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tv   Shakespeare U.S. Politics  CSPAN  September 22, 2019 12:05pm-1:07pm EDT

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howess your view, no matter the audience will receive it to be. and know that in the greatest country in the history of the earth, your view does matter. >> for more information, go to our website. announcer: next on american history tv, a u.s. capital historical society program. shakespeare enthusiast and senate finance committee democratic chief counsel michael evans discusses how the bard has been invoked in historic congressional debates, and the political lessons that might be learned from his plays, especially the tragedies. >> today is very special. mike evans comes to us a graduate of salem state university, where he was just granted an honorary doctorate for his significant contributions to public service, so we can now call him dr. evans.
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[applause] and then he went to a small law school called harvard, and from there, he took all that education and became a public servant. he served as the democratic staff chief council and deputy staff director, has been involved as a senate staffer for more than 25 years. but he is not here to talk about the senate or to talk about the senate finance committee, usually known as the powerful finance committee, but instead to talk about his passion. has been writing, thinking and researching shakespeare in congress. he wrote something that nobody else would dream of writing, "shakespeare's guide to tax policy -- know you of this taxation?" published in 2009.
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and if you are especially nice, he will tell you how to find it. before he became chief counsel and deputy staff director for the finance committee, he worked for eight years as democratic chief counsel at the senate environment and public works committee. so his experience in committee leadership is vast and broad. he is now working on a book that is tentatively titled "shakespeare's guide to american politics." so, we are fortunate here to have mike talk to us about how united states politics has been historically influenced by shakespeare, and how we might look at it from shakespeare's eyes. michael. [applause]
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mr. evans: thank you so much jane, and thanks to chuck and all of the capitol hill historical society for holding this event. thank all of you for coming. two disclaimers -- there will be no swordplay. and for those of you who were hoping to get me to recommend some shakespearean insults for you to fling at your political opponents, i'm going to stay away from that and stick to the history. my interest in shakespeare came relatively late. in high school and college, i read some of the plays, but i never really got it. the language was hard to understand, and i couldn't tell my king richards from my king henrys, so the plots were hard to follow. almost 20 years ago i decided to give shakespeare another try. people i respected kept talking
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about how much they enjoyed shakespeare. maybe i was missing something. so i decided to give it some serious study. i quickly became entranced. i was struck by how profound, yet thoroughly enjoyable the plays were. and i was struck by how much shakespeare focuses on political leadership. there granted, it is not his in only or even his biggest theme, but it is there. many of the plays are about how a leader achieves, maintains, or loses power. through english histories, it traces the struggle of a crown when the beginning with henry bolingbrook deposing richard ii. a story which tells about how julius caesar loses power, and how brutus and mark antony content for it.
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-- contained -- contend for it. there are the great tragedies that tell the story of hamlet, macbeth, and lear, each a king or a prince who loses power. taking this all in, i wondered whether shakespeare can teach something to those of us who work in and around congress. after all, shakespeare was one of our greatest thinkers. when he talks about politics, we may want to pay close attention. i submit that there is indeed much that shakespeare can teach us, but first, i want to whet your appetite with a mystery. why is the greatest shakespeare library in the world, the folger, located not in london or stratford, but in washington, d.c.? it is essentially on the capitol hill campus. if you came over from the house side, you may have worked right past it.
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so, two questions. first, again, why is the folger library here? second, why does it matter? why is it important that the world's greatest shakespeare library is in washington, d.c.? and i should note, the wonderful shakespeare theater downtown? why does it matter that shakespeare is in our midst? let me start by giving you some background about shakespeare in american politics. america's european founders came from shakespeare's world. when the english settlement of america began in jamestown in 1607, shakespeare was at the
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height of his london career. after his death, as his works became increasingly popular in great britain, his popularity carried over to colonial america. the first performance of a shakespeare play was in -- the first american performance, was in 1750, and there were many soon after that in new york, philadelphia, and williamsburg. as the american nation developed, shakespeare's influence grew. two of the first distinctively american novelists, nathaniel hawthorne and james fenimore cooper, were heavily influenced by shakespeare. america's greatest 19th-century author, mark twain, was an avid reader of shakespeare. in "huckleberry finn," the barnstorming rascals and showman, the duke and the king, perform a slapstick of mangled passages from various shakespeare plays.
