One of my proudest moments as a parent came, bizarrely, during a viewing of the otherwise excrable George of the Jungle 2 – note George of the Jungle 2
, not the Brendan Fraser production, which was bad enough. At the end of GotJ2 nasty developers are planning to bulldoze the jungle, and only our brave hero George stands in their way. He calls together the badly realised animals of the jungle (including if memory serves John Cleese as a talking gorilla – hope the pay cheque made it worth it!), and delivers a monologue that is a distant parody of Henry V’s speech to his troops on the eve of the battle of Agincourt. (If you don’t know this speech, go and read it – now. Better still go and watch it, although last time I checked the 1945 Olivier version was not on YouTube. A few years ago I found a video copy in a charity shop, and I treasure it!). It (the sub-Brendan Fraser speech) is a horridly grotesque parody, but what makes the memory stand out for me is that my son, who could only have been about seven or eight at the time, actually recognised
the speech – “Isn’t that from that play you like…?”
Yeah, I do like it, a bit, although I didn’t realise I had gone on about it quite so much. It’s an utterly astonishing piece of writing. One small example of how this speech has entered the English psyche is the “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” line, which Churchill echoed in his reference to the Battle of Britain pilots as “The Few”. He may not have referenced the line deliberately, but he really didn’t need to.
One of the things I love about this play, one of my favourites, is that is so multi-faceted. One production can make it a war-loving nationalistic propoganda piece, another with barely any adjustment can make it a devastating critique of man’s rush to war.
Now this blog isn’t going to just repeat the obvious – “Isn’t Shakespeare a good writer? – but he was, and it is worth stepping back sometimes and paying homage.