'Eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind

That old law about "an eye for an eye" leaves everybody blind. The time is always ripe to do the right thing. So said Martin Luther King Jr.

A sober George Will offered the following reflection about Senator Gordon Smith's recent lesson in the futility of payback.

Smith was dispirited by the contrast between meeting with inspiring U.S. troops and meeting with grim members of the Iraqi parliament. When the parliamentarians gave a dusty answer to his question about the length of the summer vacation they might take, he said: I want you to go &

if you will first pass legislation allocating oil revenue. Their response, he says, was to show pictures of people slaughtered in the parliamentarians' neighborhoods. They were, he says, bent "on revenge, not reconciliation."

Revenge, insatiable revenge is, of course, the foul engine that drives Shakespeare's early tragedy of circumstance "Romeo and Juliet" (now playing at OSF). "A plague on both your houses" is the dying judgment of Mercutio on the bloodlust of Capulets and Montagues alike. "Romeo and Juliet" is far from being the extended essay on revenge that is "Hamlet," but what is missing in character study is made up in the clarity with which Shakespeare draws out for us the bloody consequences of mindless retribution.

Revenge could have controlled the actions and reactions of Shakespeare's last play, "The Tempest," (also playing at OSF) but the wronged royal magician, Prospero, veers away from that compulsion. Instead the bard of Avon uses his prince to demonstrate with equal portions of passion and playfulness that forgiveness and reconciliation are much to be preferred and also pretty classy.

"The Tempest" has always been considered a feast for the ear. Shakespeare puts some of his best speeches ever in the mouth of Duke Prospero. But Libby Appel's fond farewell to OSF is a feast for the eye as well.

Prospero carries heavy and loathsome vendetta against the treacherous Alonso who is responsible for the Dukes' exile from his beloved Milan. But rather than use his magic to kill the usurping King outright, Prospero does his best to change Alonso. And so he whips up a tempest, a perfect storm, meant to melt the perfidious king's heart. Thinking he has lost his only son, Alonso twists in the great wind for four acts until he is ready to hear the pain in Prospero's tongue 'n cheek confession, "I have lost my daughter." Alonso is touched and convicted at the same moment, and we, the playgoers, remember how in Act I Prospero had cradled his young Miranda in such a tender way as to evoke Michelangelo's Pieta.

Is there anything on earth as emotionally charged as the loss of a child? "To have a child is to "forever have your heart go walking around outside your body" said, Barbara Kingsolver. Any reasonably healthy parent knows that. And, ironically, the weight of that responsibility only grows heavier when we've lost one.

Consider the understanding all parties come to over the entirely accidental death of a four-year-old in "Rabbit Hole" (which closed yesterday). It is said by nearly the whole cast at one moment or another, "No one is to blame." And no one is, but looking at the hearts of all concerned under playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's microscope it's easy to see that it would be easier for them if there were.

The genius of the Pulitzer Prize play is that it shows us clearly that such a truth is just as painful. A loss that unthinkable is unthinkable any way you slice it. Still, an extended family coming to believe that a tragedy can happen for no reason is better than a stage (mosque?) littered with bodies.

Riffing darkly and delightfully on "the Kennedy curse" the grandmother of the lost child, "Nat," says the following of Aristotle Onassis (who was unable to lay blame anywhere for the death of his son in a plane crash). "He died of grief because he couldn't find someone to blame."

"Man, does it ever go away?" asks grieving Becca, the mother, "This feeling, does it ever go away?"

Her mother, who has lost a son, answers, "No. It changes though, the weight of it. It becomes bearable. And you forget about it every once in a while."

Such a rich season at Oregon Shakespeare. Such timely drama. So carefully chosen. So much to resonate in the heart. Thank you Libby Appel.

Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Ashland's First Presbyterian Church.

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