Words from King John

For the last several weeks now, print, digital and broadcast media have overflowed with coverage of today’s 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination .  I certainly have nothing new to add, but in today’s post I’ll repeat something that I read this morning and that I found interesting.

JFK with his dog, Dunker, in The Hague, August 1937
(Copyright: John F. Kennedy Library Foundation)

Today’s New York Times carries an article by Sam Tanenhaus, the gist of which is this: while many Americans remember Kennedy’s death as a loss of innocence, an event that set the country on the path to ‘the tumult of the ’60s’, Tanenhaus reminds us that, on 22 November 1963, “America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring.”

To underscore that point, he tells us that historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (who had served as a former assistant to, and speechwriter for, JFK) reported, in his book “A Thousand Days”, that Kennedy was mindful of the ‘potentiality of chaos’, and once ended an informal talk with these lines from Shakespeare’s play King John:

The sun’s o’ercast with blood: fair day, adieu!
Which is the side that I must go withal?
I am with both: each army hath a hand;
And in their rage, I having hold of both,
They swirl asunder and dismember me.

King John in Shakespeare’s First Folio


  • Thanks Jeanne. We’re all use to seeing pictures of Kennedy as president, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of him that young! He was a very handsome young man.


    • He was indeed, wasn’t he? I specifically looked for a picture from his younger days; he was 20 in that shot. Thanks for checking the post out, Dave!


    • Bruce,

      I’ve often wondered–and I’m sure this isn’t an original thought–whether the Beatles would have been so enthusiastically received in the States, in February of ’64, had JFK not been assassinated less than three months earlier. America, in its grief and disorientation, was desperate for another repository of youth and promise….



      • There is without doubt a link. Author Philip Norman thinks so too, contextualising the first visit by the Fab Four to the US in exactly the terms you describe. I’m presently reading his entertaining Beatles bio “Shout!” and am just up the what can be colourfully (if not accurately in the clinical sense) described as mass hysteria. It certainly makes more sense thought about in this way, though this is not to take anything away from the talent and charisma of the musicians themselves.


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