Tuesday, January 6, 2009

RE: Henry V - Separated at Birth from George Bush? (2)


It's hard these days not to think persistently of politics, whether one is reading Shakespeare or not. The Hazlitt quote you refer to is interesting because he makes it sound like the war in France was entirely Hal's own idea. But having finished 2 Henry IV, we know it was his dad, who with his last words to Hal, advises:

Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of thy former days. (2 Henry IV, 4.3.372-374)

Still, you remind us of the strong connection many have seen or made between Henry V and George W. Bush. And not all of them have been literate pundits. In an article in Salon.com in 2006, former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal wrote: "On the eve of George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000, the neoconservative Kenneth Alderman cast him as Prince Hal who 'puts the indiscretions of his youth behind him' and 'redeem[s] his father's reign.'"

Blumenthal is referring to a piece in Washington Magazine from 1999, in which Adelman wrote:

"GEORGE W. BUSH -- Henry V. A son who wishes to redeem his father’s reign, Hal puts the indiscretions of his youth behind him to get serious and go straight: “Presume not that I am the thing I was, for God doth know [and] so shall the world perceive, that I have turned away my former self.” The young king leads a robust and relentless campaign that ends in stunning victory. (Okay, I’m a Republican, but Henry V ruled as one, too.)"

Wow. Even setting aside one's knowledge of the less than heroic eight years to follow, that seems a bit audacious, especially coming before 9/11. Note the ironic twist, too. Adelman here is using the political version of "campaign" unaware of the military ones that will come in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Writing from his perspective of hindsight, Blumenthal goes on to point out, sarcastically, that none of Bush's celebrants at the time acknowledged the Henry IV advice.

Arianna Huffington, former wife of Republican California Representative Michael Huffington and current liberal pundit and blog-meister, writing in 2004, also in Salon, extends the Henry V/Bush comparison: "The parallels between Shakespeare's wartime king and our current president George II, are many and delicious ― from the pair's hard partying younger days (Prince Hal 15th century feckless frat boy-prankster) to the challenge of following in a powerful father's footsteps right up to the critical matter of whether their wartime adventures made them courageous commanders or failed leaders."

Huffington, too, cites Henry IV's advice to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels," but she also points out the parallel implicit in both men surrounding "themselves with those in favor of going to war: Bush with his neocons, and Henry with the churchmen my fellow debater David Brooks dubbed the 'theocons'" and adds that "both the president and the king were motivated by personal animus toward their enemy," Henry because he's offended by the Dauphin's tun of tennis balls (have we all finished Act 1?) and Bush because Saddam, as the president colloquially put it, "tried to kill my dad." Huffington's not deep, but she does draw conclusions about what all this says about leadership, morality, and wars of choice.

Perhaps the finest exploration of the Henry V/George W. Bush nexus comes from Scott Newstok, an English teacher at Rhodes College, who was asked to fact-check some assertions for a Fortune magazine article about the two leaders, which came from ― wait ― Ken Adelman. In a 2003 article for the online magazine PopPolitics entitled "'Step Aside, I'll Show Thee a President': George W as Henry V?," Newstok does a nice point-by-point reaction to the various claims, and I'll see if I can get permission to reprint it on our blog. Or you can follow the link.

But maybe you want to wait until after you've finished reading the play.


1 comment:

dlh said...

Thank you for noting my essay on the play; I hope it proved of some use in your reflections.

I think your group might find of interest a forthcoming special issue on "Shakespeare after September 11," the introduction to which is available online:



Scott Newstok
Department of English
Rhodes College