…according to the Daily Mail. Great piece from A.N. Wilson looking at Shakespeare’s take on Europe – and vice versa – in response to two polititians trading Shakespeare quotes in relation to the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership.
Earlier this week European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “To be, or not to be together, that is the question.” In response, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, a long-time Eurosceptic, alluded on the Guardian website to Macbeth: “So much sound and fury, so little outcome.”
There are no doubts… about Shakespeare’s credentials as one who spoke for England. Strangely, though, his greatest admirers in European history, and those Europeans who claimed to be inspired by Shakespeare, saw him not as a petty patriot but as a great liberator of the human spirit. Johann Goethe, Germany’s universal genius, tells us that when he first read Shakespeare in the 18th century the first page “made me his for life. I stood like one born blind, on whom a miraculous hand bestows sight in a moment”.
Victor Hugo, in the following century in France, literally started a riot at La Comédie-Française, the theatre in Paris devoted to classical drama, when he staged his supposedly Shakespearean drama Hernani in 1830. The Battle of Hernani was seen not merely as a revolution in literature but as a prelude, later that year, to the revolutionary collapse of the Bourbon monarchy.
Continentals saw Shakespeare not as a little-Englander but as a liberator, one who belonged to all mankind. Hugo even went so far as to think the British had not really ever understood their national poet. “It took 300 years,” he wrote, “for England to catch those two words that the whole world shouted in her ear — William Shakespeare.”