By Isaac Butler
Okay, so Charles Pierce has written such a glorious takedown of David Brooks' latest column that I won't even really try, you can go check that here. It's hilarious. No seriously, read it. And if you want to wonder why Brooks' latest is so imminently takedownable, just check the opening graph:
Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older. But suppose Henry went to an American school.
Um... didn't Brooks and his cohort invest a lot of energy right after 9/11 into telling us that George W. Bush-- educated in American schools-- was Henry V? And sure enough, didn't he go right in and declare war on a country that didn't post a threat to us using a legal figleaf, just like Henry V?
Seriously tho... if you read the column, it should be pretty clear to you that Brooks hasn't actually read Henry IV parts 1 +2 or Henry V any time recently. Maybe he rewatched the Branaugh movie or something. Who knows. In it he wonders at how the American education system would slowly deliver to Henry the message that the way he act sin the world isn't acceptable and he would either rebel and become delinquents or slide into mediocrity. Pierce has a lot to say about how stupid this column is, I'll just quote one graph:
Look, I like you people. I really do. But do I have to go on with this? Either Brooks is stoned to the gills, or the Times gave every editor in its payroll a free trip to Neptune. And actually, what Henry did was withdraw to the tavern, get roaring drunk in evil company, fuck whatever tavern wench happened to fall in his lap, and in all ways engage in pursuits that an unstoned David Brooks otherwise would find appalling among those people who eat government cheese in their double-wides while watching Cops and having the sexytime without his permission. This is behavior, of course, that bothers Brooks not at all when engaged in by the world's proper owners. Sucking up to the Plantagenets. Wow. You have to love a courtier pundit who tries to curry favor with a ruling elite that lost its power in 14-goddamn-85
The thing that bugs me here is... and maybe you have some idea about this, dear reader... why bother with the Henry V stuff, anyway? It doesn't make any sense in the context of American education, and it doesn't make any sense in the context of Henry V's biography either. Henry is hanging out in bars with a grotesquely obese alcoholic letch starting in mid adolescense. That's not a dude that's spending a lot of time in school, no matter what the school is like. Henry IV Part 1 gives us a few basic options for explaining Hal's turnaround at the end of the play and none of them come from education. Either (a) Hal's solliloquy at the beginning of the play ( I know you all, and will awhile uphold/ The unyoked humour of your idleness:/ Yet herein will I imitate the sun,/Who doth permit the base contagious clouds/To smother up his beauty from the world,) is accurate and he is just pretending to be a delinquent so when his moment really comes he'll shine brighter or (b) the tongue-lashing he gets from his father motivates him to really change in Act IV or (c) the external threat to his life as represented by Hotspur's conspiracy causes him to get his shit together or (d) his rivalry with Hotspur spurs him on to prove that he's the better man or (e) some combo of these.
Obviously there are more explanations possible than that. Perhaps he tires of Falstaff's company or his father reaching out to him unlocks something within him etc. and so forth. I'm just saying that none of these explanations have anything to do with the kind of social engineering Brooks is fretting about here. Seriously, why did he go to Prince Hal? It really makes no sense.
My guess is this: Brooks is doing his usual playing-dumb-because-he-thinks-you-are-schtick. He's guessing that you only vageuly remember the contours of Prince Hal's evolution into Henry V and he's trying to use this to, well, trick you. Because basically every David Brooks column is about finding a way to sneak Republican water-carrying in under the guise of ho-hum center right fairmindedness. So here he's hoping you just sorta remember that Hal was kinda a delinquent and hung out with a fat old dude and then he reformed and became totes awesome by invading France and winning.