A few days ago Associated Press reported the discovery of what appears to be a fragment from an early draft of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2
You may recall Act IV, Scene II of the play includes the famous line about “Let’s kill all the lawyers.”
While the new manuscript fragment has yet to be authenticated, it looks like Shakespeare — well known for his horrendous handwriting — actually wrote “leaders,” and not “lawyers.” So the line should have been “… let’s kill all the leaders.”
All those lawyer jokes … in vain.
Here is the relevant excerpt from the manuscript. But first, to set the stage, a brief reminder of the story so far.
Off the Atlantic Coast, America is under attack. Several of the insurgent ships hold dozens of Americans as prisoners, to be ransomed for booty, or worse.
A decent gentleman — a former FBI agent, and current assistant chief of homeland security and intelligence with the Huge City World Airports police department is one of the prisoners. He’s in disguise.
The Captain of one of the ships divides his gentlemen prisoners among the master, the mate, and Walter Witless. Witless gets the Assistant Chief.
Each gentleman asks what his ransom shall be, and offers to send for the money.
The Assistant Chief does a double-take when he hears his captor’s name is Witless. Once an astrologer had foretold his death would come at the hands of a witless man.
The Assistant Chief reveals his identity and declares that his honorable blood must not be shed by someone so lowly as Witless or the insurgents. Such men are only fit to serve such nobles as himself, he declares.
The insurgent Captain, annoyed, orders the Assistant Chief to be taken away and beheaded.
The Captain scorns the former FBI agent for his behavior, for having made a mistake 20 years ago, for failing to accurately complete official paperwork, and for daring to think he was sufficiently qualified to protect his country from those who love death more than life.
The other gentlemen urge the Assistant Chief to beg for his life, but he says he is unused to begging, and he would rather stoop to have his head chopped off than bow to any except the American people.
He is a real noble and, thus, exempt from fear, he says.
Witless leads him off and returns with his head. Sometimes great men die at the hands of low men.
As we rejoin the play, insurgents have reached the shore. They are discussing Ophagy Scat’s plans for the kingdom. (Scat is a boss insurgent.)
People who actually know something will not be in favor once the new regime takes over, they agree, and only American Idol watchers and people who forward amusing pictures of cats over the Internet will be honored.
Then, Scat enters with Jim the Butcher and Mike the John. Scat makes a speech, announcing his alleged lineage to royalty through the Mortimer and Plantagenet family. After each point, the Butcher mocks him to the insurgents, saying Scat is as far from nobility as one can get.
Drum roll. Enter SCAT, JIM the Butcher, MIKE the John and enough people to make it look like a crowd of insurgents.
We are Ophagy Scat, so named by our father –
[Aside] Or rather, named after the Youtube video no one can watch without gagging.
For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes.
Jim the Butcher, command silence.
Be brave. For we, your captain, are brave, and we vow reformation. There shall be in this Land seven Cokes sold for a penny; three extra NFL games each season, and I will make it felony to drink lite beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,–
God save your majesty!
I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; you shall eat and drink on my invisible hand; and I will apparel you all in the Mall of America, that you may agree like brothers and sisters to worship me, your lord.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the leaders.
Aye, that I mean to do.
Enter some more people, bringing forward a leader.
‘Tis a Leader of Angels: he can write and read and cast accompt.
We captured him as he was thinking about how to balance liberty and security in the Transportation Policy Space.
Here’s a villain!
He has a book in his pocket with red letters in’t.
Nay, then, he is a conjurer.
Nay, he can make obligations, and write court-hand.
I am sorry for’t: the man is a proper man, of mine honor; unless I find him guilty, he shall not die.
Come hither, sirrah, I must examine thee: what is thy name?
LEADER OF ANGELS
Be wary of the man! He has thoughts and ideas and experiences. He has competence. He can lead.
Let me alone. Dost thou know how to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest plain-dealing following-type man?
LEADER OF ANGELS
Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up that I can write my name. And with good people around me, I can lead.
He hath confessed: away with him! he’s a villain and a traitor.
Away with him, I say! hang him with his badges and honors and ideas about his neck.
Exit one with the Leader