With a hung parliament before us, there is little new that can be added to the many words already spoken and written about the choices we have made and the possibilities which lie ahead. I turn, instead, to William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, in which a kind of utopian society is imagined by the faithful old courtier, Gonzalo. Gonzalo and his master, Alonzo, the King of Naples, are among those shipwrecked on a beautiful and seemingly uninhabited island. Alonzo is grief-stricken, as he believes his son, Ferdinand, perished when the ship was wrecked. To distract Alonso from his sorrow, Gonzalo tries to turn his attention to their surroundings and a contemplation what might be accomplished in this verdant, untouched land. Shakespeare’s play was first performed in 1611. James 1st was on the throne in an England still remembering the Golden Age of Elizabeth 1st. The continents visited by explorers were still largely unknown but full of promise. I have reproduced, here, Gonzalo’s vision without the interruptions with which the original is beset. Do you agree with some of Gonzalo’s daring ideas to shake up society?

From The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1


Had I plantation of this isle, my lord, []

And were the king on’t, what would I do? []

I’ the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;– [ ]

All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.

William Shakespeare

The 20th playwright, poet and theatre director, Bertold Brecht, had strong views about the structure of society. These shaped his distinctive style of epic theatre. In the poem below, there is no overt political message. The title, Everything Changes, seems somehow appropriate.

Everything Changes

Everything changes. You can make

A fresh start with your final breath.

But what has happened has happened. And the water

You once poured into the wine cannot be

Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water

You once poured into the wine cannot be

Drained off again, but

Everything changes. You can make

A fresh start with your final breath.

Bertolt Brecht


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Filed under Bitesize Read, Poem of the Week, Uncategorized

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