Friday, February 27, 2009

Beware the fury of a patient man

The BBC-2 film "Margaret" yesterday evening was excellent.

At one point Margaret Thatcher (Lindsay Duncan) sees members of her cabinet in tight conversation across the room. Correctly suspecting them of plotting against her, she comes across to publically humilate each of them.

Finally, she turns to Geoffrey Howe and says "Geoffrey, could you bring me my shawl".

This is not a question.

He hesitates for a moment, blinks and then dutifully goes off on his errand.

"Beware the fury of a patient man" observes one of the onlookers.

If the leader of the party had been male, and had said to one of his subordinates "Bring me my coat" this would have plainly been a humiliating and demeaning request made by an alpha male to reinforce his superiority.

Said by a women not in a position of power, and in a non-dictatorial way, "Could you bring me my shawl?" could be considered flirtatious.

Said by Margaret Thatcher in the scene described, it was frankly terrifying.

Incidentally, the origins of the quote are apparently from here.

"Quotation from Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer of maxims in the 1st century BC.

In the 17th century, British poet and dramatist John Dryden used it in "Absalom and Achitophel", generally considered to be the greatest political poem in the English language:

Must I at length the Sword of Justice draw?
Oh curst Effects of necessary Law!
How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan,
Beware the Fury of a Patient Man."

This was clearly a period when the scions of the Tory party still had a classical education.