Roy Exum / February 3, 2011

Willie Would Love All This

William Shakespeare, a guy who wrote a bunch of plays about 400 years ago, is still quoted a lot today with great lines like “To be, or not to be,” “I’ll not budge an inch,” and “We have seen better days.” The Bard of Avon is regarded by many of us as the greatest writer of all time.

William Shakespeare, a guy who wrote a bunch of plays about 400 years ago, is still quoted a lot today with great lines like “To be, or not to be,” “I’ll not budge an inch,” and “We have seen better days.” The Bard of Avon is regarded by many of us as the greatest writer of all time.

Once, he really charged up the crowd in the play “King Henry The Sixth, Part II” when a character playing the role of Dan the butcher blurted, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Despite the fact there are some among us who still might agree with the notion, nobody went around killing any lawyers back then and – face it – there is no sane person in today’s society is going to heed “open season” on politicians in the literal sense. This is just another round of silliness.

But it is my bet is that Shakespeare, the all-time king of rhetoric, would be absolutely delighted with reflex roar that has resonated following the senseless shooting of Rep. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. The horrifying rampage was the act of a lone crazy man and all the resulting hysteria ain’t nothing but show business.

Shakespeare, you’ll remember, is the one who, in his play “As You Like It,” once wrote, “All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Don’t you get it? The ones who rant and rave are just playing their part. Sarah Palin stirred the stew with the rare phrase “blood libel.” The script called for the Alaskan dish to defuse her jaunty use of political crosshairs but instead she drew the entire Jewish nation into the circus.

“Blood libel,” you see, is an ancient term that was used in the Middle Ages when Jewish people were accused of using the blood of Christians in religious rituals. Hello? Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish! Oh, my stars! Don’t dare drop the curtain!

“Palin’s comments either show a complete ignorance of history, or blatant anti-Semitism,” fired back Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), who is also Jewish.

As the stage is getting crowded with more and more actors, Beeton, on behalf of the speechless Rep. Schultz, added, “Either way, it shows an appalling lack of sensitivity given Rep. Giffords’ faith and the events of the past week.”

William Lutz, professor emeritus of English at Rutgers, figures Palin probably used the term out of ignorance. “This is a prime example of using a word to create a certain response, without knowing what the word really means, or the associations it carries with it.”

Heck, I’m guilty of that all the time. For years I thought “To thine own self be true” originated in tattoo parlors. I saw the phrase on a bunch of motorcycle riders before I ever got around to “Hamlet” and then I briefly wondered if Shakespeare had been a biker.

Palin’s comments were praised by some. Within only hours, her camp claimed that 30,000 clapped on Facebook. It was almost like that part in “Romeo and Juliet” when Willie wrote in Act II, “See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!”

Tim Pawlenty, the former Governor of Minnesota, had chided Palin, saying her now-infamous target map was “not my style” but, in the way presidential candidates dance, called Palin “a remarkable leader” later in the day. He said “people shouldn’t try to connect (the shooting) to Sarah Palin.”

What Pawlenty should have said comes from Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part I, “The better part of valour is discretion” and then winked at the audience, just so, before dropping the curtain with the timeless line from Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

It’s all just a bunch of rhetoric, just parts in the play, I’m telling you. “Et tu, Brute!”

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