“Beware the ides of March,” said the Soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, (Act I, Scene ii):
Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Caesar: Set him before me; let me see his face.
Cassius: Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
Caesar: What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
According to Plutarch’s historical Life of Julius Caesar, “. . . when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: “Well, the Ides of March are come,” and the seer said to him softly: “Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.” And thus it was that two thousand and fifty-seven years ago this day, on the Ides of March in the year 44 BCE, Julius Caesar was, as the Soothsayer had predicted, murdered. He was at the Theater of Pompey where he was stabbed to death by his ‘friend’ Brutus, himself parcel to an extensive conspiracy of Senators built around the growing suspicion that Caesar’s intent was to do away with ‘republican’ Rome and instead create a Monarchy with himself as Monarch. Shakespeare’s epic play, Julius Caesar, written circa 1599, takes a few liberties with the details of the moment as recorded by Plutarch, but still it accurately portrays the anxiety implicit in leadership succession, a reality both in 44 BCE and on the horizon again in Elizabethan England at the time the play was written.
A year or two later, in what has proven to be Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular and oft-performed Tragedy, Hamlet speaks of similar fears, though in completely different context:
Hamlet: To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.To die—to sleep,
(. . .)
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong . . . the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
(. . .)
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
More than 400 years have passed since Shakespeare penned those masterpieces, but the implicit human dilemma remains constant. Here in the United States of America, as well as in various elsewheres around the globe, people of serious mind and conscience find themselves concerned with the political evolution: the ‘succession’, if you will, of that well-known and constant tyranny, invariably designed to further empower the powerful, to further enrich the wealthy, and always at the expense of the common folk, the children, and the already poor.
In the United States this day, on 2013’s Ides of March, the government is, in effect, hostage to the immense wealth — and the power implicit in such wealth — held by the smallest handful of people in consort with their bought-and-paid-for lackeys in the US Congress. Thus the House of Representatives, marginally controlled by a (gerrymandered) ‘republican’ majority, patently refuses to do ANYTHING to help solve the nation’s current (and of their own devise) financial dilemma. Instead, they stand in the way of virtually every proposal, preferring to exacerbate rather than address the fiscal problems in order to find the means of blaming everything on their Democratic opposition, including especially the President. They refuse to take ANY actions which might assist in job creation, or education, infrastructure maintenance, health care, dealing with climate change, etc., et al., through and including ANY action that might help ANYONE other than their already rich and powerful owners, and themselves. They have proven to be exceptionally willing, however, to fabricate and vote on myriad bogus proposals designed to eliminate such horrors as contraception and pregnancy terminations; to defund Planned Parenthood; to weaken and eventually destroy labor unions; to prevent any effort to legitimize full and equal rights for the LGBT community; to never allow passage of any and all gun control legislation; to halt any effort at reasonable immigration reform; to inhibit the voting rights of selected ethnic groups typically loyal to the opposition; to defund by any means possible each and every human assistance program; to NEVER allow any tax increase on the already wealthy and/or corporate profits. They have, however, demonstrated unusual alacrity when it comes to finding clever ways of increasing military spending, and of officially naming Post Offices and other federal buildings; with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.
The Senate is no better. There, the Democrats hold a working majority but thanks to insidious filibuster provisions, they’re unable to pass more than the occasional (and typically unimportant) legislation even as significant proposals seldom if ever even make it to the floor for a vote. Meanwhile, Senate ‘republicans’ support virtually the same regressive agendas as do House ‘republicans’ — all the while the whips and scorns of time, Th’oppressor’s wrong . . . the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin continue unabated. How did Hamlet know? How could he predict the antics of today’s US Congress?
Perhaps because their intent is eternally simple — to do whatever might be necessary to ensure the failure of their opposition’s goal of assisting the poor and the middle class, to force the failure, in effect, of the President and the nation that elected him twice — a repeat of those “leadership succession” events in Rome, 44 BCE, and again in Elizabethan England, circa 1600 CE. One is forced to ponder, yet one more time, the question that has plagued mankind since it first evolved: where are the people of Conscience when we need them?
This day, the Ides of March are come yet again, for the 2057th time since the death of Julius Caesar, but they are not gone — as yet another proscribed death appears to be on the horizon: the death of a nation. This nation; the nation where — thanks in no small part to the efforts of its ‘republican’ faction, the political movement which values ONLY the accumulation of wealth and power as means of accession to the throne — the predictable consequences of her errant politics are slowly becoming perceivable, because:
Requiem, as dirge of sophistic love,
Exposes destinies which nations earn.
Quoth Hamlet: “conscience does make cowards of
Us all” – that is, till We the People learn,
Implicitly, that human Cowardice
Exudes contempt for Rationalities.
Meanwhile, mankind’s destiny – Avarice –
Appears in service to those Vanities
Most shallowed minds presume to be their right,
Enabling failure thus of Self, of State.
Repression blooms and quickly dims all light
Intrinsic to the heart of Freedom’s Fate –
Consumed – whilst words of Truth, now specious, Moan
And stand as lifeless slogans — etched in stone.
R E Q U I E M A M E R I C A
Footnote: On the Ides of March, 1945, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, had become aware of Hitler’s pending edict that, as the Allied armies approached, everything that remained within Germany was to be destroyed via a genuine scorched earth policy. Hitler saw such destruction as a means of denying plunder to the Allies, also as punishment of the German people for losing the war. Speer took serious issue with the thesis, and on March 15 1945 he penned a 22 page document to be delivered to Hitler by Colonel von Below. In the document he wrote, “No one has the right to take the viewpoint that the fate of the German people is tied to his fate.” Or in other words, ‘just because you’ve failed as leader doesn’t mean the people have also failed.’ Hitler did still make the decree that Germany be destroyed, but he also put Herr Speer in charge of carrying out the order. Speer purposely ignored it, and though Germany was soon defeated, the scorched earth policy was avoided.
Hamlet said, “conscience does make cowards of us all,” but he doesn’t define “coward” beyond his embedded context. Causes one to speculate a bit: was, e.g., Albert Speer’s action to deny the destruction of Germany an act of ‘conscience’, and was his refusal to carry out his leader’s orders and the policies embedded therein what one might expect from a ‘coward’ driven by ‘conscience’? Could it be that, in Hamlet’s context, the actions taken by a ‘coward’ made by ‘conscience’ are, in reality, potentially heroic acts?
The Ides of March are come again, and the beat goes on, and on, and on. Perhaps We the People should, as an act of ‘conscience’, contact our own “leadership” in Washington, D.C., and in the various states . . . and explain that we, as ‘Cowards’ who do NOT respect our “leadership’s” disdain for the poor, the elderly, the infirm, minorities of every kind, as well as the common man, will have no more of it, that we are thus prepared to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them, that we are also willing (and able) to, in Hamlet’s words, their quietus make with a bare bodkin.
I suspect the ‘republican’ majority in the Congress, acting as the Cowards WITHOUT Conscience that they constantly prove themselves to be, would immediately pass legislation demanding that each and every sale/purchase of a bare bodkin requires both a background check AND licensing . . . followed immediately by an order for a truckload of fresh Depends