Not all about you

Novels are not all about you, Natasha | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited
Lovely letter from Ian McEwan in reply to the review of his new book. His point is, as he says, one which you would hardly think needs to be made, but clearly it does. I’m always amused when people cite John of Gaunt’s “sceptred isle” speech in Richard II as evidence of Shakespeare’s patriotism. First, it’s the character’s view, not the playwright’s; more importantly, in the context of the play, the speech is a lament for an England that is lost. John of Gaunt finishes his dying speech by condemning the decline of the country he loved. It doesn’t stop people (often politicians) using the speech as if it were an uncritical celebration of the nation.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Not all about you by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

3 Responses to “Not all about you”

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my notice, Rob. I’d managed to miss it.

    Gaunt’s speech has always been a thorn in my side. At school, I had to learn a choral version of it, which doesn’t help. Every time an actor launches forth, the music starts up in my head!

    Living as close to Stratford as I do I’ve seen many ‘Richard II’ and what I always find difficult is the way you can actually feel the audiences’ backbones stiffen at the first words however the actor chooses to deliver them. I suspect that however the company have interpreted the speech those in the pits will always see it as patriotic.

  2. Yes, and it’s probably those members of the audience who had similar experiences to yours in their youth. Old Bill is always a convenient source for soundbites for lazy (or indeed scurvy) politicians, though.

  3. That’s amazing. I’m looking forward to reading this book – partly as I’m very familiar with Chesil Beach (the place), an uncanny bit of geography that should make an interesting setting for a novel.

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