bardolph, if your majesty know the
King Henry:
We would have all such offenders so cut off: ... for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.
Henry’s justification for supporting the sentence seems to be based upon good reasons, but once again there seems to be something like irony in his use of the word "gentler".

The night before Agincourt

In Act IV we come to the one moment in the play when Henry reveals his true inner self. In the dark and in disguise he meets and argues with the common soldiers, facing death in the next day’s battle.

Williams, not realising he is talking to the King, makes the accusation:
I am afeard there are few die well that die in battle, for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument?
Despite Henry’s lawyer-like reply, the accusation clearly hurts, and later on he extracts a revenge by nearly provoking a duel between Williams and Fluellen.

In his crucial soliloquy, Henry broods upon the accusation, and consoles himself for the hard life of a king, condemned to sleepless nights on behalf of his subjects, and paid only by
ceremony, ... idol ceremony.
Here Henry accepts the truth of Williams’ argument. Why else does Henry refer to and apologise for his father’s and, (since he has benefited too) his own crimes of ambition?
Not to-day, O Lord,
O not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interred new...
More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.
There are two further examples in this Act which shows Henry’s cruelty. When the French rally in the middle of the battle, Henry’s reaction is sudden and terrible:
The French have reinforced their scatter'd men: --
Then every soldier kill his prisoners;
Give the word through.
When the French treacherously attack the unprotected English camp and kill the poys and the luggage ... expressly against the laws of war., we see a truly grim Henry:
I was not angry since I came to France Until this instant. ... Besides, we'll cut the throats of those we have; And not a man of them that we shall take Shall taste our mercy: -- go, and tell them so.
If we take at face value what Henry says here, then it is a horrifying speech. He is saying that everything that has happened in the campaign had occurred because it was done as a calculated exercise: Harfleur, the march across Picardy, the attrition of both sides.

And, yes, there is more of the same. We still have:

The wooing of Katharine.

This, the notes and critics argue, is "comedy".

At the time of the Treaty of Troyes, Henry was around thirty years old: the Princess Katharine just fourteen.

We have Henry’s declaration of love:
I speak to thee plain soldier: if thou canst love me for this, take me; if not, to say to thee that I shall die, is true,- but for thy love, by the Lord, no; yet I love thee too. And while thou livest, dear Kate, take a fellow of plain and uncoin'd constancy ... If thou would have such a one, take me: and take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king ...
There is very little plain or soldierly about what Henry is saying. It is not as if the message is hidden too deeply. Katharine is being given a brutal lesson in the realities of diplomacy and politics:
I love France so well, that I will not part with a village of it; I will have it all mine: and, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine.
The lesson was well-taught: Henry V's widow would re-marry: enter Owen Tudor.

The Epilogue

This, then, is Malcolm's reading of the play; and he is aware that it is very different from the usual romantic patriotic view. He recognises the opinion that this play is Shakespeare’s last word on kingship, Henry is the ideal of the Christian monarch, and the play is recalling a golden era in English history.

After reciting Henry’s achievements at Harfleur and Agincourt, and his diplomatic triumph at the Treaty of Troyes, the play ends with the black-cloaked figure of Chorus. The purpose of Chorus throughout the play had been to praise Henry, and to direct the audience to the next development of the story.

At the end, though, there is a very different note. The epilogue is written in the form of a sonnet. In a sonnet we expect the first eight lines (the octave) to describe the situation, and the final six lines (the sestet) to comment thereon. The comment is quite devastating: all of Henry’s achievements ultimately were futile:
Henry the sixth, in infant bands crown’d king
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France, and made his England bleed.
The two great battle speeches

Malcolm now returns to the speech before Harfleur, and the address before Agincourt.

He suggests that it is important to bear in mind that, for much of the play, Henry and the English are losing. The landing at Harfleur was too late in the campaigning season. The capture of Harfleur as a base, which should have been cut-and-dried, stretched out over six weeks. The march from Harfleur to Calais was, at best "a calculated risk" (Juliet Barker's description), at worst a desperate attempt at bravado. Agincourt itself turned on an astonishing series of French blunders and self-imposed disaster.

The speech before Harfleur

It starts from a note of desperation:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
Then Henry waxes poetical:
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height.
Malcolm notices the sub-text of this: imitate, disguise, lend, all suggesting pretence. It is all play, not the reality of war. The imagery is somewhat over-cooked: tiger, cannon, galled rock. As the scene develops, we appreciate that the attack was unsuccessful, and the siege will grimly continue.

Then Henry addresses his followers, taking care to distinguish the two classes. First, as is polite and proper, the nobility:
On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war.
After a bit of flattery (noblest), the appeal is through ancestry and family pride (fathers of war proof), dynasty (in these parts from morn till even fought, going back to the campaigns of Edward III), legitimacy and shame (attest, dishonour not your mothers), and the established idea of showing-a-good-example to the-lower-orders. It is essential to remember that the only task of a medieval noble, his sole purpose in being, the root of his privilege, was to prove himself in combat and ensure his posterity: everything else could be done for him. He was marked by his ability to mount and fight from a horse, and by his suit of war-proofed armour.

