Monday, March 14, 2011

(For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday, Magpie 57 and Sunday Scribblings)

Shure, and what with the celebration of the shamrock so close, I got to thinking of the Irish in Shakespeare.
For example, there’s Captain Macmorris.

You see, I’ve always thought that of all the kings Will Shakespeare wrote about, and he wrote about a lot of ‘em, Henry the Fifth was the one he admired most.
Hank the Cinq represented what our playwright thought a monarch should be: wise, courageous, patriotic, daring, you name it – and of course he was the hero of what was possibly then the greatest military success in the history of England, the Battle of Agincourt.

To change the subject for just a moment, you remember all those movies about World War II, whenever they showed the crew of, say, an American bomber, the crew would be made up of one guy from Brooklyn, one from the Deep South, one from way out West, along with maybe a stoic New Englander. The idea of course was to show that all these various types, though very different, were inseparable when it came to fighting for freedom.

Well, Our Will did the same thing in the play “Henry V.” He features a few soldiers on the field who represent the main groups who made up the King’s army. There’s Fluellen, from Wales; Jamy, from Scotland; Macmorris, from Ireland; and of course Gower, the Englishman.
They’re always arguing and disputing – they’re soldiers, after all – but Shakespeare makes sure they're also inseparable when it comes to the battle.
In the play, they’re engaged in the part of the great battle that had to do with mining. You see, when you were laying siege to a fortress or anything that was strongly held, for centuries a common military strategy would be to dig underneath to put an explosive device under the place and blow it up.
The device was called a “petard.” If it blew up before you got it in place, you were “hoist by your own petard,” which is where that phrase came from.
Well, it’s Captain Macmorris, of all the group, who’s upset that the mining work is not going well. He believes that everyone is standing around talking, arguing, and no one is really doing their job.
Macmorris: “By Chrish’ law, tis ill done! I could have blown it up in an hour! It is no time to discourse. The trumpets call us to the breach, and yet we talk, and be Chrish, do nothing!”
(Shakespeare was not noted for his accuracy as far as Irish brogues were concerned. :-) )
But it’s kind of interesting that it’s the Irisher who shows the real dedication and expertise in the operation they’re all involved in.
Top o’ the morn to ye, Captain Macmorris!

38 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

Interesting as always. But the one thing that has long bothered me about Billy Shakes is the emphasis on the kings, as though history is merely about them. Oversimplified, I know.

versebender said...

very entertaining and educational. Liked the parallel between WWII flying flicks and Billy S. very good read. Thanks. Vb

Kathe W. said...

and the top o' the morning to ye! Clever post as always!

ds said...

Always wanted to know the origin of "hoist on your own petard"--never knew it involved explosives (thought rather of the hangman's rope). Actually, it makes sense that the "Irisher" had the expertise. There are many mines there.
As always an interesting and instructive post. Thanks!

Isabel Doyle said...

I am so glad that you avoided Ophelia and any reference to violets ...

I have a wonderful poster in my loo (sorry for any irreverence) 'Quoting Shakespeare' which is great fun. Amazing how that man has enriched our speech.

Thanks for the clever observations.

Tess Kincaid said...

I wondered if you would weave some magical Shakespeare. Well done. Fascinating post, as always.

Berowne said...

Tess K.: "Fascinating post, as always."
What a generous comment; thanks, Tess.

gautami tripathy said...

Wonderful magpie!

coloured perspective

DebbyMc said...

Love the Shakespeare and the Irish. Very entertaining.

Hildred and Charles said...

I knew what it meant to be 'hoist by your own petard' but didn't ever know the origin of the phrase. Very interesting, and a grand post on Shakespeares adventures with the Irish.

Tumblewords: said...

Well done, as usual!

Helen said...

Naturally it would have to be the Irishman ... that's why Notre Dame is going to win the NCAA this year!

photowannabe said...

So interesting and full of information that I didn't kknow about. Thanks as I have said many times before. I think if you had been my teacher I would have learned so much. (;0)

Jingle said...

lovely take...on I...

helenmac said...

Shure, and I thought ye might be speakin' o' that Irish bard, Yeats, or that rapscallion who left, Joyce, for today, the day before the great day!

