Chilcot & Shakespearian “Loyalty”. The play’s the thing … catch … conscience … King


Comment at end

5th August 2011

Or –

”I’ll have grounds
More relative than this—the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 603–605

As he walked into the Hampstead Theatre on Tuesday, IF he so did, was Sir John Chilcot mulling over this from Hamlet, the prince who had turned playwright in order to make public mention of dastardly deeds and watch the “killer king” flinch?

If flinching comes, as flinching might, would that prove the killer king’s guilt? Ah yes, dear Horatio… and therein lies a tale of murder … and revenge most horrid. [Excuse the muddling of quotes. At muddled times like these, it’s required.]

Olivier, as Hamlet: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy'

On Monday in his Diary piece Matthew Norman informed his readers that the Iraq Inquiry’s chairman Sir John Chilcot was off to watch Shaespeare’s ‘Hamlet’  Helm’s ‘Loyalty’ at the Hampstead Theatre. More than that, rather ominously Mr Norman says (according to his insider knowledge) that  Sir John had asked to meet the play’s author. Sarah Helm is the wife of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff at Number 10. [I wrote about Betrayal Loyalty here]

I do hope Sir John was not thinking along these lines:

“The plot is intricate and bizarre, but Hamlet is relying on good, solid Renaissance psychology. Playwrights often claimed that their work encouraged virtue in upstanding citizens and caught the conscience of malefactors.”

Source: ‘The play’s the thing’

Like all good Shakespearean tragedies, by the story’s end most of the actors are either dead or mad.



For the chairman of the panel putting the final touches to the Report on the Iraq Inquiry it may justifiably raise an eyebrow or two.

“Loyalty” is the play by Sarah Helm loosely(?) based on her real life experience of being married to a man who was close to a man who was so besotted by another man that he laid down his country… or some such.

As the Indy says, commenting as it must, on this “meeting” of playwright and Iraq Inquiry chairman –

“If he wishes to discuss where precisely Sarah drew the line between fact and fiction, you wonder if this might more properly be done in front of the full committee.”

You serpently do, Indy.

So, Mr Norman and colleagues – when the present government’s inquiry into the press gets seriously underway I DO hope you are keeping track of all the sources you use to tell us all the things you know about all the people you love to hate and all the people you’d love to think we love to hate too.

Not that The Independent is the only press outlet that might benefit from investigation.

Someone asked me today on Twitter why I didn’t trust the Guardian. The below is part of why. They are running a little quiz – just to ensure that we the populace gullible get our “facts” straight. It’s on Iraq On Stage.  I am proud to say I only got 2 out of 10 right.

And this is one I got wrong:

  • You answered incorrectly

    8. Which of these things did Sarah Helm say about Loyalty, her “fictionalised memoir” about life with her husband, Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell, during the build-up to the Iraq war?

    Correct answer: “I hope it’s funny.”

    You answered: “I hope it isn’t funny.”

What? She hoped it was “funny”? So that’s why Sir John wanted to see it!  It was not a Shakespearian Tragedy but a Comedy. He was in need of a good laugh.

It seems she did say that, by the way.  After all The Guardian tells me so.

A Comedy of Errors?

“Every why hath a wherefore.”
– William Shakespeare – The Comedy of Errors, 2.2

“They brought one Pinch, a hungry lean-faced villain,
A mere anatomy, a mountebank,
A threadbare juggler, and a fortune-teller,
A needy, hollow.eyed, sharp-looking wretch,
A living-dead man.”
– William Shakespeare – The Comedy of Errors, 5.1

“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity.”
– William Shakespeare – The Comedy of Errors, 2.1

And now you’ve got me started on our illustrious bard, there’s no stopping me now.

Back to Hamlet and his most famous soliloquy – To be or not to be

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.


How did Shakespeare KNOW all these things? I mean – HOW? The Indy, Mail or Guardian weren’t even around then to tell him!


Of course, perhaps Ms Helm’s play may tell us more about the rocky path we know as marriage:

Shakespeare Quotations on Marriage

Get thee a good husband,
and use him as he uses thee.
(All’s Well That Ends Well 1.1.212-13)

If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage.
(All’s Well That Ends Well 1.3.54)

The fittest time to corrupt a man’s wife is when she’s fallen out with her husband.
(Coriolanus 4.3.30-2)

For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss,
And is a pattern of celestial peace.
(1 Henry VI 5.5.63-6)

Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.
(The Merchant of Venice 2.9.85)

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
(The Taming of the Shrew 5.2.145-53)

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.
(The Taming of the Shrew 4.1.197)

I will be master of what is mine own:
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing.
(The Taming of the Shrew 3.2.228-31)

Fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to
herrings, the husband’s the bigger.
(Twelfth Night 3.1.35-6)

Source: Shakespeare on Marriage



Review – by Kira Cochrane  – Why I wrote a play about Tony Blair and the Iraq war

Helm’s position was more pointed than most. As she joked at her wedding in 2007, “there were three of us in this relationship” – with Tony Blair as the ultimate third wheel.

They were living and breathing all the key decisions, she says, “and when it’s something you’re strongly, viscerally opposed to, that’s difficult”.

Blair had fostered a very particular relationship with his advisers, of whom Powell was sometimes described as the closest. (In one interview, Powell said he occasionally fantasised about taking a bullet for Blair – other times about firing the bullet himself.) “Tony Blair personalised everything,” says Helm, “so it wasn’t a traditional civil-service relationship. It was very close . . . I’m not saying they were best friends. But there was a loyalty he won that wasn’t just to a government or an institution. It was loyalty to a man.”

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Recent comments:

I am staggered by all the hate directed towards our former Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair made the Iraq decision in good faith and is most certainly NOT a war criminal. If anyone should be tried at the Hague it should be those in the media for totally misrepresenting the information and facts. The media are to blame for fuelling this hatred as it is purely driven by them. (UK)

The greatest and most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had with the courage to fight the Islamist terrorists who really would like to kill us all, and you never hear a good word about him. The herd of independent minds, commentators, activists etc who have never had to make a difficult decision in their lives drown out all debate with their inane chants of war crimes and blood on his hands. Defend him at every chance. I just wish more people would do it. (Glasgow, UK)
Blair was the greatest Labour Prime Minister. It is a disgrace that the party has turned away from his legacy. Shame on Ed Miliband and his so-called ‘new generation’.


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