Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, speaks during a news conference outside her teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa January 4, 2013.
You know, from William Shakespeare’s play of that name. Act 3, scene 2, wherein Hamlet’s mother famously observes that another character “doth protest too much, methinks.”
Not “protest” in the modern context, although that sort of protest is relevant here, too. No, in the Shakespearean era, “protest” meant as an affirmation, or an avowal.
Thus, the Hamlet Principle can be seen at work in a decidedly modern psychodrama, between Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, on the one side, and all of Canadian conservatism, on the other.
Chief Spence is on a hunger strike, protesting the way in which the Conservative government treats First Nations.
And Conservatives, meanwhile, can lately be observed claiming — over and over and over — that Chief Spence is a liar and a fraud and a criminal, and even that she isn’t really on a hunger strike at all. This is where the “they doth protest too much” part comes in.
Because, the more that Conservatives bray and screech that they don’t care about Chief Spence’s truly brilliant campaign, the more Canadians suspect that they do. The more that these Cons insult her — calling her every name they can conjure up, including “c--t” on a Sun News web page (since taken down) — the more that they look, well, scared.
Yes, scared. With every hateful, spit-flecked epithet they lob at her — with the cacophony of conservative columnists, and the cyber-sewer of commenters who follow them— Conservatives sound undeniably worried about what Chief Spence is achieving.
Because, make no mistake, she is achieving plenty. She is attracting attention to her cause. Famous people are trekking to her tiny tent, located on a miss-it-if-you-blink bit of rock between Ottawa and Hull. International media are writing about her, and the grassroots Idle No More movement. Canadians are paying attention.
She is not doing any of this with showy Greenpeace-style media stunts, or demonstrations that massively inconvenience average citizens. She is not committing any acts of terror. She is simply saying she will not eat until she gets to meet with the Prime Minister. That’s it.
If you pay any attention to conservatives, however, you would think Chief Spence is worse than Hitler, and that her hunger strike is a declaration of war. Against her, the full force of the Conservative government’s army of propagandists have been deployed. She has been called some of the most disgusting things imaginable, but she has not responded in kind. Instead, she has been almost Ghandi-like in her dignity.
If Chief Spence is truly a threat — and, with her weakened body, and her failing voice, it is hard to see how she could threaten anyone — then Conservatives have pursued a genuinely idiotic strategy against her. Instead of making her infamous, they have made her famous.
Instead of ignoring her, they have revealed themselves to be obsessed by her. Instead of simply meeting with her, and making it a one-day story, their pig-headed stubbornness has made Chief Spence a folk hero who will be remembered for years to come.
Like I say, it’s the Hamlet Principle. When they doth protest too much, you can always be reasonably assured that they’re a bunch of goddamned liars.