the UK “dementia tax” and the welfare state

Since 1948 most health care has been provided in the UK free of charge; and most of the funds come from central government; and it is raised through national (social) insurance and taxation.

Since 1948 (at least) social care has been subject to charges, based on means testing.  Some users of services pay little or nothing.  Early on, few people availed themselves of social care.  Most men died shortly after retiring at 65.  Home helps were directed towards assisting mothers giving birth to children at home, as the fathers carried on working.  (There was no provision for paternity leave – and none for maternity leave either.)  By today, the situation has changed enormously.

Changes to the funding of social care have been considered by successive governments, but the matter has been placed, repeatedly in the “too difficult” tray.

The 2017 General Election campaign has reminded me that home and day care charges are based on income, but residential care charges are based upon assets and income.  (Assets include houses and flats.)  Any major change to this regime by an incoming Conservative government, as proposed – taking account of assets – has great implications for many people in England but also for other countries, notably Wales, as the block grant to Wales will be affected by any adjustment to funding in England.  In other words, if the Westminster government spends (through its reduced allocation to local authorities) LESS on social care, then budgets in Wales will be influenced.  (Remember the implications of student tuition fees, led by England.)

How should social care be paid for?

The possible sources are these, and they may act in combination:

  • People paying for themselves, in full or in part
  • Charges based on a means test related to income
  • Charges based on a means test related to assets (capital)
  • Public moneys raised through taxation (and, in the UK, national insurance).

I believe in principle that social care should be free at the point of delivery, and, like health care, it should be funded out of taxation.

A less idealistic approach has to consider a modified version of this.  From one end of the telescope, in a manner of speaking, a residual minimum of savings can be protected from charges.  This is where we are now.  From the other end of the telescope, a “cap” on cumulative payments by users of services can be imposed.  This has been considered but not implemented.

Private insurance against the costs of social care has not proved to be a realistic option, as the risks are hard to calculate.

I would like to suggest that, in the interim, social care for people over the age of 85 should be made free and exempt from means testing and charging.  (The threshold is arbitrary and can be changed.)  One reason is that advanced ageing results in an increasing incidence of frailty – multiple frailties, indeed.  Secondly, what social workers and local authority finance officers wish to chase frail elderly people for payment?

A note on people with impairments and disabilities, aged 0-85.  Many young and middle-aged people are rendered poor – with low incomes and diminished earning capacity – and therefore are ineligible for charges.  Who would charge children?

I would hope that a threshold around age 85 might encourage insurance companies to offer policies for coverage for any care needs that arise before the age limit – and might encourage people to investigate the option of insurance.

The time is overdue for change – and for fair policies for social care.

Franz Kafka,’Das Schloss’ (‘The Castle’)


Sie sind nicht aus dem Schloẞ, Sie sind nicht aus dem Dorfe, Sie sind nichts.  Leider sind Sie doch etwas, ein Fremder, der ûberzählig und ûberall im Wege ist, einer, wegen dessen man immerfort Scherereien hat.

You are not from the Castle, you are not from the village, you are nothing.  Unfortunately, though, you are something – a stranger, superfluous, always in the way, constantly causing trouble.

[The landlady of the village inn to K, in Chapter 4]


The title

The word ‘Schloss’, in the title, can be translated as ‘castle’ or ‘palace’ or “country house” (or even ‘lock’).  The building (or buildings) that figure in Kafka’s novel appears, however, to be quite unimpressive – certainly, this is how it appears to ‘K’, the protagonist.


Kafka left his third novel incomplete (but see below).  It was published only after his death, at the instigation of his friend Max Brod.

The story

K arrives in a village, in winter, to take up an appointment as a land surveyor, for Count Westwest.  The local castle (the Castle) overlooks the village.  The Castle officials (an all-male elite) oversee all the goings-on in the village and record them, in bureaucratic detail.  They are respected and looked up to by the villagers, and indeed obeyed.

The Castle and the village are fundamentally separate.  Castle officials visit the village but villagers are not permitted to enter the Castle. The officials transact much of their business in the village itself, at night.  They conduct interviews with villagers at night too.

The novel largely consists of a record of the series of meetings between K and individuals – both villagers and officials – which give him some insight into how the place works.  (Called to his own first proper interview with an official, at night, K misses his appointment, by falling asleep!)

Some Castle officials abuse their power over the ordinary people by taking local women as their mistresses. They are free too to discard them.  (One man in particular – Herr Klamm – is mentioned.)  The women who are taken up by Castle officials gain rather than lose higher social status in the village!  (Any woman who rejects such a relationship is ostracised by the community)

K himself tries to use his relationship with a young villager (Frieda) as a bargaining tool in order to arrange a man-to-man interview with Klamm – this he fails to achieve.

K is engaged in a struggle for recognition as a professional person – a land surveyor.  He never has the opportunity to practise his profession.  Indeed, one informant tells him that his services are not required and that the job offer resulted from a bureaucratic error.

