Gov. Neil Abercrombie loves the Bard.
He let slip to media mogul Arianna Huffington at a Third Metric discussion in Honolulu Sept. 5 that he has been rereading the works of William Shakespeare.
Abercrombie said the same thing at a press conference Sept. 9 to announce his call for a special legislative session to pass a same-sex marriage bill.
The latter Shakespeare remark was, he suggested, to place complex contemporary social movements — like the one around gay marriage — in historical context. It makes sense given that there have been few greater authorities on politics, revenge, love, sex, family, religion, language and life than the Bard of Avon.
It got me wondering about what Hawaii’s governor might learn from the literary giant, and how might it help Hawaii?
It’s tempting to make cheap observations about Abercrombie’s tenure as governor by simply listing some titles — e.g., Much Ado About Nothing, The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labour’s Lost.
But if I did that, I’d be posing. My background on Shakespeare, sadly, is limited to reading Julius Caesar in the eighth grade, playing Pyramus opposite Thisbe in a 12th-grade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and watching Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (or perhaps it was Macbeth — whichever one has the scene where a guy talks to a skull) and Kenneth Branagh in Henry V, which was bloody as hell.
Despite my literary ignorance, Shakespeare remains timely. Just this year, they found Richard III’s bones under a parking lot in Leicester, England and, sure enough, he had a spinal deformity as was depicted in Richard III. Branagh will soon make his Broadway debut in a production of Macbeth. And an article in last Sunday’s Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times, titled Maximum Shakespeare, noted a surge of Shakespeare this fall on stage, television and film.
So maybe our gov is on to something.
Asked about his decision to reread the Bard, Abercrombie said in a statement to Civil Beat, “I always had an interest in William Shakespeare ever since junior high school when I learned about Julius Caesar and politics. Recently, I watched a PBS special on the ‘Bard of Avon’ and the program reignited my interest in this master storyteller.”
That led to the governor seeking out the source.
“A few days later, I found a complete collection of Shakespeare’s plays at a local bookstore for about $8,” he said. “I took this great bargain to be a sign for me to embark on reading all of his plays in chronological order. Shakespeare’s language is so rich that it fills your mind with visions as his stories unfold. It is no wonder his plays have been translated to almost every language known to man.”
My first thought after reading what the governor had to say in his response was: The governor has time to visit bookstores, watch PBS and read fiction? Really? But my second thought, as a recovering English major, is: Cool.
It might seem less cool that Abercrombie doesn’t use the Internet or even a computer. But enriching the life of the mind by reading books can’t hurt him or the state, and it might even help.
After all, like Prospero in The Tempest, Abercrombie is powerful man on a remote island and he’s consumed with political schemes.
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch.
But a year from now, Abercrombie will be 76 and either coasting toward a second term as governor or preparing to hand off the reins of power to a Governor Ige.
Either way, the governor is in, as he puts it, his fifth decade of public service. It’s a time of reflection. It seems fitting, then, to close with Hamlet. Read into it what you will:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.