I’m short profound, inspiration observation from my daily life this week, but since I've promised to try to post every Sunday night, you’ll have to make due with an observation from my exam reading (one that I've pondered before in a few better entries, in fact). Non-academic readers, receive my sincerest apologies.
One of the exciting things about reading for comprehensive exams is that the inundation with sixteenth-century literature is sharpening my perception to repeated themes. The past two weeks have been particularly inundated with Shakespeare. See if you notice these repeated themes, all from different plays:
[My deformed birth] plainly signified
That I should snarl and bite and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it.
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick;
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion...and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on.
Men at sometime are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
The first is from Henry VI, part 3 right after Richard (later Richard III) has murdered the title role and explains that his malice results from the defects of his birth. The second is from The Tempest where Prospero describes the islander Caliban, explaining that his savage nature prevents the possibility of reformation. The third is from King Lear, in which the crafty Edmund explains to the audience that his villainy does not result from his bastard birth but rather from his own will. The final is from Julius Caesar in which the ambitious Cassius attempts to convince Brutus to murder Caesar, a betrayal that will bring down the republic and secure Brutus’ position in infamy as a traitor.
All characters seem to be asking, in the face of tragic villainy, whether our wickedness comes from within or without, and (more importantly) whether it is destined or avoidable.
I find that in the face of my own monstrosities, I want to stand beside Cassius and Edmund who insist that we can take hold of our own destiny, that the accidents of our circumstances do not control our future. And then I find myself, like the crafty bastard Edmund, taking hold of my destiny to bring it deliberately to the places I insisted I wasn’t destined to go.
As a Christian, of course, I have the easy God-answer that seems like it would save me from the despair of Caliban and the ambition of Cassius: God can snatch me out of my own monstrosities and save me from my natural corruption. But when he doesn’t, when year after year my weaknesses or deformities or struggles or corruptions remain, I’m not sure I like the answer that would imply to the question.
Maybe it is the wrong question to begin with—how I got this way or whether I can change. Maybe that is why it is the Shakespearean villains who are asking it, and why they can never come up with a consensus about the answer. Maybe that is why my attempts to find the Christian answer to the question are equally unsatisfactory.
I’m not sure what a better question might be, and I’m open to suggestions. In the mean time, I’ll accept the grace to admit that I can’t always take hold of my destiny, and hope that such an admission does not abandon me to despair.