Google celebrated the genius of Shakespeare on his death anniversary (23 April) with a doodle. Shakespeare deserves commemorations and celebrations. What has fascinated me the most is the theme of betrayal in Shakespeare. Our own experiences determine our favourite themes.
“To be or not to be” is a question that rose from the gut of the wavering prince of Denmark whose trust in mankind was betrayed by none other than his mother. There was poison in that mother’s heart. When she smiled serpents writhed in their mating pits. “Die, die,” hissed the serpents to the wavering intellectual. Death is the noblest consummation in the world of betrayals. If your mother betrays you, if she betrays her husband your father, what more is left in the world to be trusted? How many heartaches should we suffer before we can shuffle off our mortal coil? How many thousand natural shocks is our flesh heir to?
Shakespeare’s Hamlet asked those and umpteen other questions. In those days. Before the godmen’s women came with their poisonous smiles and marauding bulldozers.
I began with Hamlet simply because the other day I stumbled upon a website which provoked me to play a game named ‘Which Shakespearean character are you?’ and Hamlet was my lot. Okay. To be or not to be is a question that only my death will answer. Betrayals are nothing new to me or Shakespeare.
Wasn’t Julius Caesar stabbed again and again? By his most trusted people? Was there ever a more agonised cry than “You too Brutus!” in the whole cosmos of literature? The cry of a man betrayed by his trusted friend. Stabbed in the back. For the sake of righteousness! What is right, what is wrong, except in your thinking? Hamlet would have asked Brutus.
Antony loved Cleopatra with his whole heart. With his whole dick, corrects Hamlet standing in the graveyard holding up Yorick’s skull. If a man goes into the water and drowns himself, he’s the one doing it, like it or not. But if the water comes to him and drowns him, then he doesn’t drown himself. Therefore, he who is innocent of his own death does not shorten his own life. That’s Hamlet’s logic [Act 5, Scene 1 – paraphrased in modern English]. Did Antony drown himself or did Cleopatra’s variegated Nile swallow him? What is right, what is wrong, except in your thinking? Hamlet might ask. Yet betrayal was the cause of the deaths. Both of Antony and his queen of lust. Betrayal is a denial of what holds the cosmos together. Betrayal is the negation of the gravitational force between you and me.
Lady Macbeth will go and wash her hands again and again. Gallons of perfumes brought from Arabia will not sweeten her hands. She betrayed human trust. She betrayed humanity. With the confidence of today’s bulldozer. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” She didn’t listen to the warnings. And she is the only major character in Shakespearean tragedy to make a last appearance denied the dignity of verse. Such was her greed. Such was her lust for power. Such was her betrayal of humanity.
The genius of Shakespeare bid farewell to the world’s stage on a positive note, however. His last play, Tempest, is also about betrayal but about redemption too. About the brave new world of love that the young protagonists had supposedly discovered.