FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Keeping Shakespeare in a Box

This year, Santa left me a gift I actually wanted: The complete works of Shakespeare on DVD, all 37 productions from the BBC. I tore open the box and plunged into the glossy Viewing Notes, with its details on the conception of the series and the source of finance. The “big money” came from Metropolitan Life, J.P. Morgan’s bank and Exxon Mobil. “There were strings attached”, notes the BBC, “the backers insisted on a conservative artistic policy of broad acceptability to the widest possible audience”. Come again? It gets worse. The financers demanded the plays be set “either in the historical period of the action or in Shakespeare’s own time. In no event should the directors and designers stray beyond 1616”, the year of the Bard’s death. How odd. Over the years, some of the best productions of Shakespeare have transcended their original time zones. So why did the BBC accept this philistine edict?

In our corporatized culture, perhaps there is no other choice. Exxon is said to produce 1 per cent of global emissions. Its former boss, Lee R. Raymond, was paid a million dollars a week. Whether plundering resources, soiling the skies or degrading Shakespeare, it’s all in a days work for Exxon. But why should they bother? Could it be that his tongue is dangerous, especially when given a modern context? Shakespeare in a suit in every schoolroom is a radical with a license to alert innocent eyes to the criminality of rulers and the perfidy of power elites. (Will Murdoch play Iago to Barack Obama, is Cheney a kind of Richard the Third?) Justice, honour and the natural world are exalted the Bard’s consciousness, while corruption, greed and the hoarding of power are condemned.

At heart, the attempt to imprison Shakespeare in the past is a political act. Silently, behind the scenes, corporations often try to kill us softly with their wiles, but we still wear their brands on our underwear.

Killing Bystanders

In a dramatic editorial on New Years Eve, 2008, Looking at America, the New York Times paraded the soiked garments of the Bush administration, citing its “shocking abuses” and “acts of lawlessness”. Yes, American soldiers tortured and murdered those in U.S. custody and, yes, its mercenaries gunned down “Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution” (which is still happens in secret each day from the air). The murdering mercenaries in Iraq are employed by global corporations linked to Washington at the highest levels. Their powers match those of wicked Kings in the era of Shakespeare, and their weapons are deadlier. The boom times for Blackwater USA & similar goon squads are enriching Wall Street investors, few of whom face up to the fact they are financing serial homicide.

The Times editorial was welcome and long overdue, but it lacked a call for action. The paper felt, perhaps, its readers were too well fed, complacent and over-entertained to march to Washington with lighted staves. The editors did not even call for Cheney and Bush to be impeached. It was as if at the final moment the masthead notables lost their courage, and yet, being New Yorkers, they were swamped with feelings of guilt. This was clear from the quote they chose to highlight online, emanating from the first wave of its readers responses: “Let us not go down in history as infamously standing silent in the face of grave crimes the way the Good Germans allowed the Nazis to carry out their atrocities.” (An apt description of the US media mainstream.)

It’s as though, by breaking out this quote, the NYT was outsourcing the task of bringing Bush & Co to justice. “You do it, please, we are compromised. Defense industries sit on our board. We are part of the network of six conglomerates that supply media and entertainment for over half the world’s population. Occasionally we can expose high crimes, but the rest is up to you, Okay?” Not exactly. It seems harder than ever for individuals to act effectively against the state. The demographic with a thirst for justice and a flair for dissent, with a vision of community self reliance, is still short of reaching critical mass.

In Search of Self Reliance.

Thirty years after the death of Shakespeare, a wandering Zen Buddhist Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, wrote a luminous guide to the martial arts and life, The Book of Five Rings, which is still in print. Later, on the eve of his death, he wrote The Way of Self Reliance, a scroll of 21 precepts to assist future students. Most of his precepts are at odds with today’s accepted wisdom, for example: “Do not ever think in acquisitive terms”.

Are you laughing?

Amex brochures thunder onto my doorstep with mounting frequency and their product offerings are a parody of consumer excess, ranging from 7 star holidays on virgin atolls with celebrity chefs to, oh, I don’t know, stuff like home delivered Ferraris fitted with espresso machines. Bikini clad models rise from turquoise spas in the promo booklets, adorned with a one word headline: RECYCLE! Just kidding. The word is INDULGENCE! Our reward for thinking acquisitively.

Today’s rich and powerful can do anything they like, anytime. Acquisition + indulgence is behind soaring Lear Jet sales, facelift fever, $60 million annual bonuses, ski resorts in the desert. It explains why Presidents can torture at will and why US soldiers feel free to shoot Iraqi civilians at random. It is behind price fixing, cluster bombing, even the sub prime scandal (arising as it does from the dodgy “financial products” invented by Wall Street to fleece desperate home buyers).

I write this from a generation touched by Jack Kerouac’s incredibly flawed, sexist, yet thrilling On the Road, in which the author laments the spread of log cabins built from “poor trees felled by chain saws”. Today’s defining tract is starker, Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, in which all the trees are dead or dying, like the humans in his charred landscape. This scenario is entirely plausible, unless humanity re-discovers its ecological self. Shakespeare understood the importance of nature and its power to heal–King Lear’s madness was soothed by herbs–and current research confirms this insight. The Arts, social justice and community self reliance are the lodestones of the future. “Consider yourself lightly”, Murashi wrote, “consider the world deeply”. Yet we are forever urged to do the opposite, which endangers the future.

RICHARD NEVILLE has been around a while. He lives in Australia, the land
that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz.
He can be reached through his bracing websites,
http://www.homepagedaily.com/ AND
http://www.richardneville.com.au/

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

RICHARD NEVILLE lives in Australia, the land that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz. He can be reached through his websites, http://www.homepagedaily.com/ and http://www.richardneville.com.au/

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 18, 2019
Timothy M. Gill
Bernie Sanders, Anti-Imperialism and Venezuela
W. T. Whitney
Cuba and a New Generation of Leaders Respond to U.S. Anti-People War
Jonathan Cook
How the Goliath of the Jerusalem Settler Movement Persuaded the World It’s Really David
William Hartung
Merger Mania: the Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids
John G. Russell
The Devolution Will Be Televised: Our Body-cam President
Judith Deutsch
Psychology Stories: Children
Dean Baker
The Coal Industry is Not a Major Employer
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Gangster: Adani’s Pursuit of Scientists
Thomas Knapp
National Polls Don’t Mean Much. Here’s Why.
Thomas Mountain
Africans Solving African Problems; Bringing Peace to Sudan
Ann Garrison
History Is Happening: WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate
Elliot Sperber
Don’t Open the Door 
July 17, 2019
Manuel García, Jr.
Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
Charles Pierson
Sofi’s Choice
Gary Leupp
Epstein, Jane Doe, and Trump
Rebecca Gordon
I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed
Peter Bolton
In the US and Brazil, Two Trends Underline the Creeping Fascism of Both Governments
Michael Kidder
“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada
Steve Early - Rand Wilson
How Big Strike 30 Years Ago Aided Fight for Single Payer
John W. Whitehead
Sexual Predators in the Power Elite
Michael Welton
Teach the Children Well: the Unrealized Vision In Teaching and Learning in the Residential Schools
Khury Petersen-Smith
Iran’s Not the Aggressor, the US Is
Russell Mokhiber
Kip Sullivan and Dr. Matthew Hahn on How Value Based Programs Are Undermining Medicare and Single Payer
George Ochenski
A Fearless and Free Press is Essential to Our Democracy
Lawrence Wittner
Billionaires and American Politics
Dean Baker
Cheap Shots at the Trump Economy
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail