When you heard that the 2012 Olympic Games in London would be opened by the ringing of an enormous bell inscribed with a quotation from Shakespeare, each one of you had an idea of what it would be. Those who admire the equestrian events were hoping for "My kingdom for a horse" while soccer fans expected "You base football player," a quote from King Lear. I wished for "Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray, / My legs are longer though, to run away" from Midsummer Night's Dream—or even "[They] shall with speed to England" from Hamlet, but I thought it much more likely that the famous speech from Richard II would make the final cut:
When I learned that it was from one of Caliban's speeches in The Tempest instead, I was a bit perplexed, especially considering the complicated ways in which Caliban's character has been read and the fact that the quote comes from a scene in which Caliban is urging the violent overthrow of Prospero. The line on the bell is short:This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. (II.i.40-42, 50)
As inscribed, it has no context—not even the context of its author's name. All the same, it carries a calming sense.Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises. (III.ii.135)
In the opening ceremony, Kenneth Branagh delivered the speech in its entirety, re-contextualizing it as a speech of promise. The opening ceremony itself took a historical approach—and one that wasn't always sentimentalized. The opening song was the hymn "Jerusalem," its lyrics by William Blake. That song mentions "England's mountains green" and its "pleasant pastures" as well as the "dark Satanic Mills" usually read as the devastation of the Industrial Revolution. And the opening ceremony reflected both the joys of an English country green and the humble sports played upon it and the smokestacks and greed wrought by the Industrial Revolution. But the conclusion of the song points toward the hope of the redemption of the land and a determination to reverse the damage done to it.
Branagh's delivery of the speech from The Tempest similarly recognizes the ills done by the isle while hoping for a reversal of those ills.
Update: The BBC has released a six-disc set of the London 2012 Olympic Games; I was able to put together the following clip from it. I've left the two other permutations of the clip below.
Some kind soul operating under the on-line name Mikeatle captured Branagh's delivery of the speech. It is embedded below; below it is my own clip of the speech—in case Mikeatle's disappears; below that is the full text of the speech:
Note: The clip immediately above has been edited to bring the ringing of the bell closer to the delivery of the speech. I've also removed the commentary and extended both the ringing of the bell and the applause after the speech.
What do you think? Is this an overly-optimistic reading of the speech? Does this address the issues of postcolonialism raised by the play itself? Does Kenneth Branagh always deliver speeches from Shakespeare in the voice of Henry V and with a matching soundtrack?Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices,
That if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again. (III.ii.135-43)