Exhilarating Early Moderns: Shakespeare’s “Lincoln”
About a half-a-year after everyone else, I finally went to the dollar cinema and saw Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. It was incredibly accurate – and stupendously boring. I slumped in the scratchy false horsehair seats of the Byrd Theatre and tried to bring better histories to mind.
“Lincoln” was almost Shakespearean. Lincoln, scraggly and scruffy, spouted a line or two as he shuffled about the basement of an unfinished White House. Almost like one of Shakespeare’s histories – except that it lacked Shakespeare’s wit and canniness and clowns.
Shakespeare’s histories make no claim to absolute accuracy. Banquo is not recorded to have stalked the night after his demise. Richard, in his hour of need, did not cry out about kingdoms and horses. And to be fair, it would have been difficult to show Hal taking an arrow to the face on stage.
But these glorious inaccuracies are still played the world over. Bill Shakes and his shoddy history lessons, I predict, will outlast Spielburg’s American hagiography.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered a long-lost play by the Bard himself, which I am posting here, revealing it for the first time to an otherwise impoverished world.
The Historie of ROBERT LINCOLN Part 1
WASHINGTON. A street.
Mr. Bilbo: Now, Rob, what time of day is it?
Robert Lincoln: ‘Tis late in the day, sweet Bilbs, and we must all to the wars.
Bilbo: Not I, by my faith, I am a politico, who do cram the air with promises.
Robert Lincoln: What, still at thy jests? Take up thy feathered hat, and let us to the tavern.
THE WHITE HOUSE. Night. A storm.
Lady Lincoln: O my sweet lord,
What visions have I seen this tempest’d night;
The sun away, I fall prey to my fright;
So send you not our son to join the war,
Nor speak to Seward; trouble thee no more
Of votes and dreams and parties, feasts and plays,
For in this night I see an end of days.
Lincoln: How now, Lady Lincoln. I must get the vote within these two weeks.
Lady Lincoln: Stay!
If by these rhyming couplets I am known
To hist’ry as a wife who wept and moaned –
Lincoln: (aside) Where is my roan?
Lady Lincoln: – I’ll bear it, if I could but save
Our son, though he be an errant knave.
WASHINGTON. The station.
Lincoln: Now, Rob, whence come you?
Robert Lincoln: My noble lord, from Cambridge.
Lincoln: (slaps him) I marvel that thou spendest thy time among such peddlers of pleasantries, a manner of men alike that fat Bilbo.
Robert Lincoln: My lord, the man I know.
Lincoln: I know thou dost; I myself at this time have employed him.
Robert Lincoln: O my prophetic soul! My mother?
Lincoln: Thy loving father, Rob.
Robert Lincoln: My mother: and so my mother. Come, to the wars!
WASHINGTON. The station. Night.
Lincoln: (in disguise) O ye heavens, would that man might choose
The fleeting hour in which he walks this stage
For if I had my liberty –
(enter two clowns)
– I’ll hide me.
Clown 1: Tell the telegrapher to tell it not too graphic; for telegraphs do but graph the graphics of bloody battle, full stop. ‘Rivo, what’s this? Thy name, sirrah?
Lincoln: Honest Abe.
Clown 2: A Reb?
Clown 1: Then I may freely tell you, our President may show what outward courage he will, but I believe he could wish himself in the Potomac up to the neck.
Lincoln: I think he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is.
THE WHITE HOUSE. A room.
(Enter bearing Lincoln on a bower)
Robert Lincoln: I do not think to hear him speak again.
Seward: Nay, nor shall not. The president is no more.
Robert Lincoln: Then he belongs to the ages.
Seward: Go, bid the soldiers shoot.