A Nut not yet Fallen from the Family TreeSaturday, April 23, 2011
Americans are self-made individuals.
We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
We look down our democratic noses at "blue bloods" who inherited their wealth and power, rather than earning them on their own.
And yet, we are easily puffed-up by discovering that we are descended from Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, or -- in my case -- William the Conqueror. It makes no difference that sheer arithmatic guarantees vast numbers of descendants from any famous person who happened to have children, sometime in the distant past.
What really tickled me, however, was discovering that my 15th great grandfather was Sir William Gascoigne (1350 - 1419).
He was Chief Justice of England under King Henry IV. I found this discovery pleasing... even if my stepson pointed out that it meant I had some lawyer blood in my lineage. What tickled me was that I have an ancestor who was a character in one of Shakespeare's histories (Henry IV, Part 2). It seems Sir William was something of stick-in-the-mud -- but an honorable one -- and he strongly disapproved of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters: Sir John Falstaff. Being in charge of the King's bench, I suppose he had to suspect the bona fides of anyone as disreputable as Sir John. No doubt, the excesses of that rotund rascal were the very qualities that led Shakespeare to include him in more plays than any other character. It pleases me to know that my ancestor might have spent time with someone like Falstaff, even if it pained him to do so.
Because, 395 years ago today, Shakespeare shuffled off his mortal coil.