The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0551  Saturday, 13 September 2008

[1] From:   Jack Heller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 10:52:56 -0400 (EDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 19.0539 Aaron Manson

[2] From:   Felix de Villiers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Thursday, 11 Sep 2008 11:30:11 +0200
     Subj:   Aaron Manson

From:       Jack Heller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 10:52:56 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 19.0539 Aaron Manson
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0539 Aaron Manson

I recently decided to watch Roman Polanski's 1971 movie version of Macbeth, and 
so I read Roger Ebert's review beforehand. He discusses what he sees as the 
connections between the film and the murder of Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate.


Jack Heller

From:       Felix de Villiers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Thursday, 11 Sep 2008 11:30:11 +0200
Subject:    Aaron Manson

Yes, Joe, you have made an impressive list of unrepentant evil-doers in 
Shakespeare. It is not as though I had forgotten them. Aaron still strikes me as 
an altogether singular case. Is there any other of the baddies who goes down 
saying that he would have liked to inflict infinitely more cruelties than he had 
already done? If so, let me know. Aaron is a grotesquely magnified image of the 
cruelties that surround him. I can't go through every name on your list, so I'll 
just pick out a few. The real evil doer in Macbeth is his Lady, but her guilt 
drives her mad and leads to her death. Macbeth himself is full of misgivings all 
the way to the end of the play. In the end, it is just macho pride that makes 
him fight the last fight. Richard III comes close to Aaron, but he is driven 
more by Machiavellian ambition than be the mere desire to kill. Tybalt is one 
member of two clans whose followers are bent on killing each other. Claudius in 
Hamlet does come to a realisation of the evil he has perpetrated. Henry V is not 
on your list, as he is not normally considered as a villain, but the murder, 
rape and pillage he promises, with evident satisfaction, to the French are spine 

I'm entirely in favour of your concept of personal -- or social -- 
responsibility, but, if I'm not mistaken you contradict yourself when you say 
that "heart hardening Original Sin, Natures darkness within, sows such breeding 
grounds" of evil. If nature and not society breeds such creatures, how could one 
expect them to have a sense of responsibility? That view is entirely fatalistic. 
We are all creatures of nature which man has attempted, not very successfully, 
to civilise. I have done some googling on Charles Manson and I can't imagine 
what I would have been like, had I had his childhood. There, but for the grace 
of God go I. I do believe very much in the social influence on people's early 
childhood. Manson took revenge on a society that had damaged him. I don't 
believe that a greater understanding of social mechanisms would lead to more 
Mansons, as you write, "if undue emphasis is put on man as a solely a social 
creature..." I have never thought of man as a solely social creature; I think of 
him rather as a creature of deviated nature. I spoke at some length on this 
subject in a talk on Shakespeare I gave in Verona. Space and Hardy permitting I 
will add two paragraphs from it to this letter.

In the case of Hitler, it would be useless to talk of personal responsibility. 
He was not a 'person' at all, but the socially generated puppet of his own 
misdoings. He was, nevertheless, a socially accepted Manson in Germany. This is 
indeed the thing that terrifies me most about Hitler, the running mate of 
McCain, Berlusconi and others - that they are popular. Hitler had most of 
Germany behind him. Obama will, presumably, have to support the death penalty if 
he wants votes where is our personal responsibility? When the Yorkshire Ripper 
came out of some palace of justice in England, his path was lined with hundreds 
of women grinning and leering lasciviously at him. These are indeed socially 
generated phenomena or deviated nature, if you prefer. The subject is huge, and 
I must limit myself.

In favour of a better world, like Joe, yours Felix.

Here are the two paragraphs from my talk:

In the arts, society permits itself to a certain degree to acknowledge the 
refusal of the established world. This brings me to an interesting observation: 
the more conventional the relationship between society and its antagonist, the 
more violent the friction between them seems to be. In films and on television 
there is an obsession with violence, transgression and criminality. If the films 
come to happy endings, these are a mere pretext for the thrills that have gone 
before. Without very evil characters, there is no audience and no money. One 
film is appropriately entitled Fatal Attraction. In the USA there appear to be 
two tendencies (among others): one powerfully puritanical and the other wildly 
pornographic. They are two sides of the same coin, and an example of a blocked 
and destructive dialogue between sex and society. If we consider for a moment 
the operas that the next season of the Arena has to offer, there is not a single 
plot in which the moral order is not challenged by erotic imperatives and 
various kinds of fatal attraction, urged to the point of catastrophe. The 
choices artists make are instinctive, not really consciously intended, so the 
dialogue that emerges is often muffled in the public mind. But however much 
those operas are flattened and integrated into social rituals, there is always 
the beast in us that waits for the moment to awaken and shake off its chains.

Now, in making these observations, my aim is not to oversimplify the problem and 
to persuade you all to leave this room with the intention of divorcing as soon 
as possible, of assuming illicit attitudes and of indulging in acts of crime. 
Our social world too has its disconcerting dialectic with which I am not 
primarily concerned in this talk. The social order - if we may call it that - 
has always sought, from the beginning of time to liberate us from chaos and the 
blind instincts of nature. But our prevailing order or disorder has perverted 
these civilising intentions to the point of itself becoming a blind mythical 
force. Our task is to follow a dialogue in which, not only nature and the 
darkness of myth, but also the social order seek to rediscover themselves in 
conciliation. This idea emerges like a gem in these words of Friar Laurence:

For though fond nature bids us all lament,
Yet nature's tears are reason's merriment.

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