Finding Shakespeare in Unusual Places

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. HamletThose friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade.

(Hamlet 1.3)

Relatively few people know of the War of 1812, even in the United States. Or rather they may know of the song “The Battle of New Orleans”, a hit of 1959 which commemorated a battle won by the Americans when the peace treaty had already been signed in Ghent (Belgium) on Christmas Eve of 1814. The battle had no strategic significance other than projecting onto the American stage Andrew Jackson, hater of American Indians, the one who said that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

But I digress…. The War of 1812 was the first American war fought to bring “freedom and democracy” – in this case to…. Canada. The chief war-monger of the time was Henry Clay. His associate, General Hull, on reaching the place where today is Detroit issued a proclamation to the Canadians as follows:

“Inhabitants of Canada! You will be emancipated from tyranny and oppression, and restored to the dignified station of freemen.”  (!), exclamation added.

Sounds familiar?

Still, without radio and television, the message did not sink in with the Canadians. In fact, through an unexpected turn of events Gen. Hull’s trunk containing, among other things, the declaration of war of the US against Britain, fell into the hands of the Anglo-Canadians.

Though understandably perplexed, they (along with an Indian force led by the legendary Indian Chief Tecumseh) were ready when Gen. Hull attacked. He quickly retreated into the fort and surrendered the next day.

As far as borders are concerned they did not change, but the war was very unpopular, especially in New England given the excellent trade relations with the neighbors to the north. To the point that almost it led to the secession from the union of the north-eastern states.

The newspaper “The Federal Republican” printed that “the dogs of war are loose and  the country had been led to kick and scream by the blind and senseless animosity of a few ‘new-hatched unfledged comrades’ who are but boys in public affairs and who, in fact, have not been seen before by the American people on the public stage.”

They may have been boys in public affairs but they belonged to a breed that has reached to the present day, and with a vengeance.

The unreferenced quote from Hamlet shows, however, that at least part of  the newspaper’s readership was assumed to have a literary bent, or at least knowledge.

By the way, during the war of 1812, the English attacked and burned Washington, in retaliation for the previous burning of York (today’s Toronto) in Canada. Leading the attack on Washington was Rear-Admiral Cockburn, who wanted to witness personally the burning of the newspaper, “The National Intelligencer”. Allegedly, Cockburn said, “Make sure that all types are destroyed, especially the letter ‘C’ so that the scoundrel can no longer insult my name.” The scoundrel in question was Joseph Gales, editor of the newspaper.

During the attack on Washington, 5000 slaves sought and found freedom aboard the English Fleet.

The following year 1815, William Cockburn, now become an admiral, led the flotilla that conveyed Napoleon to St. Helena, after the battle of Waterloo.

In the play. One of the string of recommendations  that Polonius gives to his son Laertes before he takes off for Paris.

Image Source. http://primarysourcenexus.org/2013/04/featured-image-father-son-from-hamlet/

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