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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Is Bartlet Henry or Eleanor?

Is Bartlet Henry or Eleanor?

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Clark Kent winks
Not too long ago I challenged you to look at the Aaron Sorkin skit in which Barack Obama seeks Jed Bartlet's advice. I told you there were near-quotations from a famous 1968 film (earlier, a play) in that scene. I asked whether you could identify the play or the lines.

No one got it.

So, okay, here we go:

The play is The Lion in Winter  by James Goldman, later made into a dynamite movie with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn (not to mention Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, and John "be-still-my-heart" Castle). For those who have never seen it, run out and get it right now. Goldman is a genius, and this play and film manages to encapsulate the paradox of love and obligation, family and power, in a timeless way even though it is set at the Castle of Chinon on Christmas Day, 1183.

The protagonists are Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, two of the truly larger-than-life characters history has produced. Reading their real biographies is fascinating, but in the play they are a couple locked in mortal combat, still in love but bent on destroying each other for reasons that are hard to argue with. And the dialogue!

Anyway, some lines from the play are clearly mirrored in the Obama-Bartlet dialogue. Here they are.

In one scene, Eleanor has just threatened to kill any child Henry has by another woman, and he says, "You're not that cruel." She replies:

One son is all I've got, and you can blot him out and call me cruel? For these ten years you've lived with everything I've lost, and loved another woman through it all, and I am cruel? I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice!

In the Obama-Bartlet scene, Obama says he's worried about seeming "angry." Bartlet replies:

It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained.

Notice that it's not just the last line, it's the entire rhetorical cadence of the paragraph that's similar.

In a different scene in LiW, Henry is negotiating with Philip Augustus of France, a much younger man who was later to be one of the great political schemers of the age. Philip has pointed out that Henry's advanced age gives him, Philip, the advantage of time. Henry smiles and says he's happy to have "won." Philip denies that Henry has won anything. Henry says:

I found out the way your mind works and the kind of man you are. I know your plans and expectations - you've burbled every bit of strategy you've got. I know exactly what you will do, and exactly what you won't, and I've told you exactly nothing. To these aged eyes, boy, that's what winning looks like!

In the Obama-Bartlet Sequence, Obama asks whether he's supposed to give up on hope. Bartlet answers:

Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like.

Again, it's the whole paragraph, not just the last line, that echoes Goldman.

As my father always said, if you must steal, steal from the best.
  • LOL....now that is funny! The Lion in Winter, eh?

    I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice! Heh-heh..like that line...a lot!

    Yep, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine were quite an amazing pair. He played John against her, while she retaliated by played Richard. Of course I never saw the film. You know me, no TV, no films...

    • You must see the film. It's wondeful.

      Nice icon!
      • I'll try and rent it.

        The icon was made for me by Elflover59. I posted something to her and she asked me my name so she could make icons. So she gave me some! (18 of them) LOL...nice person
  • I've seen that play at our local university, years ago, and I think I've seen the film before, too, but it was eons ago as well.

    That's awesome that you picked up on that and all... I knew it sounded semi-familiar-ish, too, but I'd have never been able to place it.

    You totally "rawk", Ken ;-) (the things we learn online! LOL!!)
    • Hi, Sherry. I have a good memory for things I like, especially good lines from books or plays. It was the "to these aged eyes" line that tipped me off.
  • Personally, I think Katherine Hepburn would have made a phenomenal Jed Bartlett. Not that Martin Sheen wasn't brilliant. Amazing to think of the road from Apocalypse Now to West Wing. :-)
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