K remains an outsider.

The language

Kafka’s prose is precise.  It has many long sentences, with subordinate clauses.  Different aspects of a topic are balanced.  Different arguments are weighed against each other.  It reminds the reader of bureaucratic language.  Even the characters’ speeches tend to be formal.  Typically of literary German, reported speech features extensive use of the subjunctive mood.

Kafka’s German is fairly easy to understand, because of its clarity; but it is difficult to translate into fluent English.   For example, the word order sometimes has to be changed – but with this the delicate structure of the original may be impaired.

The story is told, in a way, from K’s perspective, as the reader is given access to his thoughts as well as his statements, as in a first person narrative.  The other characters’ thoughts are revealed in their body language (as reported) and what they say.

K, the protagonist

The reader is entitled to ask questions about K.

Why does he stay in the village, given that he suffers a series of rebuffs?

Is he too proud about his status?  (He does accept a job as a school caretaker as a temporary measure.)

Is he insufficiently flexible in his dealings with both villagers and officials?  Does he expect the system to adapt to him rather than the other way round?

What is more important to K – his proclaimed love for the barmaid Frieda or his wish to use her as way to set up an interview with Klamm (her former lover)?  Does he neglect her, in the pursuit of his struggle for recognition?  Does he, indeed, misuse her?

The officials

The bureaucrats communicate with K through letters and through interviews – solely on their own terms (who, when, where and how are entirely at their discretion).

The fact that the offer of an appointment to K as a land surveyor was a mistake is not officially recognised.

The bureaucrats fail to resolve K’s status and so leave him in limbo.

An ironic ending

In his afterword to the first edition of Das Schloss, Max Brod states that Kafka revealed to him how the story would end.  By this account, K does not give up his struggle; but he eventually dies in the attempt, from exhaustion.  The local people gather around his death bed.  Now the Castle officials hand down their decision: although they deny K any legal claim to live in the village, taking into account the circumstances, they grant him permission to live and to work there.


  • Class: the officials have arbitrary power over the lives of the villagers and appear to from a separate, superior class
  • Gender: the officials are all male; they abuse their power when they take village women (expected to comply) as their mistresses
  • Bureaucracy: while little indication is given of much activity being carried out in the village, it is made clear that the officials maintain detailed records of everything.


1 The novel reflects the human search for belonging to a community

2 Similarly, it reflects the human search for recognition, by the community, of one’s personal worth

3 It may reflect the human search for order in society

4 It may also have something to do with the need for fairness and flexibility, which can temper the rigid administration of rules

5 It may reflect the elusive nature of a fair social order and the imperfections of human societies in reality

6 In part it may be a satire on excessive and inflexible bureaucracy (the maintenance of some sort of order, at any cost)

7 It may too represent a critique of excessive individualism

8 For a 21st century reader, it can be seen as a parable that illustrates the plight of people who remain outsiders, for example, the homeless, those who suffer discrimination, foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees

9 Fundamentally, Das Schloss remains ambiguous.


When Religion Makes The News

On 8 November 2016, the National Union of Journalists and ITV Cymru Wales hosted the above-named event, at the Life Sciences Centre, Cardiff Bay.  It brought together journalists and people of belief (especially, media representatives), to discuss and improve communication and reporting.  It also offered a chance to “network”; over eighty people attended; and I got to speak to about a dozen, of a great variety of backgrounds, myself.

I should emphasise that the event came about at the initiative of journalists, not faith communities.  And it was a first in Britain.

The event was chaired by Roger Bolton, who has worked for many years in TV and radio – I have often heard him on the radio.

There were many speakers, throughout the day, both from journalist and faith groups.

The journalists’ situation can be summarised as follows.  The numbers working in traditional media have gone down.  Not only have they have been inclined, themselves, to be less religious than the general population, but also they have tended to subscribe to the idea that religious belief has been declining in importance.  (They have been proved wrong by events).  Those who wanted to report better were represented at this event, then.  They were challenged (loudly and clearly by Roger Bolton) (i) to inform themselves more deeply and (ii) to gain access to the wide variety of faith communities, while not relying solely on the contacts they already have.

In turn, the faith communities (Christians, Jews and Muslims) that were represented on a “panel” were challenged by Roger Bolton (i) to state explicitly what they have to offer to journalists and (ii) to outline the nature of their media operations. (The resources available varied widely between the communities.)

After lunch, journalists and faith communities met separately for one session.  For the faith group, the topic was: “Working with Journalists: an opportunity to consider your experience, your agenda, your media practice.”  It was led by three very knowledgeable women – with great communication skills – namely, Angela Graham (of the Media Policy Group of the Institute of Welsh Affairs), Christine Warwick, and Emma Meese (of Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism).

Angela said that belief is wider than faith and includes atheism and secularism.  She set the context: relationships are more important than technologies.  She added that we all communicate through our daily lives.

Angela posed these questions.

What do I most want to communicate?

Why do I want to communicate this?

What results do I hope for?

