In the first Act of Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII, there is a fascinating exchange between the Duke of Buckingham, who fumes over Cardinal Wolsey’s machination to destroy him, and the Duke of Norfolk, who urges cool-headedness. While Buckingham’s imagined calamity later materializes, Norfolk is right, in principle, about the need to exercise self-control when anger risks impaired judgment and hasty action. There is much to be learned here about the application of reason to the passions.
Stay, my lord,
And let your reason with your choler question
What ’tis you go about: to climb steep hills
Requires slow pace at first: anger is like
A full-hot horse, who being allow’d his way,
Self-mettle tires him. Not a man in England
Can advise me like you: be to yourself
As you would to your friend.
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself: we may outrun,
By violent swiftness, that which we run at,
And lose by over-running. Know you not,
The fire that mounts the liquor til run o’er,
In seeming to augment it wastes it? Be advised:
I say again, there is no English soul
More stronger to direct you than yourself,
If with the sap of reason you would quench,
Or but allay, the fire of passion.