Friday, 14 April 2017

Our fears do make us traitors


In Shakespeare's Macbeth Macbeth himself recognizes that:
        Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings
In Romeo and Juliet Juliet imagines waking up from her death-like sleep in a tomb with the bones of her ancestors, including the recently-murdered Tybalt. She knows the bones, smells and shrieks will be in her imagination but still exclaims:   
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
Shakespeare's famous exploration of the power of FEAR - Macbeth

Laughing off fears

Of course Caesar in Julius Caesar is tricked into disbelieving his wife’s prophetic dreams that harm that will come his way on the Ides of March:
How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
And off he trots to his assassination! And, more poignantly Lady Macduff debates the actions of her husband fleeing to England to enlist the aid of Malcolm in the fight against Macbeth and she thinks being afraid is traitorous:
ROSS: You must have patience, madam.
LADY MACDUFF: He had none:
His flight was madness; when our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors.
By the end of the scene both she and her young children have been slaughtered.

Imaginary fear versus legitimate fear

Macbeth and Juliet are afraid of things that have not yet happened and seem unlikely. Caesar and Lady Macduff decide that being fearful is unpatriotic. All four of them die at the end of their journey in their play. Perhaps the fears in those plays were well founded. Fear is a real human emotion but Shakespeare knew that our imaginary fears are corrosive and take away our capacity for enjoying the blessings of living. Politicians and the Media portray a world that is fearful – full of fear – but we are statistically living in a period in history when fewer people than ever before die from war, disease, violence and accident. Hard to believe, I imagine, if you are one of the people who fall under the spell of the politics of fear. I myself have to work hard to remind my heart and brain that we had more real reasons to be fearful in every century before the one in which we are currently living.