This evening I finished watching the Lawrence Olivier filmed version of Othello. I had seen it during it’s theatrical run back in 1965, but the decades have not diminished either the power of the performance or of the words themselves penned even centuries earlier. The story is so full of close calls, of times when tragedy could have been averted, and yet it was not. How many times have we been on the brink ourselves and could have avoided even lesser calamities if we had learned shake off the power of wrong things in our lives.
Othello depicts the power of a lie in the mouth of a particularly persuasive villain. Even though he is evil we cannot, like the master of the unjust steward in Jesus’ parable, shake our heads in a small measure of admiration. Still, his lies cost the lives and reputations of almost every major character in the play.
Romeo and Juliet is not, at heart, a love story, but a story of hatred dominating a city to the point of throwing a priest into a conniving lie and others into constant duels and deaths and suicides. Each bore their own responsibility in the story, but still the hatred did its work in paving the way for all the evil to follow.
Hamlet focuses on revenge rather than justice. It is a false way of balancing the scales. Though there be some ground for it in the prior murder of his father, the revenge itself set no one free. The ghost, whether hallucinatory or real, destroyed a family and a kingdom. There are things in heaven and earth which should be left alone.
Julius Caesar deals with the devastation of peer pressure. The conspirators talked one another into doing what none would have done on his own. Caesar may have been ambitious, but they paved the way for Augustus and the empire which crushed and persecuted the Western World for centuries.
Richard III exposes the fallacy of trusting in self. The real king of history may not have been as evil as the one painted on stage, but the character set forth in the play trusted in himself until he ended up wanting to trust in a horse.
King Lear trusted in human beings. He thought others carry out his responsibility better than he could. Again, a family and kingdom are plunged into ruin.
Then there is Macbeth, listening to occult voices, fulfilling prophecies which did not need to be fulfilled, following the wishes of a stronger wife and laughing at true prophecies before his destruction.
We may not play upon such large stages, but every one of these wrong things confronts us in our own lives. In many of Shakespeare’s plays the only thing which turns a tragedy into a comedy is the abandonment of the wrong and the holding to the right. Let us turn whatever is set before us into a true comedy in which, rather than being crushed, the protagonist triumphs.
4 years ago