William Shakespeare’s reply to the Donald. (what I would have said too if I had had just a bit of his genius)

I take Shakespeare’s words (his “reply” to the Donald) from Measure for Measure:

It is Scene 2 in the middle of Act II. The speaker is Isabella, almost the only character in the play without major character faults, and she is speaking to Angelo who has been made Lord Deputy (Mayor?) of Vienna in the Duke’s absence.

In this scene, and elsewhere in the Play Isabella is trying to persuade Angelo to spare the life of her brother, Claudio, whom Angelo has condemned to die for fornication, or what was then sex outside of marriage. She is addressing Angelo, but as in all of Shakespeare, the character’s words, in this instance, her words, resonate among the listeners, among us all. For to some extent we are all proud and angry men, ignorant of what we should know, of what we are “most assured,” and by our shameful behavior are making the “angels weep.”

So this is Donald Trump, a proud and angry man clothed in an altogether brief authority, mostly ignorant of whatever he may be talking about, and whose careless and fantastic words and actions make us weep at the sight of the confusion and havoc he is wreaking upon the very heart of the country, all in what he says is his effort to “drain the swamp.” Instead, he is creating a swamp about himself, and because he is our President threatening by his actions the lives and livelihood of us all. For how long?

Here is the passage from the play:

…but man, proud man!
Dress’d in a little brief authority, —
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence,
—like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep;…


But don’t just listen to me. Here is the blogger, John G. Messerly, who writes infinitely more eloquently than I in his own commentary on the same passage from Measure for Measure.

Watching and listening to so many politicians, clergy, evangelists, television blowhards, and ordinary citizens in my country today reminds me of one of my favorite passages in all of world literature. It is from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and it occurs when  the character Isabella begs for the life of her brother, Claudio, who has been condemned to death for impregnating his fiancée before they were married.

When I hear those vying for the most important political position in the country court the support of those who advocate death for people with certain sexual orientations, and want to kill thousands of innocent civilians—to say nothing of denying homes for refugees, mass incarceration, solitary confinement, denial of health-care and more—it reminds me that puritanical legal codes, barbaric punishments, and ape-brain ignorance are still with us. It reminds me of how those who know so little—of biology, psychology, history, culture, political philosophy and more—propound on those topics nevertheless.

The ignorant are so self-assured. They know nothing of the people they despise, of the countries they bomb, and of the people they punish, but they don’t doubt their own infallibility. They know nothing of economics or climatology, of science or technology, of culture or history, but they correct the experts. And why not? They don’t believe in experts anyway.

They are angry apes—as Shakespeare said centuries before Darwin confirmed the fact. They have no knowledge; they have no self-knowledge. We are not angels; we are modified monkeys. Of course there are no angels, but if there were they would surely weep at the spectacle. Given a little fame, fortune and authority, and apes become so self-assured.


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