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Thursday, 3 September 2020

Slavery: a rant.

 Someone in Authority (people are blaming each other, so we don't know exactly who) has banned the singing of the songs Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the annual series of London concerts known as The Proms.

The reason given is that someone (again, the blame is being passed around) objected to the connection between the songs and slavery.

Land of Hope and Glory begins: 

Land of hope and glory

Mother of the free.

and I would have thought that the word free explicitly ruled out slavery. 

And you know what? That's because it does.

Rule Britannia! is a song from an opera by Thomas Arne. The opera is about King Alfred, aka Alfred the Great, and his leading of the fight against some invading Danes. This song does mention slavery because the chorus goes Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves! Britons never never never shall be slaves!

One verse goes:

To thee belongs the rural reign,

Thy cities shall with commerce shine;

All thine shall be the subject main,

And every shore it circles, thine.

But, as anyone can see, saying that every shore that's circled by the subject main (that is, Britannia's sea) shall be Britannia's just means no one's going to invade us successfully.

Which seems fair enough.

Still, I can understand the uneasiness about the singing of these two songs. Rule Britannia! does include the word slave; and Land of Hope and Glory does express the hope that the Land of the Free might become wider and mightier (though which land this might be isn't specified, except that it's the land of the free, which means...but I've already said this). Unfortunately there are, clearly, people of such low levels of intelligence that just the inclusion of a word makes them think that a work must be expressing an opinion in its favour (but also the opposite, as in the case of Land of Hope and Glory).

The worrying thing is that such utter dunderheads should be in a position of any influence at all.

Word To Sing Today: free. The Old English form of this word is frēo, and it has ancestors going right back to the Sanskrit priya, which means dear.

UPDATE September 2nd: the BBC has relented: Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory will be sung, after all. Alleluya!

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