Thursday, 10 April 2008

"Not without risk"

William Shakespeare's family motto " Not without Right" was part of his coat of arms which caused some controversy when it was granted on the grounds that an actor could not be a gentleman.

Ben Jonson seemed to think so too and one of his more scabrous characters in a play was a newly minted gentleman whose coat of arms was a boar's head with the hilarious motto " Not without mustard."

But " Not without right" is a cagey, modest motto , a motto for dangerous times. You only have to go to Tower Hill in London and look at the memorial plaques surrounding the old scaffold's location - Thomas More ,Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Laud and many others- to remember just how precarious life was at court and that the higher you rose the greater the downside risk.

As Sir Walter Raleigh is supposed to have etched with his signet ring on a glass pane

"Fane would I climb,
Yet fear I to fall "

Only to have Queen Elizabeth Ist add her comment underneath to complete the poem

"If thy heart fails thee
Climb then not at all."

Perhaps the Elizabethans' motto should have been " Not without risk" or should we claim it for ourselves?

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