Sunday, May 22, 2022

#142 / What Shakespeare Said Popped Up For Me


Sometimes, little snippets, phrases, will pop into my mind. Not long ago, thinking about the sad state of the world, how bad things are, the following words made a jump from somewhere I could not then identify and landed in my active consciousness. What came to me were these few words, and these words only: 

The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
These are, in fact, the words of Cassius, from  Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141), but I did not remember that it was Cassius who spoke the words that came to me, and I did not remember to whom the words were addressed, or the fact that these words were the words of William Shakespeare, from his play, Julius Caesar.
In other words, the thought that came to me, responsive to my reflection about our current situation (environmental, economic, social, and political) was the thought that we have "no one to blame but ourselves." That's certainly true!

But since I knew that these words that had come to me were famous words, and because I was chagrined that I didn't actually know exactly where they came from, I went looking for their provenance. Who said that, exactly? And in what context? I didn't remember, but I didn't have to look far. What had popped up in my brain was a partial rendition of this slightly more extensive quotation:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Those words of Shakespeare, as they had popped up for me, left both Brutus and Cassius completely out of the quotation, and I had clearly forgotten about that reference to the fact that "we are underlings."
Of course, in the play, Cassius is trying to nudge Brutus to join in to the killing of Julius Caesar. We should not be "underlings," he says. Let's kill the guy who is over us.
In a different context, entirely, I think that the part of Cassius' speech that refers to "underlings" is important. In fact, there is a profound insight in those words.

When the world is not right, it is not because of some fault in "the stars." The fault is "in ourselves." We have no one but ourselves to blame for the state of the world! But what, specifically, is wrong with us?  What, exactly, is that fault in ourselves that Cassius (and Shakespeare) identify? 
What is wrong with us is that we do not credit our own abilities - our "agency," to use a modern word - but act, instead, as though, in this world, we are mere "underlings." That what exists now (however unacceptable) is preordained. We defer to an authority - to a "reality" based on that claim of authority - that has been asserted over the world without any actual justification. We let those who seem to be "in charge" continue to run this world of ours, and that is our fault. 

In order to assert our "agency," we do not, actually, have to "kill" those leaders whom we have been following, to whom we have subordinated ourselves, the leaders to whom we act as "underlings." 

We just need to replace them, that's all, all those "leaders" to whom we defer, and to whom we act as "underlings," those killers whom we let walk free, with their "high office relations in the politics of Maryland (and everywhere else, for that matter)."
That is our fault. Our fault is that we let others rule the world when we know they do it badly. That is a fault not in our stars, but in ourselves, and the fault is that we act as "underlings," and place ourselves under the control of institutions that uphold and advance a reality that is truly unjust, and that we know is unjust, and that we know puts the entire world in peril.

We have not taken charge, as we could - and as we should. We have acted like "underlings," but we are not. We are citizens, and we should understand that both justice and power reside with the people - the ordinary people. You and me. 
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. 
And that must change.
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