August 5, 2002

Bush and Hamlet

By: Jonathan Watson

As the curtain opens, we see a lone figure sitting on the stage, deep in thought. He hears the words of his father echoing inside his head. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,” (Hamlet, I.,v,24-25). Also intermixed is Hamlet’s oath to his father’s ghost that “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records…thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, (Hamlet I., v., 99-102). Despite this early promise, for the rest of the play, Hamlet does nothing. He manages to kill the king in the end, but the slaughter is immense at that point, mainly due to his indecisiveness.

We must look carefully at the character of Hamlet. His excellence at dissembling and brooding illuminate well the visible actions of the Bush administration. They had been presented with the murder of sons and daughters and had been given proof that Al-Queda is responsible. They responded initially with an excellent campaign to clean up Afghanistan, and issued the promise that the war to end terrorism is their first priority. They seized monies flowing to and from terrorist organizations and finally shut down fronts for them in the United States.

But now the administration that more marked for its inaction. They seem unable to pursue a course that will carry through on their promises. Their targets, like Hamlet, are usually off the mark. They search grandmothers from Indiana and confiscate their nail files. In the name of bipartisanship, they impose massive steel tariffs which cause detriment. And all the while, like King Claudius, our enemies are planning, ever planning. Must we wait for the spectre of September 11th to stalk the administration, and chastise them for inaction. “Do not forget,” says the Ghost, “this visitation / Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose,” (III, iv, 110-111). Unfortunately, this visit may be needed. With American students and citizens, citizens, dead in a Palestinian suicide blast, the administration has expressed it “sorrow” and “anger” over such an occurrence. We may not see action until another visitation on our homeland like September 11th.

We would all prefer that it is not so; that the administration is biding it’s time, waiting for the proper moment to action. Shakespeare again provides an example of what the administration could be; how it could redeem itself. Prince Hal (the coming Henry V) is one of the main characters of 1 Henry IV, the first of the two-part prelude to Henry V. He is the son of the reigning Henry IV, and is faced with rebellion within his father’s kingdom.

Hal has adopted a lazy and lackadaisical attitude when instead he should be leading his father’s armies against the rebellion of Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland. His chosen companions are thieves and cowards, and his father (Henry IV) despairs, saying that Hal must be a scourge from God to punish his (Henry’s) misdeeds, or else how:

Could such inordinate and low desires,
Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such mean attempts,
Such barren pleasures, rude society,
As thou art match’d withal and grafted to,
Accompany the greatness of thy blood,
And hold their level with thy princely heart.
(III., ii, 12-17)

His father’s statement illustrates how well Hal’s deception has worked. Hal’s great statement of purpose informs the audience that:

My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off,
I’ll so offend, to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
(I, iii, 213-217)

Hal has successfully fooled his family and friends into an incredibly incorrect impression. His response to his father when confronted is to reassure him that, “I will redeem all of this on Percy’s head…Then I shall make this northren youth exchange / His glorious deeds for my indignities. / Percy is but my factor, good my lord, / To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf…,” (III, ii, 132, 144-146).

And Hal does call Percy to account; meeting him on the battlefield near the end of the play slays him.

So we must hope of the Bush administration. We must have hope that they are masters of inactions, rather than mastered by inaction. We must hope that the time will come when we see them act, quickly and decisively and prevent the return of the ghost of September 11, for the nation itself needs no additional reminder of the reasons we have embarked upon our course. Do you, President Bush?