I don’t know much about Shakespeare, I confess. Sure, I’ve read the popular ones, but go further astray into his catalog and I am virtually useless, a category I would not run on “Jeopardy.” But over the past few days I learned a little bit more about his writings and I wonder what he would have to say about some of the cases I have to handle…
The 70th anniversary of D-Day was just a few days ago and when the news ran its reports it made me think of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.” I didn’t realize until our Rabbi mentioned it Friday night that the title “Band of Brothers” was taken from Shakespeare’s play “Henry V.” (I don’t know anything about it, but I’m pretty sure they all die in the end.) As the Rabbi was giving his sermon Friday night he touched on this passage from the play:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother”
Powerful words about the relationships that are forged on the battlefield, the brotherhood that is created when strangers are thrust together on the front lines in pursuit of a common goal. As the Rabbi was discussing this in terms of the recent Memorial Day holiday, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the statement, these 416 years after they were written.
The purpose of the metaphor, to Shakespeare, was to describe the bonds between soldiers as being impenetrable, the most solid and impervious bond known to man; because Shakespeare viewed the bond between brothers as being strong and durable. At the time, there was no connection stronger than that of brotherhood.
I highly doubt if he were writing “Henry V” today he would choose such a metaphor to demonstrate something so unbreakable. All Willie would have to do is sit in the gallery in any probate court in the country and listen to the stories of brother versus brother, parent versus child, sister versus sister and he would give second thought to the perception of this impervious bond. Because it isn’t. We’ve heard that the bond between soldiers is stronger than any other bond because of the tension and stress that surrounds the relationship, the trust that must be present and which could be the difference between life and death. That bond can be relentless.
By comparison, however, the bond between siblings is forced upon them, not by their own choice and not necessarily fostered by them. Instead it is a bond that is frequently fraught with resentment, feelings of favoritism by parents, disparate treatment and misperception; which breeds not a relationship of deep trust and faith in each other, but of bitterness and hatred. This creates a relationship that, over time, can frequently fester and worsen until a breaking point is reached, usually the death of the parents. Then the gloves come off and it is no holds barred.
Would Shakespeare use the metaphor “Band of Brothers” today? I just don’t see it. I recently participated in a career day at a local junior high school and I asked the kids how many of them got along with their siblings. You’d be surprised how few of them raised their hands.
A “Band of Brothers?” Men who would be willing to die for one another and expect the others to feel the same… you would think that the bonds of family should be the strongest of all and in Shakespeare’s time it might actually have been that way. But it is a sad sign of the times when those types of bonds are few and far between.