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and the humor depends on the reader's familiarity with shakespeare's original material. shakespeare's plays dominated the american theater. in new york city, you could attend any one of three performances of macbeth on the single evening in 1849. it wasn't just the eastern elites. as settlement moved west, shakespeare went along. de tocqueville wrote, there was hardly a pioneers hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of shakespeare. his influence extended to politics. the leaders of the american revolution, including john adams, george washington, and thomas jefferson, were steeped in shakespeare's work, which they relied on to inform their political vision and sharpen their rhetoric.
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a particularly arresting image is from 1786 when adams and jefferson, both serving in european diplomatic posts, visited shakespeare's birthplace. soon, they would be bitter political enemies, but in that moment they were together because of their love of shakespeare. members of congress frequently turned to shakespeare's plays to express themselves more during debate. when congress was determining whether to expunge its resolution censoring andrew jackson. the president acknowledged that those who wished to expunge the resolution appeared to have the votes. thus, he said, quote, "that deed is to be done, that foul deed, which like the blood staining the hands of guilty macbeth our ocean's waters will never wash away."
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another example occurred in 1846. rival factions were seeking control of the new kansas government under the terms of the recently enacted kansas-nebraska act. a pro-slavery politician had purportedly been elected as kansas's first territorial delegate. but opponents argued his election was based on fraud. they called for a special election to investigate. as the debate unfolded, a congressman from ohio, samuel galloway, spiced up his argument with a quotation from macbeth. referring to the date of the enactment of the kansas nebraska act, he said "let that pernicious hour stand accursed on the calendar." later that day, congressman john milson of virginia took the floor. milson also knew his
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shakespeare. he responded, "the gentleman from ohio favored us with a quotation from macbeth. i will give him an answer in quotation from hamlet." he then quoted from the scene in which ophelia's brother expresses his exaggerated grief at her death by leaping into ophelia's grave. quoting from hamlet's reaction, milson said "dost thou come here to whine? to outrace me leaping into her grave? i will rant as well as thou." the most notable example of the use of shakespeare in congress occurred in 1830 during the famous debate between senators robert hayne of south carolina and daniel webster of massachusetts. although ostensibly about public land policy, it was the first major debate about the relationship between the northern and southern states.
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after webster gave a speech about public lands policy, hayne argued that webster's stated object was a smokescreen. webster's real problem, hayne said, was the disintegration of a coalition that webster hoped to establish between the north and west against the south. evoking a scene from macbeth in which the ghost of the murdered banquo appears to macbeth and lady macbeth, but is invisible to the others who are sitting with them at a banquet table, senator hayne asked, "has the gentleman's distempered fancy been disturbed by gloomy forebodings of new alliances at which he hinted? has the ghost of the murdered coalition come back like the
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ghost of banquo to fear the eyeballs of the gentleman, and will it not down at his bidding? are dark visions of broken hopes and honors lost forever, still floating before his heated imagination?" that was hayne. the next day, webster responded. after making some introductory remarks, he said "the honorable gentleman was not entirely happy in his allusion to the story of banquo's murder and banquo's ghost." turning the tables on hayne, webster explained that banquo's ghost "was an honest ghost, it disturbed no innocent man, but appeared only to banquo's assassins, macbeth and lady macbeth." by identifying with those who saw the ghost, webster argued,
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hayne had slipped up, and had unintentionally revealed his own sinister motives. after citing several lines from the play, webster asked, "those who murdered banquo, what did they win by it? substantial good? permanent power? or disappointment rather, mortification, dust and ashes, the common fate of vaulting ambition overleaping itself." then he said derisively, "i need persue the illusion no further." there are many other examples. congressman william jennings bryan began a speech by directing the house clerk to read a passage from merchant of venice. a manager of president andrew johnson senate impeachment trial compared johnson's cabinet members to polonius and hamlet. references to shakespeare were
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part of the ebb and flow of congressional debate. by my count, between 1833 and 1873 there were over 159 references during congressional debate to shakespeare himself or to the plays hamlet, macbeth, othello, and king lear. let me add a fun fact about shakespeare in congress. one of the foremost early american shakespeare scholars was a man from new york, chairman of the house ways and means committee during the fierce tariff battles of the late 1830's. after leaving congress, he became the editor of the first major american edition of shakespeare's plays. today, shakespeare continues to be invoked occasionally in congress. during the time i have worked in the senate, there has been one person who might give house ways and means committee chairman verplank a run for his money. senator byrd read shakespeare's plays throughout his life and he frequently used shakespeare to
