A time for reflection

THE characterisation of human nature often transcends time. As portrayed by Shakespeare's Angelo in his play, Measure for Measure. Arguing for a strict application of the law, he advises: "We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror". Angelo in Measure for Measure (2.1.1-4).

What he urged, no less, was a strict application of the law. Yet in the end he succumbs when too strong a temptation is thrown in his path. And he is labelled a hypocrite. A betrayal of his own pronouncements from on high.

Macbeth in Shakespeare's play, at first repudiated his wife's plan to crown himself king at all costs. "We will proceed no farther in this business," he rebukes Lady Macbeth. But the wife begins manipulating Macbeth back into the plan, and even goes as far as to question her husband's manhood. She proves this: "and live in thine own esteem letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would' like a poor cat in the adage." She means, why must she be trapped like a cat by Macbeth's refusal to dare to carry out the plan to become royalty – as the three witches predicted!

Macbeth then absolutely feels like he must go through with the plan simply to prove himself. Then follow the consequences associated with absolute power's corrupting nature – the ensuing violence, insanity and greed that ultimately consumes Macbeth and his wife.

Many literary works echo Shakespeare's bleak pronouncement: "Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart".
Temptation can assume multiple forms and purposes. One may be tempted to do good: example a desire to donate to a charity. But Shakespeare oft-times reveals in his plays how people fail to notice temptation because it is sometimes hard to distinguish from normal desires and ultimately leads to destruction. So, I might feel that I am entitled to hold on to a position for life – or for a little while longer – because I am honoured to be the chosen one by powers on high. Losing sight of the purpose I may be called on to serve. And the inevitable clash or even betrayal of cherished values as one traverses his or her own personal journey along the path of this temptation.

What kills ultimately is the public perception of utter disgust when this plan is unveiled or comes to fruition. Then no amount of protestations suffices to redeem oneself. A diamond stained forever – whatever its hue.

As has been the bane of historical figures and not so contemporary fallen notables: Marcos of the Philippines, the Shah of Iran and Papa Doc of Haiti. Reminiscent of how they catch monkeys in Sri Lanka by placing a lump of sugar in the coconut. The monkey grabs the sugar. But the hole is just enough for the empty fist of the monkey to go through. The monkey knows that he can drop the sugar and free his fist. But will the creature give up the sugar?
As religious edicts issue a universal warning, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"

A time for reflection indeed! 

Gurdial likes to ruminate on the philosophical wisdom of yesteryear. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com