Lucy Westenra said...

I was put off Henry V by reason of his curt dismissal of poor old John Falstaff right as the play opens. A nasty moment, but showing that the once Prince Hal well knew he must be careful about the company he keeps now he is King . . .
"I know thee not, old man!" This to one who had been his mentor, drinking buddy and friend.

Hugely informative and interesting post, as usual. Thank you.

Berowne said...

Lucy W: "I was put off Henry V by reason of his curt dismissal of poor old John Falstaff right as the play opens."
But surely you can understand that as sovereign Hal has to sever his connections with his disreputable former drinking buddies and all the carousing that went with them.

Trulyfool said...

Berowne,

This was instructive, as so often.

Just listened to Peter Saccio's lectures on Henry V -- making the very point you knowledgeably make here, that Falstaff can't remain part of a good king's entourage.

Trulyfool

Elizabeth said...

Hmm...as beautifully as you tell it, methinks, Berowne, that you are being a little too kind in your portrayal of Captain Macmorris and Shakespeare's attitudes towards the Stage Irish man...one scene doth not the whole play make. xx

Berowne said...

Elizabeth: "Methinks, Berowne, that you are being a little too kind in your portrayal of Captain Macmorris."
Shure, and the day before Saint Paddy's, what else would I be?
"One scene doth not the whole play make."
Nor doth anyone ever suggest that it doth.

Meryl Jaffe said...

How wonderfully INSTRUCTIVE! Very cool. I will now listen with a different ear when watching/reading/listening to HenryV.

Thank you,
Meryl

nprimopiano said...

Nice "I" post!

April said...

I haven't read too much Shakespeare but reading your post makes me want to give it another try - maybe. Thank you.

sue said...

Interesting, I didn't study Shakespeare very thoroughly at school, but love watching his plays at the theatre. thanks for visiting me at jumpingaground.

jabblog said...

Miners and sappers did dirty, dangerous, essential work. Hats off to Shakespeare for acknowledging them.

Berowne said...

My thanks to Meryl Jaffe, primopiano, April, sue and jabblog for their comments.

Kavita said...

Ahaa.. I can come here rest assured that there will be something new to learn here...
Now.. come to think of it, the Irishmen are the more harder working ones (of the lot)..

A very nice and educational post, Berowne.. thanks..

Rinkly Rimes said...

You brought the word 'inseparable' in very cleverly. Incidentally, I've just been 'hoisted with my own petard' so I understand the phrase!

vivinfrance said...

You are inseparable from a good yarn.

imnotaverse said...

This was fascinating. I really liked the bit about the make-up of the WWII team.

Laurie Kolp said...

I love how you webbed both prompts with such seeming ease. Thanks for the enjoyable read!

Understanding Alice said...

an interesting piece :D

jaerose said...

Belated Happy March 17th - a fitting and interesting write yet again..Jae

Lilibeth said...

A wonderful melding of two prompts...or maybe more that I just don't know about. I was inseparable from my Shakespeare textbook in high school and college, but I've allowed myself to forget it over the years. Now, I've down-loaded it to my Kindle (classics are free) so I plan to enjoy it again--well--as soon as I finish the 150 timeless classic detective stories that are holding me spellbound and taking up all the time I should be spending on other, more profitable pursuits. Well, I'm the one who bought the Kindle and downloaded the books so I guess I've been hoist by my own petard.

Berowne said...

What a fine series of comments from Kavita, Rinkly R., vivinfrance, imnotaverse, Laurie K., Understanding Alice, jaerose and Lilibeth -- my thanks.

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, you are so right about the stereotypes in WWII movies. Sort of a twist on "An Irishman, a streetwise Italian, and the son of Jewish immigrants walk into a war..."! Great thoughts on The Bard, grand lad that he was...

Amy

Berowne said...

Thanks so much, Amy. Your comments, like your posts, always contain both wit and wisdom.

Old Altonian said...

Good one Berowne! I could never quite accept the play's admiration for Capt. Jamie, the Scot.
Early in Henry V, the king is advised 'If France you would win, then with Scotland first begin.' I suppose he was a money-grubbing mercenary!

 
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