“Who’s Shakespeare?” John asked when I mentioned the bard in a casual conversation.
“Didn’t you study an extract from Julius Caesar a few months back?” I asked with concealed consternation. John had just passed class ten from CBSE.
|I come to bury Caesar and not to praise him|
“Yup!” he remembered. “I come to bury Caesar and not to praise him,” he quoted Shakespeare’s Mark Antony from memory.
“What makes that line memorable to you?”
“Mark Antony was lying,” said John. “He did just the opposite?”
Coming from a fifteen year-old boy, that was quite a brilliant answer. “Did your teacher say that?” I asked.
“Not exactly. But I liked Mark Antony. He’s a good politician.”
“Good orator, you mean?”
“That too. But a good politician,” he persisted.
“Because he lied effectively?”
He thought for a while. “He achieved what he wanted.” In his own style John went on to tell me that he admired Mark Antony for subverting the entire paradigm that Brutus had built up. “And Brutus is an honourable man,” John quoted Mark Antony while he explained to me his admiration for his Shakespearean hero though Shakespeare himself had not struck a chord in his memory. John knew that Brutus was indeed an honourable man, that his intentions were right, that he meant well for his nation. “But Mark Antony is the real hero,” he concluded.
In John’s view real heroes are people who win in the end. He didn’t know the end of Julius Caesar, of course. He had read only the extract prescribed in the course. He was not interested in anything beyond that, beyond scoring a good grade in the exam.
But what he said made me think. Isn’t that what heroism means to most people: victory and power? Mark Antony knew how to play with people’s emotions. He knew how to subvert the emotions. He knew how to implant in their minds and hearts what he wanted to implant. He knew how to rule them by giving them the right myths and symbols.
What would Shakespeare write if he were alive today? I wondered. We have Mark Antonies galore today. How will Shakespeare dramatise them? As heroes or villains? Was Mark Antony a hero or a villain with all his deceit, duplicity, rhetorical gifts and strength of character?
I miss Shakespeare. I hear the question hitting my vital innards: Who is Shakespeare?