How will I handle the reactions (the criticism)?

What are the implications of using media I don’t control?

We are always communicating, including with the Divine.  This helps us deal with failure.  We are vulnerable – we need to be prepared.  We need a strategy for dealing with consequences and people for handling risk.  We (believers) are making big claims and so are held accountable (eg by journalists).  Take care of the members of your own group.

Notice where the seed you have sown has grown.  Chase up the messages you have left.  Communicate widely, with discernment, creatively, painstakingly, persistently.

Journalism, she said, is a way to help us live well together.  Journalists must challenge us, push us to think harder.

What is noteworthy?  The novel, the topical, the relevant, the significant, the relational, the provable, the jargon-free, the researched, the practical, the visible.

Pictures help.

We should be contactable, available, responsible, ready for risk.

Avoid propaganda, preaching and proselytism.

Next, Christine Warwick gave us concrete advice on the writing of press releases.

Target your press releases accurately.  Know about deadlines.

The most important should be in the first paragraph and should tell the reader: who, what, where, when, how.

Include the body of your press release in your email, not as an attachment.

Finally, in this session, Emma Meese talked about social media.  What she said about this could be applied, in part, to the more traditional media.  Remember KISSKeep It Short and Sweet.

Make the most of your Twitter profile.  Sell yourself.  But “don’t feed the trolls.”


This was a very stimulating day.  Many of those present would welcome a repeat, where topics could be dealt with at greater length.


I came away wondering how Quakers – especially those in Wales – can best rise to the challenges posed so vividly at this event.  I am very grateful, both to the organisers, and to Meeting of Friends for letting me go.


David Harries



The nature of the Castle in Franz Kafka’s ‘Das Schloss’

I have picked up Franz Kafka’s Das Schloss again, after nearly fifty years, reading it again, and translating passages, for my own amusement.  I’ll be writing more about it, later.  On the cover of my copy (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main), Hermann Hesse is quoted as calling the novel “the most mysterious and beautiful of Kafka’s great works.”  (I agree with Hesse.)

The word ‘Schloss’ can be translated as ‘castle’ or ‘palace’ (or even ‘lock’).  The building (or buildings) that figure in Kafka’s novel appears not to satisfy either description but, rather, to be quite unimpressive – certainly, this is how it appears to ‘K’, the protagonist.

I turn to Chapter 1 and provide a free translation of a descriptive passage (below).

On the whole, the castle, as it appeared from a distance, corresponded to K’s expectations.   It was neither an old fortification, built by and for a knight, nor a new, magnificent palace, but an extensive structure, consisting of few two-storey buildings but many low buildings, tightly packed together.  If one had not known that it was a castle, one could have taken it to be a small town.  K could see only one tower.  He could not make out whether it belonged to a dwelling or a church.  A swarm of crows circled round it.

Keeping his eyes fixed on the castle, K kept on walking.  Nothing else concerned him.  As he got closer to it, however, the castle disappointed him: it was truly a miserable little town, distinguished only by the fact that all of it (perhaps) had been built in stone; but the paint had peeled off and the stone appeared to be crumbling.  K briefly thought of his home town: it hardly came second to this so-called castle.  If K had only been interested in sight-seeing, then he would have had a wasted journey, and he would have done better to visit his old home, where he had not been for such a long time.  He mentally compared the church tower of his home town with the tower in front of him.  That tower rose unhesitatingly and boldly, tapering to its broad roof, ending in red tiles – an earthly building (what else?), but with a higher purpose than the rows of low houses, and with a clearer expression than the grey workday.  This tower – the only one he could see – was apparently the tower of a dwelling, perhaps that of the main building.  It was perfectly round.  It was graced, in places, with ivy.  It had small windows, which reflected the sun, in a crazy pattern.  It had a balcony all round it, the battlements of which – unsafe, irregular and crumbling (as if hand-drawn by an anxious or careless child) – formed a serrated edge against the blue sky.  It was as if a gloomy occupant, who should have kept himself locked away in the remotest room, had broken through the roof, in order to show himself to the world.

From my background reading, it remains unclear to me whether the castle of the novel is based on a real place that Kafka had seen, or more than one, or whether it is derived from his vivid imagination.

In the novel, Kafka’s castle is the headquarters of the opaque bureaucracy that strictly governs everything that happens in the village below – with grave consequences for the fate of K himself.  As in Amerika and Der Prozess, powerful people look very ordinary (just like the castle itself).  They don’t need to show off.



A few thoughts have come to me recently and have combined into a prompting.  I have shared this with my Local Meeting in Wales (Britain) and now I would like to share it further.

Quakers in Britain adhere to silent worship, with occasional vocal contributions (spoken ministry).  This is a minority position in the Quaker world.

Within my home country, Wales, I am continually impressed by the high standard of music playing and in particular of singing (solo, duet, choir, etc) at our Eisteddfodau (multi-aspect cultural meetings and competitions).  This reflects the time and effort put in, the value attached to it, and the tradition.

