Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The Present Eye Praises the Present Object
Shakespeare cast his bitterest comedy with Greeks and Trojans. Troilus and Cressida travesties Homer and takes down all conventional notions of what Poe would later call "the glory that was Greece." The play anticipates the Theatre of the Absurd by over three centuries, and the financial crisis facing Greece, by four.
The Greek government, having winked at wealthy tax cheats and lied to its Euro-zone partners, now must impose austerity upon those whose lives are already austere. "Debt restructuring" looms.
Bankruptcy was once a renunciation of oneself, one's past, one's hopes, and one's good name. Today it has lost its disgrace; people do it all the time and even solvent banks and corporations walk away from mortgages and contracts. Credits and debits, after a few years, are indistinguishable.
Breaking with the past is the theme of Troilus and Cressida's best passage, spoken by a Machiavellian Ulysses to a vain and cowardly Achilles who asks why his past deeds are forgotten:
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for Oblivion,
A great-siz’d monster of ingratitudes.
Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devour’d
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
Then what they do in present,
Though less than yours in past, must o’ertop yours;
For Time is like a fashionable host
That slightly shakes his parting guest by th’ hand,
And with his arms outstretch’d as he would fly
Grasps in the comer. Welcome ever smiles,
And farewell goes out sighing...
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
That all, with one consent, praise new-born gauds,
Though they are made and molded of things past,
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o’erdusted.
The present eye praises the present object.
Al Hirschfeld's drawing of Sir Tyrone Guthrie's production of Troilus and Cressida. Click on the picture for a look at the caption. Also, see if you can find where the artist hid the name of his daughter, Nina.