Tag Archives: abuse

“Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare – #MeToo

I had not read this play since college, and it bothered me back then. But reading it now, in light of the whole #MeToo movement, it was even more infuriating.

This play is a “comedy,” not because it is funny, but because it ends with marriage (as opposed to a tragedy, which ends in death). It is definitely considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, along with Merchant of Venice. It is a play that explores questions of justice, law, punishment, and mercy. But what is most problematic for me is the depiction of how women are sexually exploited by men in positions of power and authority.

Basically, what happens in the play is that the Duke of Vienna places all authority to enforce laws upon his Deputy, Angelo. Angelo is strict and supposedly steadfast, and the Duke claims he wants to test Angelo’s resolve. Angelo begins enforcing a long-ignored law sentencing people to death for having sex out of wedlock. His first example is Claudio, who has a virgin sister named Isabella. Isabella goes before Angelo to plead for her brother’s life, and Angelo basically tells her he will only spare her brother if she agrees to have sex with him.

And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for; redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me to-morrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.

(Act II, scene iv)

I won’t spoil the details of how everything plays itself out, but suffice to say that Isabella manages to save her brother and her virginity, with the aid of the disguised Duke. But that sets us up for what, in my opinion, is the most offensive part of this play—the very end.

Long story short, the Duke pardons people, measures out justice that seems to be tempered with mercy, and thereby reinstates order out of the chaos. But it is the Duke’s “pardoning” of Claudio that is the major issue.

If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon’d; and, for your lovely sake,
Give me your hand and say you will be mine.
He is my brother too: but fitter time for that.

(Act V, scene i)

Basically, the Duke is doing the same thing Angelo was doing, pardoning Claudio on the condition that Isabella giver herself to him. And while, yes, the implication here is that the Duke intends to marry her, it’s still not OK. He is still using his authority to get what he wants, taking advantage of a young woman, and even worse, not applying the scales of justice evenly to himself as to others (namely Angelo).

I don’t claim to know Shakespeare’s intent when he wrote this play. Maybe he was making a critique against the patriarchal hierarchy, or maybe he was claiming it is OK to take advantage of a woman as long as you are “responsible” and marry her. But the fact is, in the 21st century, this attitude towards women is offensive, to say the least.

In spite of the gender issues in this play, it is still worth reading for the exploration of law, justice, punishment, and mercy. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the play. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading challenging stuff.

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Witchblade #02

It’s amazing what your mind can accept. Even if the toll of that acceptance will inevitably come due.

This quote from the second installment of the new Witchblade series really resonated with me. As someone who meditates and reads a fair amount of spiritual writings, I understand the importance of acceptance as a spiritual value. But I suppose there can be a dark side to acceptance, especially in cases of abuse where acceptance might lead to complacency and inaction. Too often people accept their suffering and come to see it as normal, and then fail to summon the courage necessary to make positive changes in their lives. I suppose that is why acceptance is only part of the Serenity Prayer. Acceptance must always be balanced with courage.

Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 5

InfiniteJest

Addiction is a devastating disease, and in our society, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way by addiction, whether it is to substances, obsessive thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. We all know someone who has struggled with addiction. And one thing seems to be consistent—no addict can begin the recovery process until he or she hits bottom and becomes desperate enough to seek help.

There is a great passage in this book where Wallace describes what it is like for an addict to hit bottom and become ready to take the first step in the recovery process.

—then vocational ultimatums, unemployability, financial ruin, pancreatitis, overwhelming guilt, bloody vomiting, cirrhotic neuralgia, incontinence, neuropathy, black depressions, searing pain, with the Substance affording increasingly brief periods of relief; then, finally, no relief available anywhere at all; finally it’s impossible to get high enough to freeze what you feel like, being this way; and now you hate the Substance, hate it, but still you find yourself unable to stop doing it, the Substance, you find that you finally want to stop more than anything on earth and it’s no fun doing it anymore and you can’t believe you ever liked doing it but you still can’t stop, it’s like you’re totally fucking bats, it’s like there’s two yous; and when you’d sell your own dear Mum to stop and still, you find, can’t stop, then the last layer of jolly friendly mask comes off your old friend the Substance, it’s midnight now and all masks come off, and you all of a sudden see the Substance as it really is, for the first time you see the Disease as it really is, really has been all this time, you look in the mirror at midnight and see what owns you, what’s become what you are—

(pp. 346 – 347)

Throughout my life, I have known many who have suffered from addiction; some have hit bottom and sought help, some have continued on in denial and justified their behavior, and others ended up in institutions or have died. My experience has shown me that only when someone hits an intense bottom, then and only then do they become willing to seek help. And sadly, many who reach this point are still incapable of recovery. Addiction is a powerful, insidious, and destructive disease. I hope that those who suffer manage to find help.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XVII – The Beggar at the Manor

OdysseusAsBeggar

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this episode. Basically, Eumaeus brings Odysseus (back in disguise as a beggar) to Odysseus’ home. There he is treated badly by the suitors, particularly Antinous who goes as far as hitting Odysseus with a stool. When Penelope hears about what happened, she asks to see the beggar to hear his story about what happened to her husband. Odysseus declines, saying he does not want the suitors to see him going to her chamber.