I have been thinking about the stewardship of a two hundred year old Meeting House in our Area: both Meeting and Meeting House need support, especially as the number of Friends is small and the building is in need of much attention.  It may well prove necessary (and desirable) to elicit the support of the local community, to raise awareness and interest, to generate wider use of the Meeting House, and indeed, to generate funds. Could music play a part here?

I have recently listened to a BBC Radio 3 programme (recorded and put aside for later listening) about the work of the Hungarian composer and teacher, Zoltán Kodály. He believed that everybody can sing; and he devised techniques to bring this about; and his influence is widespread.

In my work as a social worker, I have often remarked how useful and powerful music is in communication with, and stimulation of, people suffering from dementia.

I note that in my own lifetime, and during my long association with Friends, the arts have been warmly embraced, in various ways.  (This has been a cultural shift.)  Examples of our achievements are the Quaker Tapestry and the work of the Leaveners, among many others.

I wonder whether, in the seventeenth century, Friends in Britain missed a trick, as they turned their back on music and concentrated on silent waiting in Meeting for Worship.  I love the silence (and the vocal ministry, of course); and our tradition must be retained and suffer no infringement.  But to outsiders our form of worship must appear austere and off-putting.

Music is a part of all cultures on the planet.  All peoples sing.

I think that as Friends we should think about using music and particularly organised singing.  It has connected purposes: therapy, community generation, the understanding of our message, the conveying of our message to others, and (potentially) bringing new people in to sing with us.

Preaching in a public space is one thing; but singing is quite another – engaging and not threatening.

I envisage local groups of Friends (volunteers) practising singing together and getting better. (If they already exist, let’s have more.)  This may involve training, and it may mean payment.  But I see this as an investment.

I see this as a singing movement.  I foresee unaccompanied singing, at an early stage, but instrumentalists can be drawn in.

The material?  We have Quaker songs.  There are peace songs.  We can also have new songs and lyrics composed and written for us.

We have many singers and musicians among us.  Where do they perform now?  Surely, not much in Quaker contexts.

I would like us to sing out our message to the world, wherever and whenever we can.


David Harries

Member of Bridgend Local Meeting, South Wales Area Meeting

Quakers in Britain – Statement on Equality

“We value that of God in each person, and affirm the right of everyone to contribute to society and share in life’s good things, beyond the basic necessities.”   

Quaker faith and practice 23.21

A commitment to equality is a hallmark of the world’s great religions and a foundation of our Quaker faith . We are called by our experience of equality to voice deep concern over the widening gulf between rich and poor. Equality is the heart of good relationships. It is about our right to equal respect, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, health, disability, nationality, age or social class. It is the cornerstone of a society that affirms our common humanity and recognises wellbeing and human fulfilment as the desire of us all. A society that values equality cannot restrict the goods and benefits of society to any one country, caste or class.

We applaud progress that has been made towards equality in some parts of the world but lament the gross disparity between the life chances of those born in the wealthier countries and those born in the poorer countries, and the continued widespread poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition in many parts of the world. Quakers in Britain deplore the increasing concentration of economic authority and the social stratification that transmits inequality across generations. We are angered that the UK now has a greater disparity in income than at any time since the Second World War and are compelled to speak out against government policy that makes cuts in spending that promote inequality. We challenge the culture and ethos that enable the leaders of finance and industry to take salaries and bonuses that are many hundreds of times larger than those of their employees. Deepening economic inequality cannot continue indefinitely without a risk of violence and oppression. We are dismayed that the government is giving so little consideration to the long term impacts of spending cuts on whole communities. Under-investment and short term accounting are putting the wellbeing of future generations at risk. 
Quakers strive to uphold the values of justice and equality in the face of spending cuts that increase poverty and have a disproportionate impact on the poorest among us. Sacrifices shared can strengthen our society. We urge policy makers to address the deficit through a fairer tax system and measures that increase solidarity.

“…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8

New International Version

Approved by Meeting for Sufferings by minute S/12/03/3, 31 March 2012.

 I approve

David R Harries

Eight Quakers and Job and Loss – a study workshop at Woodbrooke, Birmingham, March 2014 – led by Joy Croft

The stories

In Job, there are two stories. The first comprises the beginning and the end.  This reads like an older, simple fairy tale.  Job is a good man.  He is rewarded for his patience and obedience to God.  In this part, there is a reason for what happens (God allows Satan to afflict Job).

The second story (the middle part) is poetic and challenging and unsettling. Compare the wisdom books and the Psalms, which date back to the time of the Exile. 

Job (the middle part) makes plain what we all experience: often, good deeds are not rewarded and bad deeds are not punished. In other words, bad things happen to good people. This is the world that exists, despite what the prose ending of Job says.

The middle part may be a response to a folk tale.  It can be read from any angle; it can be regarded as a tragedy or a comedy, treated with great seriousness or irony, by the same people at different times.  