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make a point during senate floor debate. another fun fact. at one point or another during senate floor debate in 1994, senator byrd quoted from each of shakespeare's 36 plays, even the bad ones. but senator byrd aside, there is a difference. when daniel webster delivered his reply to senator haynes, he knew that his audience would understand the light macbeth cast on current events. shakespeare was a central part of what an historian called "a rich, shared public culture." today, that is less the case. when contemporary politicians invoke shakespeare, they are likely to do so superficially,
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grabbing a line from bartlet's quotations or the internet in order to add a sheen of sophistication to their argument. i suggest that if we lose shakespeare, we lose something important our political life. the folger library is here to remind us of this. and that brings me back to our mystery, why is the folger library here. ? ? in the early 20th century, henry folger, one of the leaders of standard oil of new jersey, and his wife emily, amassed the world's finest collection of shakespeare's works, shakespeare scholarship, and related artifacts. they owned, for example, more than a quarter of the first folios in existence. all of this piled up in the folger's brooklyn townhouse. eventually, the folgers decided
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to establish a library to make the collection available. after considering several locations, including london and stratford, henry folger said, quote, "i finally concluded i would give it to washington, for i am an american." over eight years, henry folger quietly purchased a block of townhouses near the capital building. but there was a problem. it turned out that the federal government was about to acquire the same property by eminent domain. folger sprang to work. he persuaded congress that locating a great shakespeare library on the site would benefit the nation. in 1928, while considering a bill acquiring property for the library of congress, congress
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modified the bill to allow folger to retain the property at 2nd and e street, with the understanding that he would construct his library there. it was, to use current terminology, special interest legislation, although, of a very positive kind. that is why the shakespeare library is on capitol hill. but why does it matter? what is it important, particularly to those of us who work in and around congress, that shakespeare is in our midst? i suggest two reasons. one practical, and one perhaps deeper. first, the practical. in a handout that i think we have made available, or that we will make available -- the green paper -- oh, ok. i list practical lessons i believe shakespeare teaches about politics. some lessons stress the
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importance of good strategic thinking and good management skills -- decisiveness, pragmatism, listening carefully to advisors, and the deft use of subordinates. another lesson stresses the importance of empathizing with the common person, like prince hal and unlike coriolanus. another lesson stresses that, as with prince hal's transformation into king henry v, a leader must forswear personal indulgence. through it all runs of the constant theme of balance -- a leader should be decisive like henry v, but not reckless. pragmatic, again, like henry v, but not cynical like richard iii. above the crowd, but empathetic, a lesson coriolanus never learned. let' dig into two of these lessons. one is that a leader must listen
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carefully, including to advise that he or she would rather not hear. a good example is henry bolingbrook, who initiates the events that unfold throughout the english history plays. bolingbrook is in many respects a capable leader. and he has been wronged by richard ii, who unlawfully confiscated bolingbrook's land. further, richard himself is, for all his faults, the legitimate king under the english laws of succession. deposing him would undermine those laws and perhaps the very legitimacy of the english monarchy. at the beginning of fact iv of -- of act iv of richard ii, henry bolingbrook is meeting with advisers, trying to decide how to deal with richard, who
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has been defeated but retains the throne. bolingbrook exclaims, "in god's name, i will ascend the regal throne." one of the advisers, the bishop of carlisle, objects, saying, "if you crown him -- bolingbrook -- the blood of english shall manure the ground. o, if you raise this house against this house, it will the woefullest division prove that ever fell upon the cursed earth." bolingbrook ignores the bishop's warning." richard is deposed and bolingbrook becomes king henry iv. for all his skill, bolingbrook eventually fails. although he will remain king until his death and pass the crowd down to his son and grandson, their reigns eventually will devolve into
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brutal civil war. this happens for reasons that were brought to bolingbrook's early attention by the bishop of carlisle, but bolingbrook would not listen. there are other examples. king lear divides his lands according to how profusely his daughters flatter him. and when the honest cordelia refuses to flatter, lear erupts in anger and denies cordelia any inheritance and banishes her. an impetuous act that he will come to profoundly regret. julius caesar is warned by the soothsayer and others about the impending assassination attempt, but he ignores the warnings, saying, "am i not caesar?" as if he is immortal. in macbeth, the witches tell macbeth everything, including about his downfall.
