William Shakespeare invented 1,700 words now in common use, which is more than an average Englishman uses or, if comprehensively educated, even knows (yes, there must be exceptions, thanks for reminding me).
Not only that, but the Bard contributed enough aphorisms to the language to justify one wit’s quip: “What I hate about Shakespeare’s plays is that they’re so full of clichés.”
Yet Shakespeare didn’t fill the whole Thesaurus of Quotations, just much of it.
One of the most quoted, and often misquoted, adages in the English language comes from another William, Congreave, who lived 100 years after Shakespeare. He too knew a thing or two about human nature, to wit:
“Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,// Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”
I can testify to the veracity of this observation, for it’s amply supported by my personal experience. In my impetuous and, alas, dissipated youth I scorned a woman or two, finding myself on the receiving end of their ensuing fury.
One long sufferer credibly threatened to smash my skull with a flatiron when I fell asleep, giving me chronic insomnia as a result. Another threw a kitchen knife at me with the accuracy of a circus performer, but mercifully without the power (the knife didn’t penetrate my back deeper than half an inch or so). Yet another victim of my beastliness punched me in the face in a crowded street and, when we got home, smashed a stack of plates.
All this is par for the course, and many a formerly dissipated man can recount similar episodes. But few can match François Hollande’s story of woe (Shakespeare is today’s leitmotif, in case you haven’t noticed).
For his ‘woman scorned’, Valérie Trierweiler, directed her wrath not at my friend François’s person but at his office, which she, not to cut too fine a point, trashed. In the process she destroyed, along with other national treasures, a Sèvres vase that belonged to Louis XVI. The overall damage is estimated at €3,000,000, but it’ll cost less to François than those broken plates once cost me.
You see, I pay for my own plates, but François doesn’t these days pay for his Sèvres vases that belonged to Louis XVI. Nor are they his own – they belong to the nation. François has no more claim to them than you or I would have to the furniture and fixtures at a hotel where we spend a couple of days.
Valérie, affectionately known as ‘Rottweiler’, possibly because of her sexual preferences (I’m guessing here), has even less of a claim. In fact, in her capacity as François’s mistress, she has none at all.
One would think that in this instance French law would apply the principle first enunciated by some retail outfits: “You break it, you’ve bought it.” Sounds reasonable that the baited Rottweiler should pay for the damage, or alternatively (perhaps additionally) go to prison for gross vandalism.
That’s what would happen to anyone who tore down a suite at, say, Georges V, wouldn’t it? I can’t for the life of me see any legal or moral difference between that and what the Rottweiler did at the Élysée Palace. Surely it’s the same law for everyone, isn’t?
Silly me. Of course it isn’t. François and his assorted concubines have been touched by the neo-divine hand of the state. This gives them the dispensation to do as they please, treating the law as at best a statement of intent.
They are part of the new untouchables, the ruling elite that lives according to its own laws, not those of the nation. Certain of their impunity, they expect to get away with anything short of murder – and les mauvaises langues hint that, say, Mitterand may have got away even with that.
France can’t claim exclusive rights to that sort of thing. Hardly a month goes by without one of our politicians being caught in a scandal of a sexual, fiscal, political or simply criminal nature (for example, attacking people physically).
Most of the time they get away with it, occasionally they don’t, but what really matters is that they fully expect to go unpunished. They too have been anointed by the God of State Power, and he’s a merciful deity when it comes to the denizens of his Olympus.
The story of the Rottweiler attack on national treasures was broken by Closer magazine. It’s the same publication that had earlier divulged that François was a naughty boy, thereby baiting the Rottweiler into baring her fangs. (The magazine’s previous scoop was publishing photographs proving that Prince William has an impeccable taste in women.)
The Élysée Palace denied the story, but none of my French friends, some of whom revolve in government circles, doubt it for a second. Yet none of them has suggested that the vandal ought to be prosecuted. The thought simply doesn’t cross their minds.
Trying to picture the trashed office, one recalls another Shakespearean story, this one dating back to the Victorian era.
The visiting French actress Sarah Bernhardt delivered a bravura performance in Antony and Cleopatra. In the last scene she tore down the whole palace and rolled all over the debris in paroxysms of rage.
On the way out of the theatre, an elderly lady was overheard saying to her companion, “How different, how very different from the home life of our dear Queen.” Quite.
My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.