SHYLOCK: What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong? / You have among you many a purchased slave, / Which like your asses and your dogs and your mules / You sue in abject and slavish parts / Because you bought them. Shall I say to you, / “Let them be free, marry them to your heirs! / Why sweat they under their burdens? Let their beds / Be mades as soft as yours, and their all their palates / Be seasoned with such viands?” You will answer / “The slaves are ours!” So do I answer you: / The pound of flesh which I demand of him / Is dearly bought, ’tis mine and I will have it. / If you deny me, fie upon your law! / There is no force in the decrees of Venice. / I stand for judgement. Answer: shall I have it?
Shakespeare wrote many soliloquies; although dark and depressing, his final speech for Macbeth is one of his best.
A certain malaise descends on me at this time of year. It is not so much the growing dark – although I am sure that plays a part – so much as the descent into the ‘holiday’ season, a time of year synonymous not for giving and family but for greed and accumulation. Human nature does not have a positive connotation for a reason; it just isn’t good. We take and hoard until we can almost forget what we really are, even if is for just the briefest of moments. We say things and make promises, actually believing some of the profundities we claim…. but there is nothing of substance, just the shell of something half-built, the world always the same as before. The slogans and liquor wear off and we are as we started, creatures who want more.
Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Saramago have had a few things to write about this, but in the end they’re just words, like these, read and discarded on the road to the next thing, the next electronic gadget.
While literature is rife with the terror of a bad conscience – Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – there is little evidence that we actually care about wronging others. We aren’t as smart as we think and end up believing that selfishness and greed is what keeps us alive. Children are taught all sorts of other good things – sharing and caring and all that – but they learn by watching how adults behave. The message is clear: Teachers and parents don’t practice what they preach; the wealthy stay rich through manipulation, and leaders maintain their power through collusion.