In reference to the title, it turns out that “pride before the fall” is actually a misquote from Proverbs. In the King James Bible, the quote is, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”
Sound like anyone we’ve seen in the news recently?
In casting about for a Shakespeare moment that I liked for today, I couldn’t get my mind off the cascade of news coming out of Washington. It’s like I have the Trump virus and it’s infected my brain. However, his bully-boy tour of Europe and decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris accords, his continued narcissism and dog-eat-dog mentality took me to a quote from Julius Caesar, where Caesar admits that yes, there are other men but compares himself to the Northern Star, immovable and incomparable–in other words he too sees himself as unpresidented. It goes like this:
I could be well moved, if I were as you.
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.
But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;
They are all fire and every one doth shine.
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world: ’tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion; and that I am he
Let me a little show it, even in this:
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)
Of course, this is moments before he is lured into the betrayal by his most trusted allies and is brutally assassinated. The quote reminded me of how fragile leadership is especially when it is not tempered by self-awareness and a sense of morality.
And then columnist David Brooks’s essay in the New York Times, kicked my Trump virus into full gear with his insightful break-down of a statement made by two of Trumps lackeys this week. Brooks wrote:
“This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: ‘“The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”’
What disturbed me most (and made me think of Roman times) was their use of the word “arena” to describe the world view of the Trumpistas. They claim that their leader has a “clear-eyed” world vision that we are locked in battle with everyone seeking our own “advantage.” It derides and sweeps away generations of foreign policy that were centered on the creation of a “global community” for the greater good.
Brooks continues to comment that this attitude, “explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.”
Have you seen the reports of how difficult it has become to find anyone willing to work at the White House? There are fewer people running this White House than there were cast members of the “West Wing” television series.
Brooks ends his column with a historical insight (Greeks this time) that suggests we are on a path that fills people like me with dread:
“I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.”
Likewise, the Biblical passage above is somewhat incomplete. The full passage is, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Bits of wisdom that Mr. Trump would be entirely immune from. Besides, they come in long sentences with big words and no pictures.
Oh, well. Think I’ll just brew me up a big pot of covfefe and enjoy the rest of my Sunday. I hope you do too!
6 thoughts on “Shakespeare Sunday: Pride Before the Fall”
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I see that you yourself remain quite humble. It’s hard to be humble when you know so much, isn’t it? How do you do it?
WTP, Thanks for your comments. I wrote this some time ago and had to re-read it and was surprised that it has held up pretty well. I like it when older stuff I’ve read connects with what I find in the newspaper and what I hear going on in the world. Humility comes easy to me–I’m pretty aware of how much I don’t know.
Oh, perhaps you’re being too modest. You seem to indicate a rather broad knowledge of many worldly things in this article. Granted it was written two years ago. I was researching Shakespeare quotes when I stumbled upon it. You seem rather confident that it actually has held up pretty well. There’s nothing that has transpired to give you a measure of doubt? Do you think it will hold up well in another two years?
Ah, by putting all of your comments immediately into moderation. Well that does make it easier. No need to bother yourself with uncouth thinkers. And of course we know they are uncouth because…well, we just do.
WTP, sorry for the long delay in replying. I was a little confused by your second comment. But as to the first, yes, I do think it holds up and will continue to hold up because Trump’s narcissism is so rampant and he is so ill-informed that his pride is creating chaos and fear, not just here, but around the world. Two years from now, I think the comparison will be apt, but just hope against hope that he will “fall” (not be re-elected) and we can return to something resembling normalcy.
Are you a teacher by chance? I was wondering if you had had students read this piece because suddenly after your comments, it started to get a lot of traffic. Kind of unusual for something like this. Not that I mind!