Saturday, 23 December 2017

Jacinda And The Bard.

Always The Right Words: When words fail you, Shakespeare's are always there to say what you want to say - only more eloquently. Our new Prime Minister possesses qualities the Bard knew well - and well described.

THE THING ABOUT SHAKESPEARE, is that he has already said everything you could possibly want to say – only more eloquently. Never was this more obvious to me than during the thirty-six hours between Andrew Little’s public admission that Labour’s dire polls had made him think about stepping-down; and Jacinda, reluctantly (?) stepping-up.

Before setting out to share my thoughts on the rapidly unfolding political drama with the AM Show’s Duncan Garner that fateful morning, I’d Googled “there is a tide in the affairs of men” and hurriedly printed-off the result. Half-an-hour later, in TV3’s Green Room, I attempted to commit Brutus’s famous lines from Julius Caesar to memory.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

For Jacinda Ardern and her fortunes were, indeed, afloat upon a full sea. Never had her party had greater need of a leader of courage and imagination than on that day, Monday, 31 July 2017. That she was the leader Labour needed could not be disputed. The polls confirmed it. Her colleagues knew it. The country wanted it. The question was: Would she do it? Could she, like Hotspur in Henry IV Part One, step forward boldly to declare:

“Out of this nettle – danger – we pluck this flower – safety.”

The country would have its answer within twenty-four hours.

Watching Andrew Little announce his decision to resign the Labour Party leadership and nominate Jacinda Ardern as his successor, I once again found myself indebted to the Bard. This time for his rendering of Malcolm’s report of Cawdor’s death to King Duncan in Macbeth:

“Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it. He died
As one that had been studied in his death
To throw away the dearest thing he owed
As ’twere a careless trifle.”

But the country was granted only a few minutes to muse upon the death of Little’s ill-starred leadership. The doors to the Labour Party’s Caucus Room swung open and there she was, striding down the corridor towards the waiting cameras and the microphones of the assembled journalists.

And what a performance she delivered! In 40 years of participating in and writing about politics I have never seen the like of it. Jacinda’s first media conference confirmed the pollsters’ numbers, her colleagues’ hopes, and the public’s intuition – in spades.

So perfectly did she time this astonishing demonstration of her brilliance, that I could only think of Prince Hal’s shrewd, if somewhat calculating, speech in Henry IV Part One:

“I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.”

For if Jacinda Ardern had hardly smothered up her beauty from the world, she had, most assuredly, concealed from it the sheer magnitude of her talent and the full scope of her ambition. In this she was aided by the “foul and ugly mist” created by her predecessors. Among the “contagious clouds” of Labour’s repeated failures, it turned out, had been the perfect place to hide!

But now Mt Albert’s princess is New Zealand’s Sun Queen. And, in the grim tradition of all who assume national leadership, Jacinda must undergo the painful alchemy of power. Her base metal days of deejaying the night away among Auckland’s bohemian set are over. Her golden days as New Zealand’s prime minister begin.

In Henry IV Part Two, Shakespeare has Prince Hal – now King Henry – dismiss his former friends with brutal finality:

“Presume not that I am the thing I was,
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self”.

In the Coalition Agreement she signed with Winston Peters, Jacinda promised to lead a “transformational government”. Only slowly, I suspect, is she beginning to understand who is being transformed – and to what degree.

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 December 2017.


peter petterson said...

And a happy Christmas to Jacinda and everybody.

Jack Scrivano said...

I wish her well, Chris. Not because I see her as a sun queen or sun princess, but because New Zealand needs a competent Government. Unfortunately, a coalition Government, with such differing priorities, is always going to struggle. I think that we are about to see the worst of MMP.

Merry Christmas.

Victor said...

Maybe, in approximately nine years time, we'll be saying:

"Age cannot wither her"

I sort of hope so.

Diane Percy said...

How right you are, Chris; re both Jacinda's humanity and courage and Shakespeare's wonderful verse.

Charles Pigden said...

The quotes are good but the context tends to undermine their overt content. Prince Hal is a machiavellian schemer whose public slumming is partly a public-relations exercise so that the reformation he plans will distinguish him in the public eye.

My reformation glittering o'er my fault
Shall show more godly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off

The person who announces that announces that 'there is a tide in the affairs of men' is Brutus who, ignoring the counsels of the more cautious and more militarily experienced Cassius, is using the thesis to justify the march on Philippi which will lead to a catastrophic defeat. It's the ebb-tide not the flood that Brutus catches. As for

Presume not that I am the thing I was

that come rom one of the most psychologically brutal rejection scenes in world literature in which Hal kills Falstaff's heart. I hope that Jacinda is neither a ruthless Machiavellian Hal nor a an overconfident but doomed Brutus.

Anonymous said...

She might just MIGHT last 6 years but that is entirely doubtful given just how diametrically opposed the coalition parties are.
Certainly 9 years is fanciful.
As for age not withering her, I think she has already show some significant signs that the stress is getting to her. Contrast that with Key who largely seemed nonplussed by the theatre of it all and yet after 8 years he had aged pretty significantly.

sumsuch said...

What a brilliance, 'our bard', 400 years ago, and a mean man privately, apparently. A Brummie remember, let's give the Midlands their due.

The sweetness is leadership rather than the followership of the last 2 decades. Respects to you on this point.

I don't personally resent the English empire, as a NZ Scot, because of the inherited empire of the English language.

I conclude Ardern is just another charisma that is blown away by powers. Long tradition in Labour.

Whereas, to be successful, this govt must not be manoeuvers among masters, as per so many decades, but leadership of a revolution.

But then again the people for that just aren't there. Can a revolution be conjured from the comfortable complacent? Who knew the defeat of humans only required, as per crayfish, 'slow-boiling'. Can vital action, as per WW 2, be brought forth from present know-nothing subjective belief in our right to comfort?

My namesake uncle died for democracy. I'm not sure I can bring similar force from cotton wool country, not bred to it. Bred to be a letter-writer, worthy of the full contempt of Monte Holcroft, and every other journalist ever born.

Victor said...

On the subject of the Bard, I've always liked this:

The Craftsman (by Kipling)

"Once, after long-drawn revel at The Mermaid,
He to the overbearing Boanerges
Jonson, uttered (if half of it were liquor,
Blessed be the vintage!)

Saying how, at an alehouse under Cotswold,
He had made sure of his very Cleopatra,
Drunk with enormous, salvation-contemning
Love for a tinker.

How, while he hid from Sir Thomas's keepers,
Crouched in a ditch and drenched by the midnight
Dews, he had listened to gipsy Juliet
Rail at the dawning.

How at Bankside, a boy drowning kittens
Winced at the business; whereupon his sister--
Lady Macbeth aged seven--thrust 'em under,
Sombrely scornful.

How on a Sabbath, hushed and compassionate--
She being known since her birth to the townsfolk--
Stratford dredged and delivered from Avon
Dripping Ophelia

So, with a thin third finger marrying
Drop to wine-drop domed on the table,
Shakespeare opened his heart till the sunrise--
Entered to hear him.

London waken and he, imperturbable,
Passed from waking to hurry after shadows . . .
Busied upon shows of no earthly importance?
Yes, but he knew it!"

And there are still those who believe that a failed Midland glover's son couldn't possibly have known or understood all this..... because, after all, he was only the son of a failed Midland glover. So what would he know?

Victor said...

OMG! I've just remembered, Shakespeare's mother's family name was Ardern!

Probably not significant. But who knows?