The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1084 Wednesday, 19 May 2004
Date: Tuesday, 18 May 2004 12:55:31 -0400
Subject: The King and We: Henry V's War Cabinet
The King and We: Henry V's War Cabinet
Mock Debate at Shakespeare Theatre Has Familiar Ring
By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2004; Page C01
To invade or not to invade, that was the question. Once again, you had a
bunch of Washington pundits and insider types shooting off their mouths
about a decision that would get thousands of people maimed or killed and
poison international relations for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, the eight panelists holding forth at the Shakespeare
Theatre yesterday were talking about the 15th century, not the 21st. And
the topic they were debating was King Henry V's decision to lead an
English army into France in 1415, not President Bush's decision to send
an American army to Iraq in 2003.
Or was it?
"Let's see what we have here. We have a king whose father had been a
king. We have a king who spent a carousing youth," said industrialist
and Shakespeare Theatre trustee Sidney Harman as he introduced the
program. Harman went on to mention the "invasion of another sovereign
nation" and to paraphrase the hoary advice of George Santayana that
"those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Before long, Vanity Fair contributing editor Christopher Hitchens was
quoting Henry IV's deathbed advice to the newly reformed future Henry V
that in order to suppress domestic discontent, he should, in
Shakespeare's words, "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels." MSNBC
hardballer Chris Matthews was referring to the English longbows -- used
to great effect by young Henry's archers in his immortal victory at
Agincourt -- as "weapons of mass destruction." And moderator Walter
Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute (which helped put on
yesterday's panel), was citing a bon mot by panelist and New York Times
columnist David Brooks in which he'd compared the neoconservative
advocates of George W. Bush's war to the English churchmen who gave
their blessing to Henry's.
"Theocons," Brooks had called them.
The audience roared.
Such contemporary resonance was exactly what Isaacson had been hoping
for when he came up with the idea for yesterday's debate. Members of the
National Council for the Shakespeare Theatre, a fundraising body on
which he serves, were coming to town and he was looking for a program
that would keep them awake. Discussing this with theater managers, he
remembered a "Henry V" seminar that former Reagan administration
official and current Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adelman and his
wife had taught at the Aspen Institute last summer. (The Adelmans are
passionate Shakespeare aficionados and run a company called Movers and
Shakespeares that offers Bard-derived executive-training seminars for
businessmen.) Isaacson's teenage daughter had emerged from it muttering
"just like George Bush" -- to her, not a flattering comparison -- and
Adelman, who greatly admires both the king and the president, had been
unable to change her mind.
Besides Adelman, Hitchens, Matthews and Brooks, the other panelists were
Forbes FYI editor Christopher Buckley, syndicated columnist Arianna
Huffington, "Capital Gang" regular Margaret Carlson and Davidson College
Shakespeare scholar Cynthia Lewis -- an impressive collection of talking
heads, with everyone but Lewis a veteran of the quick-draw exchanges
expected of the Washington punditocracy. Yet despite the occasional
interjection of Shakespeare Theatre actors reading relevant scenes, it
wasn't clear if Isaacson's keep-them-awake goal would be met.
[ . . . ]
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