Upstarts Like Shakespeare

I’ve no more desire than the next Anglophile with a framed colored engraving of the queen-empress on his office wall to pull down the aristocracy; to take away their estates and paintings and seats in the Lords and ancient Rollses resting on blocks in stables where the racing stud used to breed.

And yet I confess to growing a little restless, just a tad—you know—impatient, while watching Downton Abbey.  When the fourth season of this sudsy saga premiered in January, I found myself watching half the time from behind Section A of that day’s New York Times: the equivalent, in entertainment terms, of looking out from Mordor into the delights of the Shire.  To seek distraction among the scions of the Sulzbergers is what the dowager countess of Grantham—the estimable Maggie Smith, whom I have adored for half a century—would likely call degenerate.  She would be right.  However . . .

Downton Abbey, which concerns itself, allegedly, with the life patterns of early 20th-century British aristocrats and their servants, spins around and around, back and forth, without ever getting anywhere in particular.  These aristocrats—let alone the downstairs help, hardly a negligible presence in the series—don’t do anything in particular at this point, despite, two seasons ago, participating robustly in...

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