Cry God for Patten, English and The Bard]

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The Independent Online
Scene: A bare place, laid waste by a general election. Enter John Patten, followed by civil servants.

Patten On every side the vandals do hold sway,

Murdering the language we hold dear.

The tongue of Shakespeare, Stratford's Bard

of Avon]

The Avon] Is there an English word more precious

Than 'Avon'? If there is, I'd like to know.

Servant My Lord, it is not even English.

Patten I beg your pardon?

Servant There's nothing English about the word,

Except by right of conquest. Like most good things

The English took it over from someone else,

And changed the number plates and called it theirs.

Long ere our Saxon forebears reached these shores

The British used to call a river 'afon'.

That's all it meant. It was the word for river.

We now do use it as a name, so when we say the

River Avon,

'Tis tautological. One might just as well say

River River.

Patten You seem to know a lot, whoe'er you are. So tell me then - what happened to the British?

Servant They scarpered off to Wales. They're

now the Welsh.

Patten And who are you to thus correct me so?

Servant I am the Minister's humble civil servant. Think of me as one who stands by you

To put your bidding into noble deeds,

And save you when you do a noble pratfall

Or utter some inept tautology,

As in, for instance, 'to thus correct me so',

Which also leaves an infinitive gaily split,

If that's the sort of thing that worries you.

Patten I cannot say it keeps me awake at night.

Servant It never seemed to worry Kenneth either.

Patten Clarke?

Servant Or Baker - Kenneths come and go,

Though never popping back to say hello.

Patten Well, that's as may be. Meanwhile you

have stemmed

The flow of my loud challenge to the world. Where was I?

Servant On the River Avon . . .

Patten Oh, yes . . . The vandals are on every side,

Cutting down the language that we love]

Young people cannot write or talk these days,

Except to utter oaths or scrawl graffiti]

And therefore we must make them learn to love

The plays of good old Shakespeare, so that they

Can feel afresh the mysteries of words,

And read the Bard . . .

Servant Yes, yes, I get your drift.

Patten You seem not keen.

Servant I've heard it all before.

Patten From Kenneth?

Servant From one or other of them.

Ever and anon, hurrying from Downing Street,

There comes a messenger of culture, crying: 'Shakespeare in our schools, what ho]

'Let's find our roots] Let's turn again to that fresh

fount of language,

'Which is the glory of the English world]

'Let's turn again to Shakespeare's deathless

prose.'

And we all yawn, and wait.

Patten You wait for what?

Servant Until the fit has passed. Until he's

sacked.

Until the children of our land are sick

Of having Shakespeare pushed inside their heads. Until the Minister does clap his brow and say:

'This money is ill spent on drama]

'Let's turn it all to science and engineering]'

Until the day, in fact, when Shakespeare is forgot.

Patten Oh, ye of little faith] I pledge you this] That never shall I rest until our children's schools Are filled with language as it should be read]

Servant And all the graffiti on their walls are spelt

aright?

And carefully crafted in blank verse, you mean?

When Shakespeare went to school, do you suppose

That he enjoyed the works of Geoffrey Chaucer

And all that mildewed medieval mob?

'Oh goody]' cries young Will, en route to school.

'Today we have the Domesday Book in Norman

French] That will be fun]'

Was that how Shakespeare learnt

To share his glorious English heritage?

Patten No more of this. You are a malcontent.

'Tis I who says how all our money's spent.

Servant (aside) And I who have the egg stuck

on my face

Long after Ministers have left the place.

Patten gallops off cheering, followed by gloomy servants.

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