The title of today’s post is the Shakespearean equivalent of the oft misquoted line, “Play it again, Sam,” from the film Casablanca. Neither Ilsa Lund Lazlo (Ingrid Bergman) or Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) utter these words. Ilsa says, “Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.” Rick’s actually line? “You played it for her, you can play it for me.”
As was the case in Casablanca, misquoting Lady Macbeth’s words in Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth is an example of mental shorthand. Without having to memorize the full scene, this not quite accurate four word synopsis is all we need to understand the Scottish Queen’s guilt for her role in Macbeth’s rise to power.
But, as we say in the world of counter-intuitive thinking, when you use mental shorthand, you fail to the see the trees for the forest. Sometimes the parts are greater than the sum. So let’s look at what Lady Macbeth actually says and what it may be telling us.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.
First, Lady Macbeth’s guilt comes not from having killed anyone herself, but setting the stage for Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan. In turn, she unleashes Macbeth’s darker side as he continues to eliminate others who might have claim to the throne or who might undermine his reign.
I first started thinking about Lady Macbeth following the January 31 attack on a Quebec mosque in which Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27 year old student, Canadian ultra-nationalist white supremacist who according to friends “really liked Trump” (Source: Le Journal de Quebec), killed six and wounded 19 Muslims who were present at the time. But this is just one of many instances where Trump, using his bully pulpit (is that redundant in his case?) shares responsibility for the increasing wave of violence (Olathe, Kansas), vandalism (cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia, a Mosque in Tampa) and intimidation (bomb threats to 70 Jewish Community Centers).
No, neither Trump, his appointees nor his Congressional apologists pulled the trigger, tipped over tombstones, committed arson or made the phone calls. However, like Lady Macbeth they set the stage and provided the justification for these crimes. Therefore, each and everyone of them also have a spot on their hands that will not go away no matter how hard they try. So why don’t they atone? Look again at what Lady Macbeth tells us contained in the quote above.
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
During a dinner with friends and family last Saturday night, one member of our party asked a similar question. Who is going to hold Trump and his enablers accountable? He also wondered if the protests and newly aroused liberal activism makes any difference. Here is one example where it has.
Last week, there was an under-reported special election for a vacant state senate seat in Delaware. With a 10-10 split among sitting members of the chamber, the special election would determine which party controlled the upper house. Republican John Marino came within two percentage points of winning the seat in 2014. This time, drawing on the energy which began at the January 21 Women’s March event in Delaware, Democratic candidate Stephanie Hansen defeated Marino by a margin of 58.13 percent to 40.75 percent. Of perhaps greater importance, the total Democratic vote increased from 6,230 in the 2014 general election to 7,314 for a special election, where turnout is always historically lower. So the answer to my friend at dinner last Saturday? Yes, activism can make a difference. Viva la resistance!
There is one other important aspect of Lady Macbeth’s pivotal scene in Act 5. She is sleepwalking, observed only by one of her ladies-in-waiting and a doctor of physics. Is this not the perfect metaphor for Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jason Chaffetz and most Republican members of Congress? They are in a constant state of somnambulance. Partly conscious, but mostly asleep. And like Lady Macbeth, they too have a choice. Take responsibility or as Lady Macbeth says as she exits the anteroom, go back to sleep.
To bed, to bed! there’s knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s
done cannot be undone.–To bed, to bed, to bed.
Cannot be undone? I beg to differ. The Constitution provides a number of vehicles by which those who cloak themselves in the mantel of patriotism can put an end to this madness. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. “The world will little note, nor long remember, what you said here, but it will NEVER forget what you are doing here.”
UPDATE: At last night’s Oscar ceremony, we were once again reminded that mistakes happen. And fortunately, in this case the error was quickly corrected. This is just one more reminder to sleepwalking Republicans and Trump-enablers that mistakes can and should be fixed. DO YOUR JOB!
For what it’s worth.