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The modern democrat

20 March 2016

The modern democrat, perhaps, will often find it in a form which at first sight is distasteful to him. Shakespeare’s whole reading of history is aristocratic. He concentrates the history of the nation in the doings of its leaders; the people are of small account, and seldom appear upon the scene except to display their fickleness, their stupidity, or their brutality….[But] in the time at which Shakespeare wrote, no other presentation of fact would have been possible. The people had not yet emerged into political existence, and to present them as other than they were would not only have been a piece of political prescience which can hardly be expected even of the greatest of artists, it would have been a falsification of the truth. Shakespeare was essentially a creature of the time, and he read history with the eyes of his time. He had doubtless a fuller vision and a clearer, but it was his own time that he interpreted and not ours.

Ernest De Selincourt

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6 Comments to “The modern democrat”

  1. Yes!

    I work hard to show the world the way each character sees it, and to push my expectations out the door. It’s surprising, sometimes, how hard it is to keep democracy and equality out of my writing. I suppose because that’s what *I* expect, even though I know better. 🙂

  2. Just speaking of shakespeare. I find the quote partly true, and partly not.

    I think of Shylock, and Romeo and Juliet, the thugs and bewildered sailors of The Tempest, the incessant demanding and common female scold at the center of another play, Taming of the Shrew [what a great title] many many more. And too, I think of the base true personalities of those wearing stinky [nondeoderant] robes and crowns that glitter but also tarnish, of their faces scarred by pox, of their loss of children to plague and illness, of dead fathers who haunt the spirit of the living. And these are all the basis that does not separate humans who have rubies, from those who mine the rubies.

    Time and again, I find shakespeare an ancient psychological mind with incredible insight into the shadows and lights of human nature.

    And I think shakespeare’s dysfunctional families, personal and political insights, live strong in our time, also. People may use rifles instead of daggers, may speak of their dead father coming to ‘visit’ rather than being nudged into thinking it is a mental illness, may speak of their hatred of entire social groups of people as vermin… Well, that remains the same, now as then.

    Had shakespeare seen from an aristocratic point of view truly, there would be no nefarious, death-dealing, wicked, evil, unjust foes wearing crowns. The aristocratic, patrician, etc etc, upper crust[y], easily offended point of view has ever and most often been ‘we are superior, our toxins vaped out daily, dont stink… And you, bezel of a beetle, are lowly by the fact of your not being born of ‘royal thighs’.

    Right. Lol

  3. I would also like to note that Chaucer, who wrote hundreds of years before Shakespeare, had an excellent understanding of the foibles of commoners and nobles alike, which he used to hilarious effect.

    But understanding that people are people no matter what their station in life doesn’t necessarily make someone suddenly want a democracy. After all, democracy was an untested, unknown political system in Shakespeare’s day, one that could have many downsides–chaos, gridlock, civil wars, ignorance. Besides, Shakespeare had to write to please his noble patrons, none of whom would likely approve a pro-democracy play. It’s unfair to want him to write one.

  4. I dig chaucer. Especially his vignettes about the pilgrimage.

    The author of the quote [above] wrote in the turn of the 20th century, died in the 1940s, I think. He was a poetry editor and taught wordsworth esp and wrote a book about wordsworth.

    The actual quote is this, in context, he is not exactly discussing a version of democracy way back when, which might not mean what it means to some of us today, but poets and playrights, and how in his time, the State and the individual didnt care for each other anymore [in his opinion] and that there needed to be a renaissance of some sort to seemingly bring up the blood again. And perhaps as I read several pages, he thought poets might lead the way.

    And this is what preceeds the fragments of quote above:

    “Our present crisis is too new to have as yet affected our national literature. ‘ But in so far as at no period since the Elizabethan age has the consciousness of that relationship been brought home to us so fully as it is to-day, may we look for some renaissance of it in the near future. In the meantime we turn to Shakespeare for its clearest expression.”

    then he writes

    “The modem democrat, perhaps,will often find it in a form which at first sight is distasteful to him. Shakespeare’s whole reading of history is aristocratic. He concentrates the history of the nation in the doings of its leaders; the people are of small account, and seldom appear upon the scene except to display their fickleness, their stupidity, or their bratality. Hence we find radicals like Hazlitt turning from Shakespeare’s historical dramas in disgust at what he concludes to be their anti*popular bias, and Walt Whitman, the mouthpiece of modern democracy, speaking of Shakespeare the poet of a feudalism that has [text of several words lost here.]

    Author goes on to say
    ” Statements of this kind show merely a neglect of historical fact and a lack of historical imagination. In the time at which Shakespeare wrote, no other presentation of fact would have been possible. The people had not yet emerged into political existence, and to present them as other than they were would not only have been a piece of political prescience which can hardly be expected even of the greatest of artists, it would have been a falsification of the truth.

    “Shakespeare was essentially a creature of the time, and he read history with the eyes of his time. He had doubtless a fuller vision and a clearer^ but it was his own time that he interpreted …”

    There is more, but it appears to be something like a lit crit piece by a man of the upper classes, who was also a poetry professor, and who wrote his thoughts and feelings long ago, and who was passionate about certain poets from what I can see.

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