In praise of the bard

William Shakespeare, the Bard of bards, was born on this day in 1564. I only wish I had half the ear for language and poetry that he had. In his honor, permit me, gentle reader, a brief quotation from Antony and Cleopatra.

Backstory: Antony, full of the lust for power and for Cleopatra, is plotting to overthrow Caesar. He consults a Seer to find out what his chances of success are.

Antony: Say to me, Whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or mine?Soothsayer: Caesar’s. Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side. Thy demon, that thy spirit which keeps thee, is noble, courageous, high, unmatchable, where Caesar’s is not; but near him thy angel becomes a fear, as being o’erpowered. Therefore make space enough between you.

Antony: Speak this no more.

Soothsayer: To none but thee, no more but when to thee. If thou dost play with him at any game, thou are sure to lose, and, of that natural luck, he beats thee ‘gainst the odds. Thy luster thickens when he shines by. I say again, thy spirit is all afraid to govern thee near him, but he away, ’tis noble.

Antony: Get thee gone.

Shakespeare found the moral in every great story. Here, hubris overcomes common sense, the lust for power blinds us to our weaknesses, and Antony, emboldened by his love for Cleopatra and his dream of ruling Rome, moves steadily towards disaster, despite clear warnings that he is heading for ruin.

Not much has changed in human nature since Roman times, and Shakespeare knew that better than most. Let me suggest that sometime today, in the middle of that boring staff meeting, you stand and honor the Bard by speaking thusly:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…
As You Like It

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