I received a letter the other day from a friend of many years, that still active volcano of political cartooning, Bob Starrett. As always, his letter was neatly lettered in italicised block capitals, a throw-back to his time in the painting and decorating trade. Sign-writing was one of the craft skills that he had to learn, and even now, in his eighties, Bob does not want to let that skill fall into disuse.
Included in his letter was a cartoon of Boris Johnson (above), in the wake of his being levered from his position as leader of the Conservative Party, while still hanging on as this suffering nation's Prime Minister. Down but not out, yet! Bob's cartoon shows Johnson in his self-appointed role as a Shakespeare scholar, combined with being both hero, in his own eyes, and fool, in ours.
The cartoon prompted me to have a look at a selection of Shakespeare's playscripts, and perhaps readers of Culture Matters might like to do the same, to see if we can find bits of The Bard that might help Johnson's project along, for him to weave into the text of the book he has a mind to write.
I began my search with Shakespeare's Scottish play. At the time of its writing, with King James VI of Scotland having newly assumed the English crown too, the matter of Scotland was seen as troublesome, as it is again now, for good reason. So choosing to write a play set in Scotland's Dark Ages gave Shakespeare the opportunity to be topical, at a diplomatic and historic distance, while also giving him a context for exploring such favourite themes as political ambition, treachery, scheming, extreme behaviour of various kinds, and regime change.
Choosing to extract quotations from The Tragedy of Macbeth gives us a parallel opportunity to be topical, as we live through the latest shenanigans that characterise England's sad slipping back into its own second Dark Ages:
What bloody man is that?
(Act 1 Scene 1)
I am such a fool, should I stay longer
It would be my disgrace and your discomfort…
(Act 4, Scene 2)
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other. . . .
(Act1 Scene 7)
Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love. Now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.
(Act 5 Scene 2)
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill…
(Act 3 Scene 2)
There’s daggers in men’s smiles…
(Act 2 Scene 3)