There was nothing in this episode that I feel needs deeper analysis. It was pretty straight-forward. I felt that the purpose was to move the tale forward and to introduce Odysseus to the suitors. His mistreatment by them will certainly add to his wrath when the time of reckoning is at hand. I guess the only thing I could add is that karma will come back to the suitors, and will do so quickly. When you mistreat someone, especially in that person’s home, then there will be a karmic debt to pay.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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“The Sick Rose” by William Blake

SickRose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

These eight short lines are some of the most disturbing that I have found in literature. Essentially, we have the rape of a virgin child while she is sleeping. The image of the howling storm implies that it was a violent rape and that the blood usually accompanied with the loss of virginity is not something joyful, but part of an attack that will destroy any chance that the child has at happiness.

There is also the impression that the perpetrator has infected the young girl with a venereal disease. Since the rose is a vaginal symbol, and the fact that the rose is now sick implies an infection. I do not feel that Blake is claiming she is impregnated, since I don’t think he would use a metaphor that strongly suggests a vaginal disease.

I would add one more interpretation here, which I feel adds to the tragedy and the horror of this poem. I believe that the rapist is the girl’s own father. The last two lines of the poem suggest that the “love” is a dark and secret love which will ultimately destroy the girl’s life. How often do we hear stories of sexually abusive fathers telling their abused children that they really love them and that this is their little secret? This dark secret will ultimately poison and sicken the child’s mind, just as it has physically sickened her body.

I remember being disturbed reading this poem for the first time in college, but as a parent, the horror of it is much more visceral. Blake manages to create a very powerful poem using just a few words. Without a doubt, this is a literary masterpiece.

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“The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake (from Songs of Experience)

ChimneySweeper_2

A little black thing among the snow,
Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to the church to pray.

Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil’d among the winter’s snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

And because I am happy & dance & sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery.

This poem corresponds with “The Chimney Sweeper” from the Songs of Innocence. I have to say that although this one is shorter than its corresponding poem, it is much more powerful and visceral in my opinion.

While I find the exploitation of children to be sickening, it is almost beyond comprehension that parents could exploit their children. And what this poem does is it points out the way that people justify their abuse and cruelty. Because the child seems happy, they are able to convince themselves that they are not really doing the child harm. But as we all know, true psychological damage happens below the surface.

The image of “the clothes of death” is really disturbing. I picture blackened rags, covered with soot and dirt, seeping sickness and disease into the pores of the young child. This contrasts starkly with the white snow, but the irony here is that winter is also symbolic of death. I get the sense that the child will die soon and that this will be his last winter.

The last two lines of the poem show yet another level of justification, that of the church. In Blake’s time, church doctrine would have asserted that a child is the property of the parent, and hence the parents could do with the child as they wish. I keep thinking about how, throughout history, religious doctrine has been used to justify social injustice. It continues today. All one needs to do is listen to the arguments against marriage reform.

This is a pretty bleak poem and it’s hard to find any hope in it. The only hope I can find is in the fact that enlightened people like Blake recognize social injustice and have the courage to point it out. It inspires me to point out injustice when I see it around me.

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“Evil” by Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

(translation from http://www.poemhunter.com)

This is a very intense poem and I see it as a strong critique against tyrannical rulers who abuse their power, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church. Rimbaud sees this as the ultimate evil, to commit murder in the name of God, or to gather money from mourning mothers to bolster wealth. And it seems as if he is making a connection between the two, that young men are being sent off to die in the name of God and King, and then the mothers of the dead soldiers are exploited, manipulated into giving up their money in the hope that doing so will secure a place in Heaven for their dead sons.

HussardThe one part of this poem that puzzled me was the reference to red and green. After doing a little research online, I came up with two possibilities. The first is that Rimbaud was referring to the hussars, a regimen of soldiers who fought under Napoleon. According to Wikipedia: “Hussars were notoriously impetuous, and Napoleon was quoted as stating that he would be surprised for a hussar to live beyond the age of 30 due to their tendency to become reckless in battle, exposing their weaknesses in frontal assaults. The hussars of Napoleon created the tradition of sabrage, the opening of a champagne bottle with a sabre.” Anyway, the hussars wore green and red uniforms.

The other possibility is that Rimbaud was referring to the colors of liturgical vestments worn during Catholic services. In that period, different colors were worn for different liturgies, and red or green vestments were fairly common colors, depending upon the service. (Source) It is also possible that he was referring to both.

I am inclined to agree with Rimbaud’s thoughts. People who use their power to exploit others are the embodiment of evil. Unfortunately, this is something that still occurs today. But, on a more optimistic note, I think society is less tolerant of people who abuse their authority, and that bodes well.

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