Shakespeare and Dogberry Marxism

Submitted by dalcassian on 28 December, 2015 - 9:14 Author: Tom Macara

KARL MARX was a bardolator, that is, a fanatic lover of Shakespeare. And he passed his love on to all his daughters.

Eleanor, when she was not helping to organise gasworkers and dockers into Britain's first general unions, would relax by enacting scenes from Shakespeare's plays, gleefully intoning lines about such characters as the king who "conld smile and smile and smile and be a villain" - just as she had with her father when she was a little girl.

You would have to trawl wider than Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing" to umderstand Marx's life-long passion, but if the idea of "Shakespeare" puts you off, you could do worse than start exploring here.

This is a joyful, warm-spirited production of one of the most popular of Shakespeare's comedies. Filmed in Italy, the whole production is drenched in sun and good feeling.

The story concerns two pairs of lovers, and a benign prince and his malign brother, Don John, the Bastard, who is a sort of pantomime villain.

The first pair of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, are notoriously at odds, verbally fencing and sparking off each other with sharp wit when they meet. Their friends and the prince conspire to bring them together. They are brought together by a struggle against the sombre fate of Hero, Beatrice's consin, one half of the other pair of lovers.

Hero, all innocence and inexperience, is to be married to Claudio. The night before the wedding, the idly malicious Don John sets it up so that Claudio is led to belie he he sees her making love to someone else.

The next day he goes half way through the wedding ceremony and then, in a scene of savage vindictiveness, publicly denounces, slanders and disgraces the bewildered Hero.

This is a terrible schene; the men turn hysterically on the young woman as if they will rend her, because she has, they beheve, transgressed against their sexual code.

Her father, Leonato, an upright, dignified, good-hearted man, at first turns on her, with implicit faith in what Claudio says, backed by the prince, who also saw what he thinks he saw.

Later the father relents, not from an instinctive siding with his daughter, but because he is finally convinced mat she is wronged. He will speak bitter words about that savage wedding scene and what the prince and Claudio did to his daughter. He questions one of the tools in the plot to slander Hero:

"Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killtd mine innocent child?"

The man rephes: "Yes, even I alone".

"No, not so villain; Thou beliest thyself.

Here stand a pair of honourable men;

A third is near that had a hand in it.

I thank you, princes, for my daughter's death;

Record it with your bigh and worthy deeds:

'Twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it".

Hero is not dead, they only pretend she is. Don John's plot is exposed by Shakespeare's version of the Keystone Cops, the Town Watch; Hero and Claudio are reconciled,

The cast is especially good. Denzel Washington is unexpected but fine as the Prince; Emma Thompson wonderful as Beatrice; Richard Briers dignified as Leonato. Michael Keaton, recently Batman, the weird vigilante of Gotham City, is here the fat, dirty and very stupid Dogherry, head of the Town Watch.

Dogherry, hilariously, does to the EngUsh language what many Marxists do to the language of Marxism. For example:

"Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruth; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves".

Doesn't it remind you of the non sequiturs, muddled logic, decayed formulas, and the vain pretensions to system and sense, that nowadays so often pass for Marxism? Whole dictionaries of Dogberryisms could be compiled from the publications of the pseudo-Trotskyists!

The hype for Kenneth Branagh is enough to put you off him, and I don't like him much as an actor, but this is the second Shakespeare play he has turned into a passable, and in some ways, a fine film, and I am grateful for that. See it!

Socialist Organiser 9-9-93