Wednesday, April 14, 2004

To Pay or Not to Pay

It's tax time. Let's celebrate with a bit of revisionist literary history. William Shakespeare was a tax protestor. Think about the message hidden in the titles of several of his plays:

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is about a man who hopes soon to repay the money he borrowed to meet his tax bill. "Winter’s Tale" follows him through months of overtime work as he struggles to save money for his old age. In "Love’s Labor’s Lost" he confronts the ugly reality that his savings will go to the IRS. "A Comedy of Errors" depicts his travails with Form 1040 and its many schedules. In "Much Ado About Nothing" he discovers, alas, that he owes the IRS even more than he had feared. Stunned by the discovery, he decides in "Twelfth Night" (April 12) not to file a tax return and tears it into tiny pieces. He reconsiders, and "The Tempest" recounts his struggle to complete a new return by April 15. "As You Like It" celebrates his triumphal march to the Post Office on April 15, armed with a return that shows him even with the IRS. "All’s Well That Ends Well" is a fantasy in which the IRS finds no fault with our hero’s return.

Then there is the real text of Hamlet’s soliloquy:

To file or not to file -- that is the question;
Whether ‘tis nobler in the pocketbook to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous taxes,
Or to take arms against a sea of instructions
And by ignoring evade them. To file -- to pay --
No more; and by not paying to say we end
The headache and the thousand-dollar debts
That Uncle Sam is heir to -- ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To run -- to hide --
To hide! Perchance in Bimini! Ay there’s the spot;
For in that sunny isle what dreams may come
When we have eluded the revenue agent
Must give us pause; there’s the reality
That makes mockery of such simple plans;
For who would bear the heat and hard bunks of Leavenworth;
The cell-block bully’s fist, the guard’s glare
The bagginess of prison garb, the sad children’s tears,
The righteousness of neighbors, and the spurns
That the gray-faced ex-con takes
When he himself might his quietus make
With a simple check? Who would these taxes bear,
To grunt and sweat under a glaring desk lamp,
But that the dread of something after April 15,
The uncelebrated penitentiary from whose walls
No inmate leaves, without parole,
And makes us rather bear those taxes we must
Than fly to Bimini or other exotic places?
Thus conscience does make taxpayers of us all....