Great American Novels, Ranked by How Much We Hate Them
Enter RUMOR all painted with tongues
RUMOR enters, wearing a costume covered with painted tongues.
Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
5The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
I speak of peace while covert enmity
10Under the smile of safety wounds the world.
And who but Rumor, who but only I,
Make fearful musters and prepared defense,
Whiles the big year, swoll'n with some other grief,
Is thought with child by the stern tyrant war,
15And no such matter? Rumor is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wav'ring multitude,
20Can play upon it. But what need I thus
My well-known body to anatomize
Among my household? Why is Rumor here?
I run before King Harry’s victory,
Who in a bloody field by Shrewsbury
25Hath beaten down young Hotspur and his troops,
Quenching the flame of bold rebellion
Even with the rebels' blood. But what mean I
To speak so true at first? My office is
To noise abroad that Harry Monmouth fell
Open your ears! For who could possibly block them when loud Rumor speaks? I make the wind my horse, and ride it from the Orient in the east to the place where the sun sets in the west, describing the events taking place in the world. I continually tell lies and I tell them in every language, stuffing men’s ears with falsehoods. I say that things are peaceful when, in reality, concealed hatred is at work, hidden behind smiles of good will.
And who but Rumor—who besides me—can make armies prepare anxious defenses, when in fact the world is uneasy for other reasons and there’s no war coming at all? Rumor is like a flute. Guesswork, suspicion, and speculation are the breath that makes it sound, and it’s so easy to play that even the common masses—that dim monster with innumerable heads, forever clamoring and wavering—can play it. But why should I describe myself in such detail to the one group of people who knows exactly what falsehood is all about: a theater audience? Why am I here?
King Henry has won the war, and at Shrewsbury, he ended the rebellion against him by defeating Hotspur and his allies, quenching the fire of revolt with the rebels' own blood. But what am I doing, telling you the truth up front? My job is to spread word that Hotspur in his fury killed Prince Hal, and that Douglas killed the King. I’ve spread this rumor through all the peasant