To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Tuesday, February 05, 2002
When we read a good book or watch a great play, what is it that stirs up our emotions?
Why do we feel certain reactions and responses, when we know that the characters and situations are not for real? Given a particular fictional situation, would all of us experience the same emotional reaction? If not, would the reaction only differ in terms of degree or in its entire nature? And if it differs in its nature, what can we say, determines different people's reactions to different situations?

Among Shakespeare's plays, Julius Caeser is one of my particular favourites. The scene that, till today, leaves its impression on me and even today, would evoke the same response in me, is the one which follows immediately after Caeser is brutally murdered by Brutus and his friends.

There is a crowd gathered outside the town hall, Caeser's dead body lies in their midst and Brutus starts off with his famous speech. The words "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more" are firmly embedded in my mind.", not for a positive, but for a negative significance.

I don't know what other readers would have felt at this point, maybe they felt that Brutus was a noble and honest man, maybe they felt they could understand his motives, maybe compassion that he was taken in by people who used him for a wrong cause, maybe pity that he would not be able to escape guilt, but for myself, I remember feeling something different. Since I hadn't read what was to happen later, I said to myself that this is impossible. This man killed his friend and what is he talking about. What kind of justifications are these? He should not and must not escape the jaws of justice.

I felt anger. And my anger rose when I read on and found that people were actually congratulating themselves on having found a hero. I wondered what Caeser had died for. For people who, far from avenging his death, were smiling at his murderer. I was close to tears (was but a child then) by the time I came to the part where Anthony is asked to speak.

Anthony: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I can't describe my feelings after reading this speech (I hugged him in my imagination). It was as if a friend had betrayed and murdered me, and my ghost struggling with pain and bewilderment, looks on to find that, there is yet a true friend on earth standing up for me. A friend ready to "take up arms against a sea of troubles" for me. A friend who is not fooled by sweet tongues but who remembers me for what I had been to him, and judges me from what he had seen and known of me. A friend who will not let my death be the last word on the subject. That was how I felt.

What I found most strange was that after Anthony had delivered his speech, the people have again changed their minds. They now call Brutus a villain and everything else. They are now thirsty for his blood. How easily people are swayed ! Their hearts are in the right places, but if only they had heads to govern them. I felt contempt for these people who not a moment ago would have garlanded the person they were now ready to kill.

If Brutus hadn't been Caeser's friend and one who professed to love him as a friend, I would have, perhaps, not felt the same violent reaction. The back stabbing nature of his actions and the cowardliness of it was something I couldn't even begin to stomach. He was not a true friend, but he was not a true enemy either, I felt.

Like Anthony said, that when everyone else was thrusting their sword into Caeser, he still had the heart to resist, but when he saw Brutus come forward, "that was the unkindest cut of all" and such a cut, that even someone as noble and mighty as Caeser, was unable to resist.

His heart burst open.