The comforters draw on time-honoured arguments.  Their explanations are inadequate, and indeed God rejects them.  At the end, God says that the friends got it wrong, Job got it right.

Job and God

Job wants an advocate in court, a hearing.

He wants to see God.  He wants to know why the awful things are happening.

He gets to see God (compare Moses and Elijah).

When presented or reminded of the amazingness of the divine universe, he says, “Now I understand.”  The reader is left wondering what he means.  Job, however, appears to be satisfied.  Something has changed within him, deep inside.

Job does not supply simple answers; but it may tell us what we need to know; and it points towards lessons for our own emotional life.

Loss and Grief

Job goes through the classical stages of grievingAnger (one of the stages of the grieving process) can help us move forward, so long as we do not get stuck in a blame game.  We all suffer anger; and it is natural to look around for someone to blame (it can be ourselves).  Loss also brings a degree of isolation.  It is hard for those who have suffered loss to communicate with others.  It is hard too to talk to the bereaved (to find the right words) – but this is where listening come in.

Our tasks then are: (i) to work through our own losses (often inexplicable!), and (ii) to sit with others when they experience loss, patiently.  We can at least try to act better than Job’s friends, by listening and not offering simplistic explanations to the bereaved.

A fulfilled grieving process may include the need for forgiveness.  (Compare the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke.)

APPENDIX: a few notes on Joy Croft’s own Master of Theology thesis, University of Glasgow, 1992 (unpublished)

Joy’s first interpretation of Job has to do with sympathy with Job.  In her second interpretation, she reflects upon the way we are called upon to live our lives:

“The moral is that there is no reward to be expected for right action.  Virtue is its own reward; the life of integrity is its own justification.  We live lives of integrity because God asks it and because it is part of the human nature God has given us.”

In her third interpretation, Joy reflects upon the implications for our emotional lives:

“I have come to focus on the importance of loving relationships as the means to personal and spiritual growth…. [I find myself] reading it as a story of therapeutic relationships.”


David R Harries

April 2014


On 15 March 2014 Quakers in Britain held (in London) a first conference, open to all Quakers, on our approach to mental health issues.  It was sponsored by The Retreat, a Quaker mental hospital set up in York in 1796 and still going strong.  The ninety plus people attending comprised: people with personal experience, carers and professionals – and indeed any combination of the three.  We looked at: (a) our history, (b) the wider context today, (c) our present work, and (d) the impact of mental health problems on individuals, carers and the pastoral care within the Quaker community; and we asked ourselves where we go from here.  We did not finish these tasks in one day!

In the last 350 years Quakers have taken an active interest in all sorts of matters: war and peace, slavery, social justice, independent schools etc.    Mental health has not been prominent in our discussions apart from support of The Retreat.  It may be no surprise though (a) that many Friends these days work in care settings and (b) that our Local Meetings are sometimes attended by people in distress (and an appropriate response can be hard to devise).

There were numerous speakers and also discussion groups.  I would just like to mention a few things that came out.

1. A young Friend spoke frankly and vividly about her personal experiences, both as a patient and as a member of a supportive Local Meeting.  She suffers mood swings (varying from elation to tears), which had affected her behaviour in Meeting for Worship at times and required other members to try to understand her.

On the one hand, a psychiatrist had asked her, “Does God talk to you?”  She had taken the opportunity to explain the Quaker belief that God does indeed talk to those who listen, especially in the setting of a worshipping group.  This young woman was in a position to say that she had been accepted by her Local Meeting: she was not “broken or worthless” but “valued and trusted” – “good enough as you are”.  Help had been emotional and practical.  In return, she had contributed to the life of the Meeting by volunteering to take on tasks.  (Doubtless, not everyone has such a satisfactory experience.)

(I should add that this young woman has just completed a postgraduate thesis on the choices pregnant women with a mental health history make about what medication to take, if any, while they are expecting.)

Our Friend ended by saying that (although being a user of services is bad enough) being on benefits is worse.  Community services that help people stay well are being cut.  “The way we look at people on benefits is wrong.”  She called upon Quakers to challenge the cuts and the attacks on benefit claimants.

2. During the day, the question was posed: who is mad – the person occupying the back of a pantomime donkey in a demonstration outside a nuclear weapons factory, or the arms manufacturer?

3. Finally, for my personal reflections: the day was very successful in getting lots of people together who did not know each other (for the most part) but who had a burning interest in mental health issues.  We talked and talked and listened and listened.  We were all committed to trying to attend sensitively to the pastoral needs of people (including ourselves) with passing or long-lasting, mild or deep, mental health problems.  What we did not and could not solve was the challenge of manifestations of mental distress that sometimes disrupt Meetings for Worship (where most Friends seek stillness). 

More will follow, no doubt.

David Harries 

Thoughts on Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’


Love’s Labour’s Lost is, as far as I can make out, one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays.  But it is worth a look.

The play is set in the court of a fictional Navarre.  Henri III, King of the real Navarre, had become Henri IV of France in 1589.

