A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Titus Andronicus and Northern Uganda


The Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, has been fighting in Northern Uganda against the Museveni government. The Army's tactics include the mutilation of civilians in combat areas. Lips, ears and more have been severed in an attempt to terrorize and silence Ugandans who might otherwise cooperate with the authorities (accited means summoned):

Marcus: "He by the senate is accited home
From weary wars against the barbarous Goths,
That with his sons, a terror to our foes,
Hath yoked a nation strong,…".

Marcus, in Titus Andronicus, welcoming Titus home in triumph from wars prosecuted against Germanic hordes. Titus is one of Shakespeare's less poetic but more bloody dramas and when I began bardseye I hardly expected to have much recourse to it. But to accurately reflect much of the world we have before us, Titus turns out to be a card to be played:

Aaron: "Even now I curse the day – and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse –
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and foreswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men's cattle break their necks,
Set fire on barns and haystacks in the night
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves
And set them upright at their dear friends' door,
Even when their sorrows almost was forgot."

Aaron the Moor, taking a bow in Act V of Titus after he's finally arrested. But despite his arrest, there is no restoration of moral order at the close of the play. Shakespeare remains true to the spirit of each era he attempts to recreate and here he is recreating Rome in decline. Bloodthirsty barbarian hordes, led by the Goth Tamora and her clan, make their appearance and clash with the late Roman justice of the Andronici clan, which is nearly as bloody.

Lavinia: "'Tis present death I beg, and one thing more
That woman hood denies me tongue to tell;
O, keep me from their worse-than-killing lust,
And tumble me into some loathsome pit,
Where never man's eye may behold my body!
Do this, and be a charitable murderer."

Tamora: "So should I rob my sweet sons of their fee.
No, let them satisfy their lust on thee."

Demetrius: "Away! For thou hast stayed us here too long."

Lavinia: "No grace, no womanhood? Ah, beastly creature!
The blot and enemy to our general name!"

Meanwhile in Northern Uganda, eighteen hundred years later, a medical mission has been put together to help put together the mutilated faces of civilians caught up in the factional fighting. Medicins Sans Frontieres and the Dutch Interplast Foundation have initiated large-scale provision of reconstructive surgery for the victims. Much of the work will focus on the repair of lips, utilizing tissue from the interior of the victims' mouths.

Hamlet: "Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all."

Of course this is a heartening exercise, but without taking away from these fine and moving efforts, Bardseye has to ask if it is sufficient to respond to ongoing mutilation and mass murder in the third world by laying band-aids on the wounds of its surviving victims. The exploitation visited on sub-Saharan Africa by European colonialization in the past has rendered today's European societies unwilling to intercede in the region again, (or to permit America to do so without suffering an accusation of neo-colonialism) even to alleviate manifest widespread suffering and human rights abuses.

The sins of the fathers have rendered the sons guilt-ridden and paralyzed, and the civilians of Northern Uganda, not to mention the Congo, Angola, Sudan and other countries, are the ones who subsidize these exquisite old world sensibilities.

Macbeth: "I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

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