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but he hears only what he wants to hear and he discounts. shakespeare's lesson is clear. when they achieved power, these leaders stopped listing carefully. we see the mistakes, the same mistakes every day, as flatterers thrive and as honest cordelias are ignored. another lesson which surprised me is that a leader must set personal loyalty aside in favor of pragmatism. the best example is henry v. he has many good leadership qualities, but he is no saint. he is utterly pragmatic. the most vivid example is the repudiation of falstaff. falstaff is one of shakespeare's greatest creations, he is a wit
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and philosopher. also, a drunkard, glutton, lecher, braggart, coward, and petty thief. he is a wonderfully rich character and has some of shakespeare's best lines. as he accompanies prince hal through hal's wayward youth. this makes falstaff's fate especially heartbreaking. when falstaff learns that king henry iv have died, making prince hal the new king, falstaff thinks his ship has come in. he waits outside the palace expecting that when the new king passes by and sees falstaff in the crowd, the king will welcome him with open arms and grant him his due. but the new king, seeing
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falstaff in the crowd, does not embrace him. instead, he delivers a speech that is shocking in its ruthlessness. it begins, "i know thee not, old man." and it concludes, "presume not that i was disdained, i was. the world shall see that i have turned away from my former self. so will i those that kept me company." the young king orders falstaff banned. before long, heartbroken, falstaff dies. why did shakespeare subject one of literature's greatest characters to such a sorrowful end? to my mind, shakespeare is underlining this point -- as king, henry will forswear the wayward companions of his youth and adopt the sober demeanor
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appropriate to leadership. to shakespeare, leadership overcomes friendship. even friendship with a character as endearing as falstaff. so shakespeare teaches many practical lessons. again, they are listed in the handout. and if my book is ever finished, you can read them all in detail. [laughter] mr. evans: turning from the practical, there's another and probably more important lesson in shakespeare's treatment of politics. in a recent book "the lessons of tragedy," the authors look at the ancient greeks. one of the central events was -- each spring, the citizens of athens gathered for a celebration lasting several days. one of the central events was
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the public performance of one of the great greek tragedies like oedipus rex, antigone, or the persians. these plays re brutal, heartbreaking, and unrelenting. why make them the center of the celebration of the world's first democracy? the authors argue that these performances were critical to the success of ancient greek civilization. quote, "for the greeks, theatrical and other dramatic representations of tragedy were public education. tragedies were meant to serve as both a warning and a call to action. they were intended to chasten and horrify the citizenry and in doing so, to inspire them. athens was capable of ascending to great heights, but only if the public understood the depths to which it might sink absent great effort, cohesion, and courage."
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shakespeare's plays can perform the same function. shakespeare gives us many leaders who struggled to attain power, only to realize that their power is empty or even destructive. generally speaking, there are no successful leaders in shakespeare, only different types of failures. it is almost as if shakespeare is performing the role of the roman slave who follows behind a general riding in a victory procession through rome, whispering into the general's ear, "all glory is fleeting." shakespeare is whispering to us. there is richard ii, lately and poetically realizing that his power is gone. there is the evil but irresistible richard iii,
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railing against the fates at the battle of bosworth. and there is, again, bolingbroke henry iv, the great usurper. as the civil war grinds on, king henry iv, now old and tired, longs for rest. declaring, "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." in shakespeare, political power comes at great cost. shakespeare's most specific essay about the cost of political power is macbeth. as a historical matter, macbeth was a warrior who, having been cut out of the line of succession, responded by murdering king duncan and successfully asserting his own kingship until he is killed by duncan's descendants.