Comedies of the period end in marriage; tragedies end in death.  LLL commences with a battle of the sexes and ends in uncertainty.   


There is little plot, but what there is I’ll summarise.  In part, there is a love story, but instead of there being one man and woman falling in love with each other, and overcoming obstacles to their marriage, in this play there are four pairs. (Is this excessive?)

Four lords, then – three courtiers and their king (the King of Navarre) – first decide to study for three years, to achieve fame and honour, while remaining celibate – indeed, while banishing all women from the court.  They bind themselves by an oath.  However, the Princess of France promptly arrives, on a diplomatic visit, already arranged, escorted by three ladies.  The four lords are obliged to welcome the ladies and speak to them, thus compromising their ill-advised oath.  Their stance is further undermined by their falling in love with the four ladies.

The four lords proceed to find excuses to break their oath and to find ways to woo the ladies, via poem writing and play acting.  Describing the ladies as goddesses rather than mortal women, they try to wriggle out of their commitment to monk-like study.  The ladies refuse to take the men seriously, and indeed they mock them. 


At the end of the play, the Princess is informed of the death of her father.  Her grief reinforces the ladies’ need to delay their response to the lords’ marriage proposals.  As the princess says, the time is “too short/To make a world-without-end bargain in” (5.2).  Berowne sums up: “Jack hath not Jill” (5.2).  The ladies impose a year’s penance upon their admirers and state that they will reconsider the matter when the term is up.


Hence, the men appear immature and inept, the women as more mature and sensible and indeed wittier.  Indeed, though the other men in the play can be classed as clowns or pedants (or both), the gentlemen can be seen as clownish and pedantic too.


Firstly, the other male characters plan a pageant of the ‘Nine Worthies’, to entertain the ladies.  Unfortunately, when they put on the performance (Act 5, Scene 2), the gentlemen keep rudely interrupting and making fun of them.

Meanwhile, two comic characters – Armado (a Spanish knight and braggart) and Costard (a clown) – are rivals for the hand of Jaquenetta (a dairymaid).  To a degree, their own wooing parodies that of the gentlemen.  At the end of the play, it is revealed that Jaquenetta is pregnant by one of them.


The players are wordy in their attempts to be witty and persuasive, sometimes to excess.  They delight in word play and puns.  Unfortunately, many of the jokes are, nowadays, obscure.


Once the gentlemen decide to woo the ladies, they each choose to write a love poem, while hiding it from the others (4.2 and 4.3).  The embarrassing revelation of these acts of love (but also of oath breaking), in front of their colleagues, is a source of comedy (4.3).

In his sonnet, addressed to Rosaline, Berowne confesses that he is exchanging his oath for pursuit of his lady-love:

“If love make me forsworn, how shall I swear to love?

Ah, never faith could hold, if not to beauty vowed.

Though to myself forsworn, to thee I’ll faithful prove.”


The King’s poem, addressed to the Princess, concludes thus:


“O Queen of queens, how far thou dost excel,

No thought can think, nor tongue of mortal tell.”


Longaville’s sonnet, addressed to Maria, is similar to Berowne’s:


“Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye….

Persuade my heart to this false perjury? ….

A woman I forswore, but I will prove,

Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee.”


Finally, in similar vein, Dumaine’s poem, addressed to Katherine, contains the lines:


“Do not call it sin in me,

That I am forsworn for thee.”




I’ll briefly examine Act 4, Scene 3.


First, Berowne enters, alone.  He admits, in a soliloquy, that he is in love with Rosaline.  Then the King enters: not seeing Berowne (who hides), he reads his poem (see above) out loud.  Next, Longaville and Dumaine arrive, in turn, and proceed to recite their poems (see above): each thinks he is alone, but each is overheard by his predecessors  Then, in reverse order, the lords emerge from hiding: Longaville confronts Dumaine; the King confronts them both, and wonders what Berowne will say when he finds out.


Browne now comes forward, saying, “Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy”: he claims that he is “honest”; and he holds it a sin “to break the vow I am engaged in”.  But his own hypocrisy is demonstrated by the intrusion of Costard and Jaquenetta, who are in possession of Berowne’s own love poem (see above), which has not reached its intended recipient.


Hence, the lords’ shared guilt comes to light.  But Berowne goes on to persuade his partners in crime to abandon their foolish oaths and to pursue the love of women:


“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:

They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;

They are the books, the arts, the academes,

That show, contain and nourish all the world.”


So off the lords go, to try their success with the ladies.




The scene is somewhat reminiscent of the scenes in Much Ado About Nothing (2.3 and 3.1), where Benedick and Beatrice, in turn, hear themselves being discussed by their friends.  But these discussions form part of a plot, to bring them together.  As for LLL, the idea of a series of men being overheard, while reading out their self-incriminating poems aloud, is ridiculous – but (despite this, or perhaps because of this) it is funny.  In his film of LLL (2000), Kenneth Branagh used the scene to great effect.  (Mention of this prompts me to comment on the film itself.)      




