Shaking Spears

The Guardian

After three years of direct exposure to George Bush’s speechifying, plans to take Shakespeare to the troops may represent a welcome change of pace for the USA military.

Mr Bush’s idea of uplifting martial rhetoric was on show in North Carolina last year. “These terrorists are on the run. And we intend to keep them on the run … Folks, these are trained killers who hate freedom … We’re going to hunt ‘em down, one by one. This mighty nation will not blink … They try to hide in deep caves. But they’re going to find out there is not a cave deep enough to escape the long arm of American justice … We’re on alert. And so are many of you all, and I want to thank you for that.”

Stirring stuff indeed. Yet Julius Caesar furnishes a more succinctly elegant rendering of not dissimilar sentiments: “There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm’d so strong in honesty, that they pass by me as the idle wind, which I respect not.”

Bush-ian descriptions of the evil ways of Osama and his ilk might hitch a ride with Richard III: “And thus I clothe my naked villainy, with odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ, and seem a saint when most I play the devil.”

Likewise, Mr Bush’s sense of urgent global mission, also known as the hegemonistic impulse, finds concise expression in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I’ll put a girdle about the Earth, in 40 minutes” - probably the first ever pre-dossier reference to Saddam’s WMD launch-time capability.

But there is a Hamlet-like danger of demoralisation here, too, of a sowing of doubts in the ranks about the wisdom of leaders and the very point of it all: “When we are born we cry that we are come, to this great stage of fools,” admits King Lear, in that straight-talking way beloved of Mr Bush, “To deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”

Tell that to the marines - and the rest is silence.

Published Thursday, October 16th, 2003 - 10:13am GMT

The Guardian

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