Wednesday, May 9, 2018

‘O nation miserable!’ — ‘Macbeth,’ prophecy and the Chicago mayor’s race

Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth
     You don't have to be Harold Bloom to analyze Shakespeare. Anyone can do it. For instance, I believe the entire character of Othello and the root of the play's tragedy can be comprehensively summed up in two words: he's stupid.
     His subordinate Iago, envious and bitter at being passed over for promotion, lays a crude trap and Othello falls in, eyes open.
     A critique which Bloom, famed literary critic and scholar, agrees with, in more ornate terms: "He so readily seems to become Iago's dupe...Othello is a great soul hopelessly outclassed in intellect."
     In other words, he's stupid.
     The details can be parsed in any play, which is also part of the fun. With "Macbeth," for instance, now on stage to great effect at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, we can argue whether Macbeth is undone by the witches' prophecy; fresh from victory, noble Macbeth encounters the Weird Sisters, who tell him he'll be king of Scotland.
     Are the crones predicting Macbeth's certain future or merely goading him toward it?
     Bloom considers Macbeth a pig trussed for slaughter, forced along the chute that fate and his scheming wife have set for him. I'm not so sure. Maybe I just don't like predestination. But any resistance Macbeth might have felt is undercut by that fatal prediction, "All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king!"
     The prediction dooms Macbeth as much as his wife does. He's supposed to be king, so naturally goes about the bloody business. I flashed on that augury while reading the Sun-Times front page Tuesday: "LIGHTFOOT'S BIG STEP" it trumpeted, with Fran Spielman's careful analysis of why the former police board president seems to be joining the pack baying after Rahm Emanuel's job.
     First I felt the tickle of hope. Is Lightfoot the chosen one to deliver Chicago from the clutches of Rahm Emanuel, that charmless man, who can be easily imagined wandering the fifth floor of City Hall, trying to rub Laquan McDonald's blood from his hands. "Out, damned spot! ... What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?" (Since vagueness allows anyone to interpret wildly and then criticize the product of their imaginings, let me be plain: Emanuel didn't kill McDonald, just sat on the evidence of his killing for a year, either through willful ignorance or desperate complicity).
     But we cannot wish Emanuel's opponents into having a chance against him. I'm not sure whether media attention doesn't magnify them to a stature they don't deserve and, like the witches' augury, drive lambs toward the cash buzzsaw slaughter that Rahm Emanuel has for them. If a high school squad challenged the Bulls to a game, would we treat them as serious contenders and put them on the front page? Are we not confusing intention with result?
     Fran's story is illustrated by seven tiny photos of dabblers already running, and a more apt graphic could not be imagined. Dorothy Brown? Really? She can't run the clerk's office, never mind the city. Garry McCarthy? (McCarthy, McDonald, it's like we have our own set of shabby minor characters cut from "Macbeth.") A true villain out of Shakespeare, slouching back to Chicago to avenge his lost manhood, Falstaff-like Mike Ditka, in fool's motley, jingling after him, goading him on to higher folly. Willie Wilson? The man needs an expensive hobby—he should buy a boat—so as to keep him from these expensive forays into politics. Paul Vallas? We've already got one rebarbative figure-spouting white insider murmuring in the mayor's office; why go through all this only to swap for another?
     The rest aren't worth the breath to ridicule. Let's exit today's stage with the bard, as we entered it. The paper ran a lukewarm review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Macbeth" Tuesday. I won't contradict expertise, but my wife has been raving about it for a week. The powerful performances of Macbeth and his lady, played by Ian Merrill Peakes and Chaon Cross, are reason enough to see the play, forget the special effects. I thought it magnificent.
     Than again, I viewed "Macbeth" as perfect for these Trumpian times, particularly when Macduff scoffs:

Fit to govern! No, not to live. O nation miserable,With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd, When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?
     Not this year, not next. Maybe 2021. Maybe not.


  1. When you bemoan the quality of mayoral candidates, it begs the question: Given the mess the city is in, fiscally and otherwise, could anyone, no matter how smart or talented or astute, do a "good" job as mayor of Chicago?

    1. "Begging the question is a logical fallacy which occurs when an argument's premises assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. It is a type of circular reasoning and an informal fallacy, in which an arguer makes an argument that requires the desired conclusion to be true."

      I would hope we could preserve that definition for a little while longer. Or is it already lost in the sands of time?


    2. I think "good" sets the bar pretty low. Someone can do a "good" job -- maybe even Rahm. Can someone do an outstanding job? Doubtful.

    3. Tate: I am aware of what "begging the question" means. It applies in this case because if you bemoan the quality of mayoral candidates, you are assuming that the city is "fixable," and that's far from obvious.

  2. Despite his reputation as a Shakespeare scholar, I think Harold Bloom missed the boat in saying what happened to Othello was simply a matter of Iago outsmarting his not very bright boss. None of the other characters seem to be alert to what he is up to. And history, particularly recent history, gives us plenty of "great souls" and highly intelligent men doing stupid things for love, lust and in thrall to the green eyed monster.

    About the mayor, he may be "charmless," but that doesn't seem to be a quality exuded by any of the contenders. Or particularly important. If I were a Chicago voter I would be inclined to look at this as a time to go for competence over charm.



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