two decades fifteen years ago, my wife had given a brilliant talk on Henry V and, as a result, been offered a job at Sewanee. One perk was that they would pay our moving expenses, and so it came to pass one June day that I was in our apartment watching a few professional movers packing all of our stuff–our heavy, heavy stuff–into boxes and putting them onto a truck. This was an especially agreeable occasion, because it was very hot, and our apartment was very un-air conditioned, and it was they who were packing and moving all of these heavy, heavy things, and not I. And as they packed and moved, I sat and pondered.
I wondered, to whom did I owe this very real pleasure of not moving these heavy things that I had been moving around to and fro in a variety of locations now for several years, as most 20- and 30-somethings are wont? It seemed to me that my very first debt of gratitude was to my wife, of course. If she weren’t a brilliant exponent of Shakespeare, well, I’d be loading the boxes. And naturally, Sewanee deserves thanks for being willing to foot the bill for the moving expenses. So those were the most immediate debts of gratitude, it seemed to me.
But what about more remotely? I began to think even harder on the matter, as the moving guys grunted and sweated with my stuff. Perhaps I can even thank Shakespeare himself, I thought, that here I am, comfortably seated and not lifting a finger to help out. After all, had he not written Henry V, then my wife would not have lectured on it and so impressed the Sewanee faculty. The lines about the baggage boys at Agincourt came floating into my mind, and the histrionics of Kenneth Branagh reacting to them (Henry V, Act 4, scene 7):
Kill the poys and the luggage! ’tis expressly
against the law of arms: ’tis as arrant a piece of
knavery, mark you, as can be offer’t.
The poor boys, I reflected, simply doing their job. Not so different from the men putting my luggage and such into their truck. And then it occurred to me that perhaps I owed a still deeper debt to King Henry himself, who defeated the French at Agincourt, since Shakespeare would not have written the play had the battle not been won, and then my wife would not have lectured on it, and I would be sweating and swearing as I loaded the van.
But of course, it was not me loading the van at that moment, and for this Shakespeare and Henry V were in some part responsible, as might also be invention of the longbow and the tennis balls sent by the Dauphin. Still further back, perhaps I might even credit the longstanding enmity between England and France, the rivalry of nation with nation, or the simple mean-spirited propensity of humankind to compete and kill. Who could say?
Perhaps, in the end, my comfort on that humid June afternoon was ultimately an unintended and distant ramification of the malice lurking in the human heart. And what was it that had put this long line of contingent events into motion, that had set all these things along their way, but that First Cause whom Aristotle identifies at the center of all Creation, the Unmoved Mover? O thou eternal Mover of the heavens, cries out King Henry’s son in a later play. Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch! O movers, had I asked you that afternoon, what might you have said about all this?
Dedicated to a True friend, who suggested the title, and seems to like my moving tales.
κινεῖ δὴ ὡς ἐρώμενον.
Hey, that was NOT two decades ago. One and a half! Move us not faster than we’re already moving!
I’ve changed it, but it was two decades ago, no? The 90s?