“My dear, dear lord,
The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation; that away,
Men are but gilded loam or painted clay.”
–Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, I.i.176-179
The 19-year-old Jake has a problematic reputation… with me. 24 years ago he headed out on a Mormon mission, a mixture of naivety and arrogance born of untested privilege. Still, he was generally a good kid. Jake honestly thought good would come of his mission. But he was almost fatally self-centered, so he fell.
“Alas, poor duke, the task he undertakes
Is numb’ring sands and drinking oceans dry…”
Recently I read the play Richard II by William Shakespeare. Though it lives in the shadow of other history plays like The Life of Henry the Fifth, Richard II has some of the best scenes and dialogue the Bard ever wrote. Richard is a fantastically deep character who changes a great deal over the course of the play. Initially an arrogant king, Richard plays fast and loose with the fates of others. The unintended consequences prove his undoing.
“Show me thy humble heart, and not thy knee,
Whose duty is deceivable and false.”
The above line comes just after an arrogant nephew kneels before his royal uncle. On his mission, young Jake did not kneel before leaders. He stood for his mission president when he entered the room. He also stood for then-Elder Russell M. Nelson when he visited the mission. Either of those men could have rightly said the above lines to young Jake. For Jake was naive, arrogant, and played fast and loose with other people’s spirituality. He also coveted positions of authority and postured to have a chance at them.
“You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.”
Though Jake returned with honor (which is to say a temple recommend), he left his mission in a fallen state. His testimony in the restored Church was wrecked from shocking history lessons and disillusionment. Ultimately, he left church activity. King Richard lost his crown in a similar fashion.
If that parallel sounds melodramatic, bear in mind young Jake had been promised the title of king in his patriarchal blessing. Regardless I think Shakespeare’s plays, like scripture, work magic when we liken them unto ourselves.
As the above couplet conveys, I am the king of my griefs. Nobody really ends clean and victorious in Richard II. As in real life, even for the victor who deposes Richard, there are regrets and sprouting seeds of future conflict. Nevertheless, there is the promise of new days with new opportunities. Once we know how hard life really is, do we dare ask for more than that?
Comments on the above post are welcome. For a previous sampling of great Shakespeare quotes, try reading The Bard Weighs in on Partying
Image of Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm by count_kert.