Cogitation 31/209 Saturday 3 August 2019 Where’s Shakespeare when we need him?
Right at hand, actually. The Shakespeare who more than 400 years ago gave deep voice to the world’s ills, its goodness and its hopes in works of tragedy, history, comedy and love–words that ring true today.
One insight the bard divined has to do with life’s purpose: “we are borne to do benefits,” Timon of Athens, Act 1, Scene 2) . That phrase has a biblical allusion in the New Testament book of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (New Revised Standard Version)
Maisie Sparks compiled a slim volume, Holy Shakespeare! (Faith Words, 2016). that covers 101 Scriptures that appear in Shakespeare’s plays, poems, and sonnets. I’ve picked out a few–firstly for my own benefit and only secondarily for how they might address our own times.
The quotes have a personal application as well as a corporate one. They remind me that life at every human level–individual, family, community, nation, world–is not about hatred, covetousness, greed, envy, indifference, lust, pride, and misuse of power. Life in its fullness, however much we muddle it up, is about hope, about sharing the benefits of our birth.
I’m not just tired of what passes for political discourse these days, but disquieted by the measures people in power, governments and corporations, take to keep truth from being revealed–to bury it, warp it, twist it. The book I mentioned last week, Truthteller, by Stephen Davis, reveals how these weapons of truth suppression are used around the world. So, even in a small way, it’s Shakespeare’s great works that can light our way.
A Saturday morning reprieve for a coffee
I just made a pot of coffee called Nkonge.6, from Kayanza Province, Burundi; we got the beans from Balzac’s Coffee Roasters in Stratford, Ontario last month. It’s an amber roast, “A slow-sipping coffee with subtle notes of passion fruit and a creamy, lingering finish.” It was grown on Nkonge Hill at 1,941- 2,127 metres above sea level. These incidental factoids spice the record for when I read this post by and by.
It’s fine coffee, though I’m still searching for that passion fruit taste. I just looked up some quotes that appear on coffee cups, such as “A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet as coffee in the morning.” Or this from Shakespeare: “We know what we are but know not what we may be.” And this one from the Bard that should draw a retort rather than blood: “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed.”
My Cafe Du Monde cup refilled, I’m about to press on, just noting that the cup comes from “The original French Market Coffee Stand, serving cafe au lait and hot beignets (French doughnuts) 24 hours a day, year round. This familiar New Orleans landmark has been located in The French Quarter since 1862.” A tip of the cup to a fine morning, or nighttime, or anytime. beverage.
More bits from Holy Shakespeare!
The high road: “We must do good against evil,” All’s Well that Ends Well , 2.5 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
Love, the highest law: “For charity itself fulfils the law.” Love’s Labour’s Lost, 4.3 / “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10
Time: “…learn to jest in good time; there’s a time for all things,” The Comedy of Errors, 2.2 / ” For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3, 1,4
Humility: “Pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the deed in the praise,” Troilus and Cressida, 1.3 / “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth–a stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2
Justice: “So just is God, to right the innocent,” King Richard III, 1.3 / “For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” Psalm 37:28
Peacemakers: “For blessed are the Peace-makers on Earth,” King Henry VI Part II, 11.1 / “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
A play that takes Trump seriously
Earlier this year a theatre in London, England, staged a play titled Shipwreck (it ran until 30 March). The reviewer, Michael Billington, (The Guardian, 21 February) wrote, “Anne Washburn’s new play does something you rarely see in theatre: it takes Donald Trump seriously, rather than as a subject for satire.”
Set in upstate New York, the play in the main narrative shows a group of privileged liberals arguing about Trump at a pivotal period in his presidency. “Any temptation to treat the liberals as pillars of virtue is resisted: their lives seem messy and confused and they are prone to excess–as when they debate whether Trump could be the antichrist.” But one member of the group, a lawyer, points out how Trump makes “‘himself up out of thin air and nobody cares.'” Billington: “This strikes me as the essential point of the play: that we live in a culture where no one remembers the past.”
Yet it is our sense of the past that shapes how we think about who we are. Even though we in the US are a divided, sometimes self-harming, devil may care nation, in many ways we recognize ourselves as immigrants, colorfully multi-cultural, healthily diverse, a people increasingly aware and respectful of native peoples., a country where communities of care rally round needs and opportunities day and night. We’re not a democratic paradise, but in the midst of darkness hope for a much better nation and world persists.
Back to Shipwreck: “This is an important play that not only examines the Trump phenomenon, but asks why he was elected; one of the characters shocks his friends by explaining that he voted for Trump because a failing democracy needs a shock to the system. It is precisely the argument you sometimes hear in Britain about a no-deal Brexit being a catalyst for change.” He concludes that the six characters “adorn a play that is far from flawless, but necessary.”
We press on. We seek to build a community where the widest network of people hammer out common goals that make us so much like family–in the best sense of the word.
How to walk to school
When neighborhood moms got together with the principal of Nettlehorst, wonders happened to bring this Chicago public school from the doldrums to renaissance (How to Walk to School, Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland, (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009). “The fate of public education is not beyond our control,” wrote Edelberg in “A Call to Action.” “Public education belongs to the public–all of us.”
“All of us” who rally around the local school includes parents, other neighborhood residents, businesses, government representatives, faith centers, service agencies.
Edelberg concluded, “When the original group of eight moms met at the local diner, we hoped that our kids might someday be able to walk to school. We had no idea where this dream would take us. Armed with precariously over-loaded strollers, cups of strong coffee, naivete, moxie, and the roughest of game plans, we kept our heads down and our focus on one goal at a time. I hope our dream inspires you to look to your own sandbox and change the world.”
In Truthteller, Davis concluded: “We can also teach our children to be intelligent consumers of information, to understand the difference between fact and opinion, to understand that gossip is just that, and to be prudent in what information they share on social media or in person. Let’s teach them to be less quick to come to an opinion, to ask more questions before making up their minds, and to realize that the complex problems of our planet can’t be explained in a tweet or YouTube clip.”
Chuffed and humbled
I’m encouraged by the signs I see around me of people doing the right, good, person- and planet-saving thing. I’m dazzled by the beauty nature dangles before our eyes. I’m grateful for the lessons of history, the insights of tragedy, the delights of comedy, the mysteries of love that infuse our world and help shape our onward journey. I’m chuffed and humbled by the vision and mission, “we are borne to do benefits.”
Friends came calling
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Yup, that sage advice comes from the Bard of Avon (1564-1616).