If any of you Fickle Readers out there follow me on Twitter (@msficklereader in case you’re wondering!), you know that I love retweeting quotes from the various Shakespeares I follow. Here’s a tweet that came up today:
I am able to endure much.
I looked at that and thought, Oh, baby, that’s me. When you have a chronic illness especially, you endure a hell of a lot. Achy muscles and joints. Painfully cold hands and feet. A brain that doesn’t want to function. Then, because one of my big issues with Shakespeare is how his words get pulled away from their contexts, I decided to look up where this particular Shakespeare found this little tidbit of wisdom. Sure enough, it came from a much less noble source: Jack Cade, the batshit-crazy and ultimately incompetent revolutionary depicted in Henry VI, Part 2. Have a look at Cade’s self-absorbed pomposity in the scene where the quote comes from. All the characters are being mocked through their own actions, and the guy who’s the biggest target is Cade. Minor characters Bevis and Holland poke holes in his grandiose demeanor in a Stephen Colbert-esque way: the men agree with Cade, but they’re also idiots, and everything they say in support of Cade makes him seem more delusional and pathetic than his overblown speech already does. Of course, there’s nothing about the speech, the words Cade says, that cues you into his lunacy. But Shakespeare’s audience would have known about Cade’s failed worker’s revolt against King Henry VI and so would have realized what an anarchist asshole he was being made out to be.
So, the quote above isn’t really championing those who suffer and survive. In context, Shakespeare’s saying something more along the lines of, “You, endure much? Yeah, whatever.”
Another fun fact: this is also the scene where Shakespeare’s famous quip, “let’s kill all the lawyers,” comes from. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken at face value. Even though people back in Shakespeare’s day had as many Lawyers Suck! jokes as we do now, Shakespeare also seems to be saying, dudes, you of all people are going to need lawyers after this whole debacle is over.