Then Henry turns to the lower orders themselves, the bowmen and infantry.
And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and...
They are yeomen: the class between the nobility and the landless serfs: wishing to climb the social ladder, but fearful of falling lower. They are skilled in their farming, but the farming is pasture, reminding us that the wealth of England, down to Shakespeare's own parents and beyond, was sheep.

They, too, are reminded of their breeding: an ambiguous term, which could refer both to their own parentage and to their skill in animal husbandry.

They are upwardly mobile, like Shakespeare himself and all the other Elizabethan "new men", ambitious to leap class barriers, which amounts to the noble lustre in their eyes.

They have simple country pleasures, such as hare-coursing, so the simile of greyhounds in the slips. Their sport today is reassuringly everyday familiar: the game's afoot. Malcolm speculates if there is a twinkle of a joke there. Wouldn't "game' be protected, and chasing it amount to poaching? Which, of course, any yeoman (including a young Shakespeare) would covertly indulge in at the lord's expense.

Then the rallying cry:
upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'
Malcolm notices the sequence here: the unifying religion, then the familiar 'Harry' as a personal appeal to comradeship. Then the more remote nationalism. Only finally to a religious hero.

The address before Agincourt

This is the crunch moment, up against impossible odds, when Henry had to rally some sparks of spirit. The English army trekked across northern France, an unnecessary journey which should have taken just over a week, but had now extended into three, in foul weather, which was worsening to constant rain. Now, just a short march from the English town of Calais, they were brought to battle by a larger (though not, as Shakespeare and some school histories have it, vastly overwhelming) French force. It is also not true, as Juliet Barker shows, that the French tactics were unco-ordinated.

That's the history: here's the theatre. This speech, too, is worthy of close analysis. It is something more than mere rabble-rousing:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Henry enters, having just overheard Westmoreland wishing for reinforcements. His opening merely recognises the inevitable: there are no additional resources. Instead he offers honour, an abstract, but one of the marks of chivalry.


This of itself needs a passing comment. Chivalry was the morality which controlled the man on the horse, who was the military equivalent of the modern tank (and, curiously, needed about the same size of support team).

Chaucer had described it:
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Those essentials of knighthood would translate into modern English as the code of the noble class: giving one's word and keeping it, no matter what; offering due respect and deserving respect from others; generosity of spirit and well as of pocket; the good manners of the Court. Henry picks up one those, fredom, to continue:
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
Then he reverts to his first theme: honour, that most prickly issue of the Medieval and post-Medieval period.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This has segued through stomach to fellowship. The stomach was the seat of anger, the opposite of self-control, according to the theory of the four humours. Apart from the shame of walking out on one's fellows, Henry manages therefore to lob in a belittling hint of pettiness. It is going to be the fellowship theme that will be developed further.

First, though, a touch of the domestic. At first it seems little more than a momentary reflection on the church holy-day back home:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Half way through that section, the appeal changed. It becomes an invitation to project into an imagined certain future, when faced by the uncertainty of an impending battle. It also invites the hearer to imagine a prosperity in which there is the wherewithall to provide the "feast". Within that is a hidden, cruder appeal: the promise of wealth from plunder or ransom, the substantial motive for going to war.

Then comes the moment of "lightening", a wry invitation to imagine reaching old age, and being able to "improve" on the personal history:
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day, ...
The previous speech, before Harfleur, had clearly distinguished between the orders of society. Now Henry deliberately blurs and overlaps them. This may be a perceptive recognition of the growing cameraderie that would inevitably have developed over months together. It might invite speculation that Shakespeare talks from experience, if he spent some of his "lost years" in a spell with the army in Flanders. It invites the common soldiery, drawn from the yeoman class, to identify with the highest nobility as their "best mates":
Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
The slow, settling, sonorous long vowels of the personal names, the commonplace of "Harry"; then "flowing cups", again the domestic and cheering tone, as he moves towards a peroration:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, ...
It's the inheritance and posterity line again, the dream of establishing, or continuing a dynasty, that Henry used in the earlier speech. Then the rhythm increases: the vowels shorten, the language veers to simple monsyllables:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
Three soaring promises there: one of an eternal memory, a kind of heaven on earth, kinship with the king himself, and superiority over all those at home:
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
Again the carrot of social advancement:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
But not just that: "they're at home in bed: we're here doing the job of real men"; "you're not just country yokels, you're better than the landed gentry"; and the where, when, what and who of the final line. Notice, though, there is something deliberately missed out: at no point does Henry give a reason why the battle is necessary: the one question of all those the common soldiers had proposed to him the night before:
if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it ...
Wrap up

It's the most commonplace that is frequently overlooked: the live Mills bomb we have used as a doorstop because Granny did the same. We employ the cliché to avoid thought, but the implication may indicate strange truths (witness the white South African who announced he felt "the Blacks needed a fair crack of the whip").

What is the English journalist saying, when he falls back to relying on Shakespeare? It is a desire to link with the "tradition", that strongest, most potent, and potentially most poisonous aspect of our culture. It is a piece of self-inflation (as, also, Malcolm's essay here).

We recall the bravado of Henry V, and likely do so with Olivier's curious pronunciation and emphases in our heads. Perhaps, though, the play is the thing, and we might usefully return to the whole text, and strip from it trite jingoism. For the text is an exercise in psychology: that of the eponymous Henry, but also of those, on stage and in the audience, seduced by his rhetorical expertise. Sphere: Related Content
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