In the film, Kenneth Branagh used about 700 lines of the play’s 2,600 plus.  He placed the play in the early 20th century and inserted 20th century songs.  In Act 4, Scene 3, instead of the poems mentioned above, we have, firstly George and Ira Gershwin’s I’ve Got a Crush on You, and secondly, Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek.    The songs are fine; but I miss the poems; and it is a pity that space was not found for them. 




The play ends with a pair of poems, which could be sung or recited: the song of the cuckoo, related to spring, and the song of the owl, related to winter.  (They are omitted from Kenneth Branagh’s film.)  Even these verses are ambiguous: the cuckoo “mocks married men”; and the “staring owl” can allude to death, wisdom or good fortune, in mythology.




The play can be interpreted as a plea for honesty and plain speaking, and as an encouragement to men to respect the intelligence and judgement of women.


The empowerment of women and the uncertain ending make it appreciable (in principle) by a 21st century audience.


(I am grateful to these editors of the play: J Kerrigan (Penguin, 1982), G R Hibbard (Oxford, 1990), and in particular, H R Woudhuysen (Arden 3, 1998).)


David R Harries


February 2014





A comparison of Vondel’s ‘Lucifer’ and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ (1667 and 1674)


1 Lucifer (a drama) has a little over two thousand lines (rhymed), whereas Paradise Lost (an epic) has about 10,500 (blank verse).  (Milton first thought of telling the story through drama.)

2 The similarities between Lucifer and Paradise Lost can be attributed to their derivation from two passages in the Bible: Genesis, Chapter 3, verses 1-6, for the temptation by the serpent of Adam and Eve; and Revelation, Chapter 12, verses 7-9, for the “war in heaven” and the “casting out” of Satan. 

3 Both God the Father and God the Son appear in Paradise Lost; in Lucifer, God is represented by the loyal angels, expressing his wishes and enforcing his orders. 

4 Is it a good idea to include God in a poem as a major character?  Does it work artistically? Does Milton do him justice?  (Can he, indeed?)

Rather caustically, Alexander Pope commented on God’s speeches in Milton’s epic:

‘In Quibbles, Angel and Archangel join,

And God the Father turns a School-Divine.’


[The First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace Imitated, 101-102]


See also Christopher Rick’s Introduction to his edition of Paradise Lost (Penguin, 1989), pages xxi-xxii.


For a positive view of Milton’s portrayal of God (Father and Son), see Alastair Fowler’s Introduction to his edition of Paradise Lost (Longman, 2007), pages 36-41.


5 Is the God of either poet autocratic?  And if so, is he unappealing? Suffice it to say here that Milton’s Satan is a tyrant in the making (see Paradise Lost, Books I and II, to look no further); and Vondel’s Lucifer is similar.  So, although they make great speeches, they are great deceivers and are unfit to rule (except perhaps in hell).


6 Adam and Eve do not appear on stage in Lucifer.  They may seem passive – created and acted upon rather than active (they are not given space to tell their story in their own words).  In Paradise Lost, by contrast, Adam and Eve, are undoubtedly active characters.  God the Father, moreover, states that He has endowed them with free will; and of Adam he says:


“Ingrate, he had of me

All he could have; I made him just and right,

Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”


[Book III, 97-99]


7 In Lucifer, Lucifer himself has been second only to God hitherto.  He and his supporters rebel against God because they believe that the newly created Adam and Eve will usurp the angels’ place and be closer to God (and be of higher status) than they themselves.  In Paradise Lost, it is the status of God the Son that sparks the rebellion (see Book V, lines 772-802.)  Moreover, Adam and Eve are created after the war in heaven, as the climax of the six day creation (see Book VII).

In this connection, compare speeches by Lucifer in Vondel’s play and Satan in Paradise Lost:


“To be the first prince in some lower court

Is better than within the Blessed Light

To be the second, or even less.”


[Lucifer, Act 2]


‘Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.’


[Paradise Lost, Book I, 263]


8 In Lucifer, the rebels are warned against rebellion by Gabriel (Act II), Michael (Act III) and Raphael (Act IV).  In Paradise Lost, the challenge to Satan and prediction of his downfall comes from the seraph Abdiel (Book V, 803-848 and 877-89).


9 Lucifer conveys the build-up to the angels’ rebellion in the first four Acts, and all the consequences in Act V.  (The Fall of the rebel angels and that of Adam and Eve follow in quick succession.)  The movement over time is linear.  Paradise Lost starts in the middle, with Satan’s preparation for his part in the second Fall, in Books II-IV; then it covers the first Fall, in the account given by Raphael, in Books V and VI; then it returns to the Fall of mankind, and its consequences, in Books VIII-XII.   

10 There is a war in heaven, between the forces of God and those of Lucifer/Satan, in both works: in Lucifer, the account is given in Act V; in Paradise Lost, in Book V, 563-907, and Book VI, 1-866.  God the Son is the commander in Paradise Lost: in Lucifer, it is Michael.  (Both accounts make the reader think of the nature of 17th century warfare.)

