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

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

But Like a Thrifty Goddess


(Bardseyeview is blogging Measure 4 Measure, a Shakespeare play with striking parallels to our own times).

We return as the Duke, once again investing Angelo with the trappings of his own power, prepares to leave Vienna to handle some vaguely described emergency:

Duke: "Our haste from hence is of so quick condition
That it prefers itself, and leaves unquestioned
Matters of needful value. We shall write to you…"

But if Shakespeare isn't telling us yet very much about the Duke, he lets us see Angelo quite clearly, or at least he lets us see him as the oddly infatuated Duke sees him:

Duke: "Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not.

Angelo is one whose virtue shines outward from himself, embodying the ideal of human conduct that heaven itself intended for us. The conclusion that Angelo is either a religious figure, or at the very least deeply formed and inspired by religion, is inescapable – as if Shakespeare's choice for his name left us with much doubt in the first place. But the Duke isn't done:

Duke: "Spirits are not finely touch'd
But to fine issues; nor nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor,
Both thanks and use."

Huh? Well, Nature lent Angelo his spirit, or in this case his character and talent, with the expectation that Angelo would use these gifts for some profitable purpose – which is why Nature is cast in the role of creditor. Thanks and use? Thanks to Nature for the loan of one's gifts, and repayment with interest (use, probably related to usury) in the form, again of the proper use of those gifts. But the key point is the idea that each tiny facet and aspect of what Nature has given Angelo, and by extension each of us, was lent as past of Nature's specific design. Talent, you might say, on loan from God.

Anyway, if anything, our self-effacing Duke seems to be more impressed with Angelo than he is with himself, saying as he departs Vienna on his undisclosed ("my haste may not admit it.") mission:

Duke" "Your scope is as mine own,
So to enforce or qualify the laws
As to your soul seems good, Give me your hand;
I'll privily away. I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to their eyes;
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause…"

How refreshing – a leader so virtuous that he avoids the glamour of publicity. Like Howard Hughes and Marlene Dietrich, he vants to be alone. At the same time, there we have that theme of the Duke's again, shirking his duties, laying them off on someone else.

Is this a common occurrence? Well, flipping through just this particular week's news headlines, we see presidential candidate McCain handling the hardship of $4.00 a gallon gas by informing the nation that he "respects the right of the states to control the waters off their coasts." But the law actually has it that the states don't own any offshore waters, at least not unless the federal government gives it to them. And this has traditionally happened only for tidelands, not ocean waters 50 to 200 miles offshore.

So does Duke McCain announce to Arnold "Angelo" Schwarzenegger and the equally Angelic Charlie Christ (the current Governator of Florida):

"Your scope is as mine own,
So to enforce or qualify the laws
As to your soul seems good."

More later.

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