Monday, 15 October 2007

In Mere Oppugnancy

If we have eyes to see the ramshackle condition of our own society and culture, wherein an antipathy against authority and hierarchy prevails, then shouldn’t we at least take seriously the words of those men who, throughout the ages, have warned that, should authority and hierarchy be undermined, a ruination of society and culture would follow, or are we to continue to dismiss such words for the sake of our own dreams?
.................O, when degree is shak’d,
Which is the ladder of all high designs,
The enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing melts
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead;
Force should be right; or, rather, right and wrong
— Between whose endless jar justice resides—
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.
Ulysses, in the words of William Shakespeare, Troilus And Cressida, act 1, scene 3: ll.101-124.


Anonymous said...

That is, indeed, a tremendous speech which sums up magnificently the essence of conservative (small 'c') belief.

However, some critics go too far, in my opinion, in ascribing those words to the playwright, himself. It is obvious that WS did abhor 'the mob' in all its manifestations, but ever elusive, he could never resist the opportunity to be a contrarian. Thus, in 'T&C', the Greeks outside the city stand for realism and 'real-politik', nevertheless, they have gone to war and spilled their blood and treasure in pursuit of a woman who WS shows us to be no more than 'une grande horizontale'.

I know it's not the point of your original post but can I recommend to you a beautiful passage of melancholy introspection on the passage of time further into the play when, during a truce, the two effective leaders of each warring party, Ulysses and Hector, gaze at the city walls of Troy:

IV.v.211 - 226

Anyway, none of Ulysses' crafty plotting comes to anything!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have said 'ascribing that *philosophy* to the playwright himself'

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks, Mr Duff. Ah, yes, I was careful not to ascribe the view to Shakespeare himself.

It is indeed lovely stuff.

By the way, when's your next production?

Anonymous said...

Alas, not until 2009 - I should live so long, my life, already!