The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.090 Monday, 20 January 2003
Date: Saturday, 18 Jan 2003 12:34:41 -0000
Subject: Shakespeare Usurped
I said I wouldn't do it but I did. I borrowed a friend's DVD of "Lord
of the Rings." About three-quarters of the way through the wretched
thing broke down owing to a scratch on the surface of the disc. But I
had seen enough and didn't wish to continue. This film, and its other
preposterous younger brother, "Harry Potter", is enormously successful
throughout the whole world with lorry loads of merchandise further
propagating their philosophical message. Millions of children have
accepted their depiction of evil whilst adults smilingly approve.
In terms of Shakespearean philosophy all this is a dangerous moral
contradiction. "Lord of the Rings" has infinite details of wizards,
great battles, weird characters and magic rings but the core plot is
simple. A red-eyed, canine-toothed, psychotic-brained, six foot six
male with an English accent wants to take over the world. Just what
he'll do with this power is never fully explained. Perhaps he'd
imprison Robbie Williams for crimes against music - in which case I'd
support him. "Taking over the world" has always been a mysterious
concept to me and something that never appears in Shakespeare for good
reason. The other part of the above mentioned plot is that a cute,
slightly daft hero wins against the power of the monstrous Englishman.
This popularisation of this silly concept of evil is a danger to public
morals far more than internet porn, rap music or even international
terrorism. To iconise evil as a two dimensional, non-human, pantomime
character is moral cowardice that could take us all to hell.
Shakespeare lovingly and painfully tracked the disintegration of
characters like Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet and Richard III so that we
could personally identify with this process. We can see that if we were
in a slightly different social position we too might succumb to some of
those terrifying pressures. Even the quickly drawn but despicable Aaron
puts his baby's life before his own.
Shakespeare himself called those plays tragedies - not a "jolly good
fight against evil". They were as much about the tragedy of the main
character as they were of their victims. In modern times the regimes of
Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam and the rest are tragic derelictions of
human nature. There is no such thing as good people and bad people. We
all contain all things and manage it the best way we can.
Shakespeare's inordinately detailed deconstruction of evil is being
usurped by ignorant and pompous writers like Rowling and Tolkien and it
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