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shakespeare transforms this material into a dark exploration of the danger that comes from the unbridled lust for power. shakespeare's attitude towards macbeth is different than his attitude towards other unscrupulous monarchs like richard iii. when we observe richard, we identify with macbeth. shakespeare pulls us in until we share macbeth's horror at what he has done and what he has become. also, unlike richard, macbeth suffers from pangs of conscience. he also suffers from mounting nihilism leading to the great soliloquy about life being all sound and fury, signifying nothing. still, macbeth is impelled on, as he says, "blood will have
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blood." at base, macbeth is undone by his own ambition. in american politics, the consideration of macbeth takes us, perhaps surprisingly, to our greatest president, abraham lincoln. lincoln was a deep student of shakespeare. as a boy, he recited many of the great speeches which he had in a volume. as a young lawyer, he traveled with a copy of shakespeare in his saddle bags. when he became president, he frequently attended shakespeare's plays in washington. in the white house, he often would read aloud from the great soliloquys.
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five days before he was assassinated, lincoln visited richmond, which had just fallen to union troops. he was greeted joyfully by soldiers and former slaves. and he briefly sat behind the desk from which jefferson davis had led the confederacy. then he returned to a union riverboat to steam back north. along the way, he pulled out a well-thumbed volume of shakespeare and read aloud to pay surrounding group of officers for more than an hour from macbeth, which was shakespeare's favorite play. this may seem a strange place to turn during a terrible war. it hardly provides solace, at least in a conventional way, but perhaps macbeth fit particularly well, because lincoln understood, that as the english poet philip sidney wrote in shakespeare's time, tragedy shows, quote, "upon how weak
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foundations yielded loose our builded." lincoln had a deep appreciation of tragedy. we can hear it in the second inaugural address. after explaining that the military situation was well in hand, lincoln described the onset of the conflict, with war coming, even though both sides had tried to avoid it. then he cut right to the tragic heart of the civil war. he said, "fondly do we hope, and fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. yet, if god wills that it continues until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said 3000 years
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ago, so still it must be said, the judgments of the lord are righteous and true altogether." lincoln then moves to his famous conclusion, beginning with malice towards not a charity towards all. the nation must finish its work and bind its wounds. by standards of conventional political rhetoric, this speech is extraordinary. on the threshold of a great victory, there is no triumphalism. not even a modest note of congratulation. instead, there is complexity, irony, and hard consequence. surely, lincoln was drawing on his close study of shakespeare. on the english histories, which began with a grab of power that ignited a civil war that would burn for centuries. on king claudius and hamlet, who
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seized power and then discovered that he was cursed and could not pray. on macbeth, whose ambition impelled him on to his own destruction. on lear, who found wisdom and mercy only after he had lost all power. we hear, in the second inaugural, echoes of them all. this, i suggest, is the second lesson we should learn from shakespeare, an appreciation of tragedy. like the athenians, we should remind ourselves that our blessings are not guaranteed. we may be tempted to think that fate is on our side, but our constitutional checks and balances will counteract any serious threats to our system of government. that it can't happen here. but tragedy teaches otherwise. liberal democracy is not guaranteed, it is fragile.
