Thursday, May 31, 2012

As flies to gods are men...

Some people lie awake worrying about paying their taxes (I don't - the govt takes mine automatically); some people lie awake worrying about their mortgages (I used to do that - I've resigned myself to that curse); others lie awake worrying about family members - I'm that one except, in the past three years my 'family' has grown to include not just my hubby, children, mother and siblings but the created ones as well.

As a parent, I think about how to raise my children to become the best type of citizens that fits with the way God created them. But, sometimes, life (as in the bad part of 'life') reaches in its big fat hairy hand and rips the guts out of all you had put together to allow them to go on and enjoy happiness.

The irony is, a writer does that all the time. We do. We are mean. Nasty. Horrible to the fictional characters we love. We are like the boss in Katherine Mansfield's The Fly, waiting until the hero has scrapped off all the crap life has dropped on it, waiting until he or she is free to test drive key faculties then WHAM down goes another blob.

Yup. Mean as.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I am sick at heart…

...And that which should accompany old age….I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath…’ The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 5 scene 2

Two things we’ve been thinking about this week: the value of words and actions and the idea of friendship and loyalty.

Ironically, Shakespeare – a man of words – is often critical of the emptiness of them. It is what we do and how we behave that speaks louder than what we say. Toward the end of the play, it is very clear that most of the Scottish soldiers are fighting against the invading British army because they are either being paid to do so or are terrified of what might happen should they turn their back on their king rather than out of a sense of duty.

For most people (and teenagers even more so), having true friends is the most important asset – people who will keep your secrets and who will have your back.

At the start of the play, Macbeth is lauded as this most amazing warrior: loyal, fearless, brave. How quickly those truths about him were forgotten when he began to make the wrong choices and how quickly he lost the security of friendship. This phenomenon is observed over and over for those in the limelight (politicians, actors, musicians) who break the law, behave stupidly or criminally: any good they may have done in the past is null and void in light of the affect of their recent misdemeanour.

Many of us feel sorry for Macbeth. We even admire that, even though he knows he’s had it, he will continue to fight to the death. In this final scene, the qualities of Macbeth that we learn about in the beginning, come out again.

One student commented that it really is sad (a tragedy) because if Macbeth had just left things alone, he would have surely been able to enjoy all that was promised to him – something he himself considers early on ‘If chance will crown me king then chance will crown me without my stir.’ He KNEW that if he was going to trust in the prophecy, then he didn’t have to do anything but just wait it out. A difficult thing to do for a man of action.

Next time, I will muse on the differences between the first Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth.

Monday, May 14, 2012

400 year old insights from William Shakespeare

Today, both my y12 classes, who are studying Macbeth, looked at Act 4 scene 2 (the murder of Lady Macduff and her family) and the first part of scene 3 (when Malcolm 'tests' Macduff.)

I spent some time talking to the class about the importance of the role of Thane: that it was an honored position which carried great responsibility to the people of the thanage - to ensure that they were well looked after; kept safe; that their issues were sorted; that they had enough to eat and were able to thrive. Also, that to be a king's thane meant absolute loyalty to the king - God's representative on earth. To bring discredit or to publicly criticize the leader of ones country was treachery.

We talked about the modern day equivalent - Chris Carter speaking out again the leader of the labour party here in NZ. I asked my students what they had observed of the fate of any politician in power to spoke out against their leader. Did the leader fall? No. The person who criticized did.

Lady Macduff was right to call her husband a traitor. She says that even the tiniest of birds, the wren, would do all it could against the owl to protect its babies. Her husband did not even have the courage of a bird. Later, Malcolm asks the same thing of Macduff - how could you leave your family so vulnerable - especially at this time?

It is poignant when Lady Macduff makes this comment - one that is a universal truth:
I am in this earthly world, where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly.

I said to my students - it takes great courage to stand up and do good. We talked about those that did and do: Martin Luther King Jr; Rosa Parks, Emily Pankhurst; Kathryn Bolkovoc; Sam Childers. We talked about the great challenge: Evil Flourishes when good men do nothing (Edmund Burke).

When we looked closely at the way Malcolm tests Macduff's loyalty, we spotted another universal truth - one that has chilling recognition for many of them studying recent history:
A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge.

In other words, I was ordered to do it by my commanding officer.

The way human nature works - its expression and reaction to what people, circumstances and dreams come their way is richly mined in the works of Shakespeare.

As I work on the final rewrites for Birthright, I am so lucky to be daily saturated by the incredible insight from a man who died over 400 years ago.