If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Caught out in a cliché

Oops. When I made a remark in a recent post about Gordon Brown's farewell speech, which reminded me of the death of the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth, I didn't realise that half the bloody Labour Party had got there first. Ross has the details:

What the pundits say about Brown's exit:

Kevin Maguire-"Nothing became him as the manner of his leaving"

Donald Macintyre- "Appropriately perhaps it's a line from the Scottish play that may act as his epitaph – political rather than actual, of course – that "nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it". "

Daniel Hannan- "For once, the word “tragedy” is exactly apposite. I have laboured the Brown/Macbeth parallel so often as to try the patience of every reader of this blog, but it is appropriate to close by quoting that play one more time: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it”. "

Jackie Ashley- "Nothing became him so much as the manner of his going."

It might be worth getting the lines right, for a start:

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it;

Macintyre and Hannan: 8/10 (where did the 'of' come from?)

Maguire and Ashley: 4/10 (OK in an exam, from memory, but poor otherwise).

What do they do for O-level these days? Critical analysis of The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Notions of Kingship in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas?

The similarities between Gordon Brown and Macbeth are superficially attractive - powerful but doomed leader faces destruction through superior force - but ultimately don't work. Macbeth achieved his position through an act of brutal murder at the behest of his ambitious wife. I can't really see Sarah goading him into getting rid of Tuscan Tony through appeals to his manliness, can you?

When you durst do it, then you were a man
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man ...

Act I Scene 7 is dripping with sex: Lady Macbeth's goading and taunting of Macbeth is all based on his insecure masculinity and her obvious sexual power over him. All she has to do is suggest he is a wimp, and he will do anything to prove her wrong - including murdering his own King, who has treated him like a son. I've often thought that he would have been much better off to have flung her back over the bed, ripped off her kirtle and given her a large one, just to make his point. It would have been much less trouble, in the long run. But Twittering Sarah and Gloomy Gordon? No, I don't think so.

The comparison also falls down at the end of the play. Macbeth has brutalised his way to ultimate power (yes), all his yes-men have deserted him (Comical Ali and Ed Bollocks were still there when I last looked) and he is facing certain defeat by a superior English force advancing under the cover of stolen foliage (well, possibly). And yet, in that famous scene where he fights with his nemesis, Macduff, he achieves a kind of glory.

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But bear-like I must fight the course ...

Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries "Hold, enough!".

I know he is a rotter and we are not supposed to like him, but I always feel a certain admiration for Macbeth at this moment. He's trapped in his castle, and all his people have deserted him. The English forces surround him. Having just found out that his supposed invincibility was only a trick played upon him by the Witches, and facing certain defeat at the hands of a more powerful adversary, he doesn't cave in or whimper for mercy, but grows in stature and fights purely for his own honour, for himself, rather than power or position or wealth or to prove how big his willy is. For all his murderous sins, he dies a heroic death. Parallels with Gordon Brown? Some, but I'm not convinced.

I would see Brown as Coriolanus. Brilliant general, but fundamentally flawed; too proud to listen; and killed in the end by those he trusted for his betrayal of their plans.

Co-starring Peter Mandelson as Tullus Aufidius.


  1. Very good! you get top marks for knowing your Shakespeare.

  2. Coo, thanks! I used to know it almost word-for-word, but age isn't kind to memory and I did have to check my quotes. It's my favourite Shakespeare play. Well, apart from Lear, and possibly Hamlet. And I'm very fond of Cymbeline. And Othello's pretty good. Oh well, you get the picture. Biker and Shakespeare nut.

    Thanks for commenting, Ruth.


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