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without constant attention, including from those of us will privileged to work in and around congress, we can lose everything. that is why it is important that shakespeare is in our midst, why we should read, or even better, watch king lear, richard ii, or macbeth. all this brings me, in conclusion, back to the folger library. in the west garden is a statue of puck, the mischievous spirit from a midsummer night's dream. he is facing the capitol. at the base of the statue is a quote from the play. "o, what fools these mortals be." it is a reminder by way of shakespeare that our status here is precarious and requires
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humility. we are in the capital of a great nation. but even so, we are just a few steps away from the tragic mistake. that makes our work all the more important. thank you. [applause] >> our speaker has agreed to take some questions, and so, it is now the audience's role. please, stand up. >> your comment on lincoln's second address, he was not standing victorious in the air and chanting, "we are about to win this." i also want to comment on his,
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or ask you to comment on his residence. he spent many a day and night in the white house, but he also had his residence, and i believe the horse-drawn carriages bringing up the caskets of fallen soldiers were buried under his watch in his backyard, almost. and i sense it was that perspective as well, plus his knowledge of shakespeare's writings that gave him this perspective as well. i wondered whether you would comment. mr. evans: i think that is a wonderful point about this paradox of our greatest president being so steeped in tragedy. if you have been to the soldiers home, it is a wonderful place, perhaps the best place there is to get an unmediated sense of lincoln, because it has been restored essentially to the way it was when it was the summer white house for him. and it is the same point, thank you. it is on the grounds of a
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cemetery, a military cemetery and a military hospital. to get a feel for how it was back then, when he was walking in the front yard, there might be, 50 yards away, a burial being conducted, there would be amputated soldiers walking about. that was his summer home, that's where he went for rest. but he was comfortable being reminded of the tragic circumstances that he was dealing with. i was surprised at how much lincoln was a shakespeare guy. if you go back to the stories we have of lincoln as a young man reading books everywhere, in the barn, under a tree, they have actually traced some of the
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books that he got, they basically came from his stepmother when she married his father. she brought with her a bundle of books. and one of them was -- i forget the name of the author, but it was called "lessons in eloquence," a collection of speeches. and many of them were the great shakespeare speeches -- henry at agincourt, mark antony at caesar's funeral. and those -- when lincoln was under that tree reading that book, he was often reading shakespeare. when he was president, he actually got in a bit of a controversy because he went to see a famous actor playing the part of falstaff in henry iv, probably at the ford theater, and afterwards -- an actor named hackett, afterwards, shakespeare
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wrote him a letter complimenting him him on his performance and suggesting a couple of ways that lincoln might change things, if he were to do it. and hackett, of course, thought, well this is cool, i got a letter from the president of the united states. and he showed it to his friends and it got published somewhere -- abraham lincoln complimenting my performance. and lincoln actually became a controversy because some in the press criticized him for being so -- what they considered frivolous, during a time of war. francis carpenter painted lincoln's portrait in the white house, and he wrote a book about that. and he talked about how at one point, he was painting lincoln who was sitting there, and lincoln asked if he could rise. and he rose and he delivered the opening soliloquy from richard
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iii, "now is the winter of our discontent," from memory. and carpenter said he did it as well as any professional actor. lincoln and shakespeare is fascinating. and the soldiers' home is one of the best places to get a sense for that. thank you. questions? yes. >> other than cordelia, who you mentioned as a positive figure, are there any other women's roles in shakespeare's plays that might inform political leadership? mr. evans: that is a great and troubling question. shakespeare writes mostly about men. which is interesting, because,
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of course, queen elizabeth was the principal ruler at the time. there are some. queen margaret in henry vi is a strong, strong figure. cleopatra in antony and cleopatra is fascinating. she is the better politician than marc antony by far. and, of course, the comedies are different. the comedies are -- they are frequently starring women as men, but in the histories, it is mostly male figures, because of the times. that is something that we have to try to overcome as we read it. joan of arc.
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joan of arc is a figure in henry vi. there were three parts of henry vi. you've got henry iv, bolingbrook takes the throne. he lives until he dies of natural causes. henry v, his son, succeeds him, and is a very effective king but dies very young. his young son, henry vi succeeds, and is a disaster. it is interesting the way that shakespeare presents him, because he presents him -- and history supported this -- as a very good man. one of the three parts of henry vi is actually sometimes titled "the history of good king henry vi." but at one point, queen margaret says, "you should be pope rather king."
