Friday, December 17, 2010

Political Lessons from Shakespeare

As this week’s political drama unfolded we asked ourselves if Shakespeare’s play Julius Caeser had a broader appeal to democracies outside of the Greek-Roman empires. Indeed, the answer lies in our interpretations of the thematic concerns of the play as well as the associations we make from the characterization, plot, and dialogic encounters in the play.

Shakespeare’s intention in Julius Caeser is to present a genuine piece of Roman history to the English audience.

“Roman history offered some of the most impressive themes available to the Renaissance, an era when political lessons were ardently sought in antiquity—themes such as despotism and republicanism, strong rule good and bad, stable and unstable realm, scrupulous and unscrupulous motives, the relations between rules and subjects (particularly the populace), and so on,” says Arthur Humphreys, an eminent Shakespearean scholar.

So what are the political lessons that we can learn from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser? What associative meanings are possible in our reading of Julius Caeser against the political stage in PNG at this time? What correlations to our own political leaders can we make to Julius Caeser, Brutus, Marcus Cassius, and Marcus Anthony?

The play is about the events that led up to the assignation of the Roman Emperor Julius Ceaser. Brutus and Cassius plot and assassinate Caeser. Their plot includes assassinating Anthony as well because he is a close aide of the Emperor. Anthony is spared the blood from the dagger of Caeser’s murderers simply because Brutus persuaded Cassius and the Plebians that Anthony is the one to take care of Caeser’s body and later extol the Emperor’s virtues and present to Rome the last will of Caeser.

Arthur Humphreys highlights some of key lessons on politics and morality as captured in Julius Caeser.

“The first and fundamental point of attention is the antithesis between republican ‘virtue’ and imperial ‘tyranny,’ both words in inverted commas since neither is a clear-cut case. Republican ‘virtue’ blemished in a way which idealizations of ‘liberty’ ignore. Casius on principle hates an overlord, yet much of his utterance suggests the ‘envy of great Caeser’ which motivates all save Brutus. Brutus kills in moral muddle, and he stands on his spotless principles while expecting to share in Cassius’ extortions. His followers revere freedom, yet they misread Rome’s prospects and are redeemed only by the dignity of their deaths. As for ‘tyranny’ that amounts merely to Caeser’s imperiousness; Brutus himself admits his moderation, and only in Cassius’s hostile bias are Plutarch’s accusations of violent ambition reflected. Caeser is by turns grand, arrogant, pompous, fallible, genial, dignified, and (in his will) generous. His overthrow proves to be a sacrilege. The second question the action poses is that of personal morality under political pressure, of private conscience under partisan strain.”

The play is based around the ambiguities of Caeser who sees himself as a demigod and fallible man, monopolist of power yet the essential axle of Rome’s wheel. Rome is to Caeser what Caeser is to Rome, an indivisible pack that suggests that Caeser is so sure of himself that he even refuses to have personal body guards accompany him, just before his death.

The political development in PNG of recent times, especially under the current regime, brings to mind such ambiguities closer to that of Caeser’s regime. Papua New Guinea much like Rome under Caeser’s emperorship nurses its wounds from hurried legislations and policy directions, lacking sustained, intelligent, and moral debate. As a result the parliament was found to have breached constitutional requirements. Supreme Court rulings on a number of cases are as follows: The Australian-PNG ECP program, the Integrity of Political Parties, and the Appointment of the Governor General this year. The Supreme Court rulings have given integrity back to the people, whose Constitution was breached by its own leaders, and some form of relief and trust in the Constitution it has set for itself at Independence in 1975.

The country is now a stage with an Acting Prime Minister, Acting Governor General and soon Acting Chief Justice when the Chief Justice goes on holiday. The events that led up to this are not limited to the Prime Minister stepping aside to allow a properly instituted Tribunal to investigate allegations of misconduct in office, the unconstitutional appointment of the Governor General, and the Speakers actions of impartiality in Parliament during Parliamentary sessions.

The Ombudsman Commission, the Opposition, Governors Luther Wenge and Bob Danaya and their Provincial Governments, the NGOs, Community Based Organizations, and the populace have made it their business to hold leaders accountable for their actions and decisions that affect the lives of Papua New Guineans.

Issues of corruption and unconstitutional politicking characterize the current regime to the point where the only hope left for people is to depend on the courts to intervene on their behalf. In order for the courts to reach a just and fair decision it relies on its integrity and Independence. In the major decisions of the Supreme Court this year overturning the table where leaders were so sure of themselves, the panel of judges have carefully read, analyzed each case thoroughly, considered the consequences of their decisions, and offered their verdicts on the issues before them. That in itself is maturity, strength, and Independence of the Judiciary.

It is hoped that justice will continue to prevail in the land. Our justice system must continue to serve the greater good of Papua New Guinea. The greater collective good or the interests of the people of this country must come before individual interests. The courts must not compromise their integrity to the interests of few leaders and powerful individuals. It is assuring to read by Thursday that the courts will perform their functions as required by the Constitution.

We hope this political drama viewed through Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser has taught us a lesson in what could go wrong when political leaders ignore the consequences of their actions, expectations, ill-advised decisions, and most important of all using political expediency as an excuse to stay in power.

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