11 In both works, Satan/Lucifer is transformed into a lowly beast.  In Satan’s case, he is changed into a hissing serpent (Book IX, 504-545).  Lucifer is metamorphosed into a “hideous medley of seven beasts”, representing the seven deadly sins (cf Revelation).

12 In Paradise Lost [Book III, lines 80-134] God the Father reveals that he can foresee the Fall of Adam and Eve: nothing similar occurs in Lucifer.


13 In Paradise Lost, God the father contrasst the negative fate of the rebellious angels (“the first sort”) and the ultimately positive destiny of Adam and Eve:


“The first sort by their own suggestion fell,

Self-tempted, self-depraved: man falls deceived

By the other first: man therefore shall find grace,

The other none: in mercy and justice both,

Through heaven and earth, so shall my glory excel,

But mercy first and last shall brightest shine.”


[Book III, 129-134; emphasis added]


In Lucifer, Act IV, as the rebellion comes to a head, the angel Raphael talks about justice and mercy.  Justice, he says, now has the superior claim on God’s attention, but mercy is still on offer (for a short space), if Lucifer lays down his arms.  Lucifer hesitates, but loses his chance to accept the offer, as he feels impelled by his supporters to join battle with God’s forces.


14 In both works, both Adam Eve are very beautiful; and they have something denied the angels – their happy married state.  The angel Apollion readily expresses his admiration for the couple:

“Perfect are both man and wife;
Of equal beauty they, from head to foot.”

And, he says, they surpass the angels:

“And though all the Angels now
Impress our eyes as beautiful and fair.
How ill their forms and faces would appear
If seen within the rosy morning-light 
Of maidenhood!”

[Lucifer, Act 1]

Similarly, in Paradise Lost, their beauty makes an impression upon Satan [see Books IV and IX]; but the sight of them, “Imparadised in one another’s arms”,  is “hateful” and “tormenting” to him [IV, 505f]; and later, when he finds Eve on her own [IX, 455ff], her beauty temporarily “overawed/His malice”, and he is “of enmity disarmed,/Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge”, until “the hot hell that always in him burns….soon ended his delight” and “Fierce hate he recollects”.  (And his temptation of Eve follows.)


15 In Paradise Lost, it is Satan himself who tempts Eve.  (See Book IX, 532-548, 567-612, 655-658 and 677-732, for his speeches to Eve; see the rest of Book IX for the short term consequences, and the later Books for those of the long term).  In Lucifer, it is Belial (sent by Lucifer) who tempts Eve (and Adam), in similar but far fewer words.


16 The planned redemption of mankind, through Jesus Christ, is conveyed in the last few lines of Lucifer, and throughout Books III, X, XI and XII of Paradise Lost.


17 There are symmetries in both works.  Albeit known only by report, Adam and Eve feature early in Act I of Lucifer (where they are beautiful and happy) and late in Act V (when they have fallen).  Symmetries can be found too in Paradise Lost.  In the Introduction to his edition of Paradise Lost, Alastair Fowler sets out this “array” of the twelve Books:


i-ii       Effects of angelic fall                    a

iii        Council: Satan enters world           b

iv       First temptation                           c

vi       Messiah’s triumph                        D

vii       Messiah’s creation                        D

ix       Second temptation                       c

x        Council: Satan leaves world           b

xi-xii   Effects of human Fall                             a


[Page 26]     


18 Last but not least: both works are full of male characters: Eve is the only woman.  As is well known, it is Eve who takes much of the blame for the Fall – much more so in Paradise Lost than in Lucifer, as in the latter the forbidden fruit is passed from Eve to Adam immediately.




Scholars can detect theological differences between Vondel (a convert to Roman Catholicism) and Milton (a free thinking Protestant); but on the whole both poets act to “justify the ways of God to man”.  Both works are tremendous literary achievements.  Objections to them can be raised by readers who do not share the faith that informs the works, but on grounds of belief rather than artistic merit.



For an alternative analysis of the two works, see: van Dijkhuizen, J F, and Helmers, H, ‘Religion and Politics – ‘Lucifer (1654) and Milton’s Paradise Lost (1674)’, in: Korsten, F W A, and Bloemendal, J (eds) (2012), Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), Dutch Playwright of the Golden Age, (Leiden: Brill), 377-405 (available on line).  They see Vondel as a supporter of divinely appointed authority and Milton as a republican, concerned about tyranny, whoever exercises it:

‘Both Milton and Vondel employ the Lucifer myth to investigate the nature of authority….  Both ultimately draw opposite conclusions from their material: Vondel sees in the rebellion of Lucifer a lasting justification of divine kingship….[In the hell of Paradise Lost, we see portrayed] the power and authority [that] come to be corrupted into the inequality and tyranny that Milton associated with the Stuart monarchy.’  [Page 404]


David Harries


January 2014