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-- "you should be pope rather than king." because good is, he can't make difficult decisions, and things fall apart. there is a rebellion in england and the french take back a lot of the land that henry v won. and in this, with the french, joan of arc is a very important and attractive character, as she leads the french in taking back land in france that henry v had taken. chuck? >> i apologize, i came in late. you might have addressed this, but if you haven't, i am sure the audience would be interested in knowing how someone would find out how often shakespeare gets alluded to or quoted in the congressional register, or any other notes of debate. how do you go about -- it cannot
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be just a straight up word search, i mean it is impossible. there are thousands and thousands of lines in shakespeare. so how do you go about that? mr. evans: well, sometimes you come across them in history. the webster-hayne debate i just read because it is an important part of the civil war era. it really is the first time senators from the north and the south confront each other on the senate floor about, in essence, slavery. and i happened to read that at the same time that i was studying macbeth, and came to it that way. some of it also was from senator byrd. i am a senator byrd fan. i love senate process and procedure, and he was the great defender of the institution and
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its processes. and so i read a lot about him, and i came across a reference in one of the eulogies to him quoting from each of the 36 plays during debate in 1994. and so i have read a lot of those. they are never throwaway quotes. it is not "a rose by any other rose," or "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." he gets into it. he explains how the play reflects on what we're doing here today. so i have come across them in different places, and in different aspects of history. i have had to look a little bit. done some text searches, too. yes? >> do you have any examples for us, 21st century references? mr. evans: current politics.
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but i want to stay away from anything that is too close to home. him [laughter] there was a law in england during shakespeare's time that you could not write a play that featured a living politician. and i think it is good advice for me to stay pretty close to that, too. [laughter] mr. evans: but i will give you some examples from american history of where some of the lessons teach us in american history. one of the examples that comes really from richard ii is that you have to understand the source of your authority. richard ii thinks that because he is a legitimate king, that is it. "hey, i am a legitimate king, what can happen to me?" but he does not realize that he also has to be an effective king. and that is the cause of his downfall. there are others like that.
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i mentioned julius caesar, who, five lines before he is assassinated, he is talking about how he is the immortal caesar on the senate floor. king lear, thinking he can divest himself of his land and keep his authority. all these leaders who think that because they have the title, they have the power. we see that a lot. any time congress changes hands, you have new chairmen and subcommittee chairmen, and they think they can do all they want. they don't realize that all they can do is call here and get a few extra spaces for their staff in the parking garage, but there is a lot of hard work. in american history, i think you have seen it in the supreme court, the supreme court thinking that because it was the supreme court, it could do what it wanted without regards for
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the source of its power. an example, dred scott, where justice taney thought that he could resolve the issue of slavery just because he wanted to and thought it needed to be done. and bush v. gore, where the supreme court decided it could resolve issues that were not before the court, and announce that this was one time only. so, institutions getting too big for their britches. others in the 20th century -- pragmatism. knowing the best way to get. to my mind and my experience, the best example, bob packwood during tax reform in 1986. senator packwood once said, "i like the tax code the way that it is." but when his effort to write a
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bill disintegrated in the senate finance committee over several weeks, and the world was watching, he completely reversed course, threw out all of the provisions that he had previously sponsored, and went for a clean tax reform bill. he was pragmatic. he wanted to win. and that was the way to win. a couple of others -- i think you often see -- i'll mention lyndon johnson. lyndon johnson to my mind is shakespearean in two respects, one positive and one negative. when we talk about the kind of machiavellian shakespeare, richard iii, iago, always,
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always coming up with treacherous ways to get ahead. that is early lyndon johnson. that is early lyndon johnson. and robert caro writes so brilliantly about all of that. but there is also another johnson. and one of the lessons i think shakespeare teaches is empathy, that you must have empathy. prince hal, henry iv, is a lot too the fact that before king, henry iv lived with the common people. that is an important part of his connection to the people. the night before the battle of agincourt, now he is king henry v, he puts on a cloak to disguise himself and he walks among the troops, talking with them as a common soldier, not as a king. shakespeare is teaching about the importance of empathy. and with coriolanus, one of my favorite plays, a great warrior who can't stoop to the rituals
