Letters — 19 April 2016
Letter to the Editor: Belisle Nweke considers Macbeth

16th April, 2016

The Editor AMANDALA

Dear Sir,

It is still important to teach Shakespeare in our Belizean schools. Nevertheless, with the dumbing down of examinations, declining standards, teachers forced to boost students’ self-esteem at the expense of basic standards, and an obvious dysfunctional educational system, thousands of Belizean students will graduate from our educational institutions in a couple of months time with only the haziest idea of history, politics, culture, and great literature.

Why is sixteenth century William Shakespeare relevant to Belize, particularly at this point in time? Of all Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth and Richard III are the most damning about bad government and treacherous, power-hungry leadership. They also conclude with their destruction. Macbeth is actually about politics, and is one of the most contemporary plays ever written. It is about laws, allegiances and treachery within a nation, and the very fate of a country being at stake. In it are lessons for all politicians to decipher – if they can!

A close scrutiny of the characters shows that even if a king (or a prime minister) has the best intentions in the world and claims incorruptibility, he may still be a very foolish person.

The virtuous King Duncan placed his utmost trust in the cunning and treacherous Thane of Cawdor; and, even as he realised that: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face …” hence for him, the treachery in Cawdor had not been discernible, yet later proceeded to naively and foolhardily trust the equally dangerous and disloyal Macbeth. Indeed, it is this lack of perception and good judgment that determined Duncan’s tragic fate.

Shakespeare’s Banquo shows us a man who, like a good number of politicians, is a disturbing study in compromise and artful dodging. The main problem about Banquo is that he is as infected by the witches, (The Enemy Without) as Macbeth himself. Note too how he hesitates, continues to relate, but refuses to commit – and is a type of politician who, as an accessory, assumes he can survive by looking the other way and washing his hands clean.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays this is the nearest to a Greek tragedy. Much of Macbeth occurs at night, and the language is of darkness, despoliation, of horror within and horror without. There is also the existence of the supernatural, but in effect highly negative, external forces, which initially nourished and sustained the key characters, only to destroy them in the end. For the witches recognised and tapped into the evil and greed in those they cornered, and in igniting these assisted them to discover the evil and greed within themselves.

One of the great literary devices of our playwright is that he directly involves us in following and understanding his characters’ thought processes; and we are held spellbound as we see Macbeth, our main man, weighing and measuring the “ifs”, “ands” and “buts” of an action that is at once terrifying, yet inevitable. But are today’s Macbeths, Banquos and Lady Macbeths well able to contemplate and analyse the pros and cons of a dilemma, which can ultimately transform and destroy them, as well as a nation? And, are their lyrics or platitudes merely “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Yours faithfully,

Therese Belisle Nweke,
Lagos, NIGERIA

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