“…the fool multitude, that choose by show,
Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;
Which pries not to the interior, but, like the martlet,
Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty.”
(Merchant Of Venice, act 2, sc. 9)
Comments and Tips for Use. The first line is sufficient to convey the idea. Shakespeare has may quotes in different plays addressing the issue of mass psychology, irrelevance and idiocy. The paradox is, of course, that as we denounce the irrelevance of popular interests we inextricably belong the same crowd and, in a tortuous but inevitable way, we condemn ourselves. More in general, by the mere fact that he forms part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization.
Still, paradox aside, if it may not help it doesn’t hurt to comment on the fickleness of the popular interest. Or, as Shakespeare himself has Coriolanus say in another quote, the interests of the “mutable, rank-scented many.”
It also happens that we would not even be aware of the popular interest (at least for those of us who do not watch TV or read the popular press), were it not that we are literally chased by statistics. That is, we cannot avoid not-knowing what we wish to ignore.
Therefore… two days ago, popular interest focused (understandably) on the anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, yesterday on the murder of the American ambassador in Libya. Today…it is Kate Middleton, or rather, a topless picture of the same and Buckingham Palace’s related reactions.
He who writes believes that Kate Middleton, or anyone else for that matter, can do whatever they want within the limits they apply to themselves. However, my indifference to the matter, as Malcolm Muggeridge used to say, is immeasurable. And I am still trying to understand (without success), the train of emotions (we hardly can call it thought) that stimulate an interest in the subject. Thank Heavens, the world has certainly more than one good looking girl with-top or topless – the avenues of discovery and verifications are almost endless.
I know I am not alone in feeling this way and cannot help wondering if, when, how and how long it may take for the popular mind to change or absorb different interests. The ideas which resulted in the French Revolution took nearly a century to implant themselves in the mind of the crowds. The interest in people who are famous for being famous is slightly older than 100 years. Will it always be so?
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In the play. The prince of Arragon, one of Portia’s suitors meditates on the meaning of a puzzle. He who solves the puzzle will be able to marry Portia. ‘Martlet’ is a swallow.
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