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of democracy because he thinks it is beneath him, we see a common example. -- a counter example. to my mind, lbj later gives us that, after montgomery bridge, when he, at a moment of national crisis, gave a speech which is one of the greatest in american history, about civil rights, and how we were all in this together, and how we were all there at the bridge. to my mind, it compares in a sense to king lear. king lear fell from power. he was foolish when he was powerful. he fell from power, and as he fell from power, he grew in wisdom until he is there on the heath in a storm and he's being pelted, and he's in rags and has nothing. at this point, he asks, "if only i had known more about the poor,
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if only i had known more about mercy, if only i had done more for those lesser than me." lear, in his powerlessness, finally achieves wisdom. and i see that in lyndon johnson late in his career. as president, achieving -- he had not gone from power in the same way, although he sort of would, although he found lear-like wisdom. i talked about the repudiation of falstaff. i sometimes -- when i think about that i think about then-presidential candidate barack obama in his, in essence, repudiation of jeremiah wright in order to show that he was prepared to take that next step, he had to step away from an old
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friend and spiritual advisor. so, those are some. and i am thinking of others and always looking for suggestions. i hope that you can come up with some of them as well. do i have time for another? >> one last question. >> i will go in a little bit different direction. shakespeare wrote these plays in elizabethan times, certainly an unsettled time in england with a lot of constraints. i think in your article, you pointed out that essex was considering trying to run richard ii before he tried to overthrow elizabeth. what is your perception, particularly in the histories, of the political pressures that
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shakespeare was under as he was writing these plays, knowing that this was not a time of freedom of the press or a playwright's, and things could happen to him that might not be good? mr. evans: such as losing his head? [laughter] when the earl of essex tried to start a rebellion against queen elizabeth, or her advisers, as lee said, one of the things that essex did was commission a performance of richard ii the night before the rebellion, because richard ii, remember, shows bolingbrook deposing the legitimate king. all of the members of the company that performed it were imprisoned, except shakespeare. he was very, very careful. at the time, every play had to be reviewed first before it could be performed in london by the master of the rebels, who made sure that it was
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politically correct. moreover, shakespeare performed his play -- his company eventually was called the king's men. and it was sponsored by king james, and they performed 20 or 30 times a year in the court. so, people were watching. so, his political views had to be expressed, shall we say, very carefully. he could get away with a few things, like macbeth. macbeth is clearly about king james, it is about the trouble that comes from assassinating a legitimate ruler. catholics had just tried to assassinate king james by blowing up -- catholic conspirators had tried to assassinate the new king, king james, by blowing up parliament. james was scottish. shakespeare writes this scottish play in which james's side of the family, banquo's side,
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everybody looks good. and you are taught not to assassinate the king. so that one was pretty easy to see what he was talking about. but it was pretty safe. with the others, he had to do it much more carefully. some of his contemporaries were jailed or killed because of plays they wrote. kid, marlowe. by the way, i will conclude with this. that is the reasons why it is very hard to tell about shakespeare's political ideology. i argue he teaches about political leadership, but you can't really tell about his political ideology. i mean, as far as i can figure it out, and this is a deep disappointment to me, but it may come helpful to my friend paul -- as far as i can tell, shakespeare was no liberal, but he was more a conservative in favor of conserving the existing structure.
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he is what i would call an edmund burke, george will-kind of conservative. and you can see that in some of the plays. for example, in some cases where he is very afraid of the mob. like in coriolanus, or parts of julius caesar. and in places where there were speeches about the importance of maintaining the existing hierarchy. so, he was very careful. but he also was in the midst of it. i mean, london was the political center. he was writing and his company was performing before the crown. and many in his audience were going to the plays to try to get some sense of how to appreciate current events. so, a lot of it is there.
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the ideology is difficult to understand, but the lessons about leadership i think are clear. thanks to all of you for coming. [applause] >> thank you so much. don't forget to take your pink sheets, come back and join us. thank you all very much. announcer: you are watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> c-span cities tour is in lansing where we are hitting the michigan museum. they launched a brand-new exhibit where they ask the editors to take another look at everyday objec.


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