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Rt. Hon’ble Bill Shakespeare, M.P

May 12, 2010

The most delicious literary discovery of my youth was P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry on Jeeves in the 8th standard. Being raised on a strict diet of swashbuckling novels like Kidnapped, Call of the Wild, Treasure Island and, of course, Sherlock Holmes, I approached Wodehouse with about as much enthusiasm as a tangdi-kabab connoisseur to a bowl of Gazpacho soup.

From one-legged pirates and murderous uncles I was expected to shift to long-winded tales of love affairs between lazy English nobles and London chorus girls (whatever those are!), with some butlers and eccentric old people thrown in for good measure. I’d never read any book that was supposed to make you laugh. I didn’t think I would like it all.

But I loved it!

Carry on Jeeves was soon followed by Hot Water and then Leave it to Psmith until soon I couldn’t get enough of Wodehouse. I delighted in the exquisitely unfamiliar sensation of laughing out loud in a book. This was my big introduction to British humour.

I loved its irreverence. Take for example this-

“It’s only about once in a lifetime that anything sensational ever happens to one, and when it does, you don’t want people taking all the colour out of it. I remember at school having to read that stuff where that chap, Othello, tells the girl what a hell of a time he’d been having among the cannibals and what not. Well, imagine his feelings if, after he had described some particularly sticky passage with a cannibal chief and was waiting for the awestruck “Oh-h! Not really?”, she had said that the whole thing had no doubt been greatly exaggerated and that the man had probably really been a prominent local vegetarian.”


By the time I discovered the Yes Minister books/show by Lynn & Jay, I was a die hard quotes-on-the-back-of-my-hand fan of Wodehouse. But reading through the adventures of the Rt. Hon’ble James Hacker M.P, the brilliant Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) and the awesomely pedantic Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley, I fell in love all over again.

An excerpt-

“Hacker: Who else is in this department?

Sir Humphrey: Well briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary

Hacker: Can they all type?

Sir Humphrey: None of us can type. Mrs Mackay types: she’s the secretary.

Minister: Pity, we could have opened an agency.

Sir Humphrey: Very droll, Minister.”

By the time I got to college, a lot of well-read people were saying that the old British humour was dead. I refused to believe it.

Today, when they point out that hip-hop is the most popular “music” in England these days, and ask how could a country of FUBU-wearing Akon-listening teenagers be possibly expected to throw up any new Wodehouses or Wildes, I still refuse to listen.

Partly because I can’t bear the thought.

But partly because in my mind, some suitably eccentric Englishman is right now preparing the script of a new show featuring Bill Shakespeare M.P, Minister of Theatre and Artistic Affairs.

(In the first episode the Minister’s awesomely pedantic Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley is correcting a first draft of a new play by the Minister titled P. Hamlet and the Goblet of Poison. The Minister’s Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby is just concluding his speech on the dangers of allowing Ministers to write their own work)

Humphrey: So you see Bernard, the next time your Minister goes on a walkabout, you had better be there to stop it. Else we could be stuck with another Pericles, Prince of Tyre. I don’t need to tell you Bernard, I hardly think your permanent record would be able to sustain another debacle like that.

Bernard: Terribly sorry sir, but I was given to understand that the people actually quite liked that play.

Humphrey: Well of course the people liked it, the people like anything with sex and murder in it. But the purpose of theatre isn’t to entertain the people, it is to educate them. If they’re having fun, that beats the point doesn’t it Bernard? And as the Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, it is your duty to prevent the Minister taking such liberties. You must bear in mind that while you and I have had the benefit of an Oxford education, the Minister was unable to access any learning beyond the King’s Grammar School at Stratford, a fine institution no doubt but prone to the kind of creeping intellectual laxity that comes to people who take their woodwork more seriously than their Latin. While the Minister’s semi-literate background may endear him to his constituents, it does not equip him for his job. That is why, Bernard, we are supposed to do his job. Speaking of which, how is your reading of the Minister’s latest play coming along? The Minister seems rather pleased with it.

Bernard: Erm.. the play is somewhat.. um that is to say… Act III… I mean, some portions of it are… confused….

Humphrey: Confused, Bernard?

(The Minister enters)

Shakespeare: What’s all this about confused? Who’s confused?

Humphrey: Bernard was just discussing your newest play Hamlet and the Goblet of Poison…

Shakespeare: It confused you Bernard? Shall I say, “in sooth I know not why” you are so confused “it wearies me, you say it wearies you” eh ha ha ha what do you think of that?

Humphrey: Very clever, Minister. Though perhaps Bernard would….

Bernard: Thank you sir… as I was telling Sir Humphrey, Minister, Hamlet’s speech in Act II, Scene I….

Shakespeare: Aah, my masterpiece! “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 or troubles/ And, by opposing, end them….”

Bernard: Exactly sir, well, it isn’t really possible to take arms against a sea of troubles. I mean to say, it’s a mixed metaphor sir.

Shakespeare: A mixed who?

Bernard: A mixed metaphor, Minister. So, one the one hand, Hamlet could legitimately take arms against an army of troubles. No problem. Alternately, he could equally take ship against a sea of troubles, if he were so disposed- though it is doubtful that this would convey the same thing, you see if one takes ship against a sea of troubles one signals that one is perhaps equipped to face the sea of troubles, even survive it, but not exactly “end” the troubles- since the troubles here refer to the troublesome sea and – seeing as how one can’t choose the weather- one would assume the sea of troubles would continue to be troublesome until the storm blew over and the sun came out and that the ship would continue to face the troubles until that time.That is, in my opinion, not what Hamlet would’ve wished under the circumstances.

Shakespeare: Er-

Bernard: Also, under no circumstances can one take arms against a sea of troubles. You see, Minister, it would be totally ineffective. The swords would simply slice through the water like this.. swishhhh.. swishhhhswishhhhh.. and the spears would simply- plop– collect in a heap on the ocean floor; also it is quite likely that if the sea were really troublesome Hamlet may even risk drowning, something his “arms” would be extremely ineffective to guard against. If I may digress somewhat, it’s quite interesting Minister, that if Hamlet were to actually take arms against the sea he would not be the first European noble to do so. The Roman Emperor Caligula – frequently referred to as Mad Caligula- once waged a war against the English Channel which he claimed to win and doing so anointed himself a God. History, of course, has a very different opinion of him as you know, or as you undoubtedly would have known had you attended any institution beyond Grammar School. So in conclusion Minister, unless one were making an elaborate yet suitably subtle hint that Hamlet was a bit…. cuckooooo…in the head one would be ill-advised to have him deliberately attacking the sea, even a metaphorical one.

Shakespeare: Humphrey, Bernard, I’m making an elaborate yet suitably subtle hint right now that unless my office – that means the two of you – restricts itself to administration of theatre, which is its job, instead of continuously interfering with formulation of theatre, which is my job, I might be too distracted to, say, prevent an anonymous leak from informing The Times that the story for Pericles was in fact suggested by the two of you! Is that too confusing for you Bernard?

Bernard: No, Minister

Shakespeare: Perfect….. aah Humphrey, don’t you just love it when the ship of state runs like clockwork?

Bernard: Erm, Minist-


2 Comments leave one →
  1. ashwinikumarpatil permalink
    July 17, 2010 4:43 pm

    Wow, you made up that entire thing about P. Hamlet and the Goblin of Poison!! Hats off!

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