Our very own Shakespearean tragedy
I have read Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” thrice now—twice as a requirement for two English classes and once for pleasure. It is a piece of literature that I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. And with our current political atmosphere making us feel as though we are living in a Shakespearean tragedy, I can’t help but reflect on its timeless themes and relate it to what is happening in our society today.
My favorite scene in the play takes place in the fourth act. Scotland is in absolute shambles, thanks to the titular character who has resorted to killing anybody who he sees as a threat to his throne. Macduff, one of the few surviving good men and a loyal supporter to the previous king who Macbeth had murdered, flees to England to meet Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne. Desperate to bring peace back to his motherland, Macduff pleads with Malcolm to return home and lead the army that would topple Macbeth’s tyrannical rule.
But Malcolm rejects Macduff’s offer; he reasons that his insatiable carnal desires and material greed render him unfit to rule a country. Macduff doesn’t mind, though — he believes that Scotland has enough women and jewels to satisfy Malcolm’s lust. The country just needs to rid itself of Macbeth, he says. But Malcolm swears to Macduff that he has none of the virtues that would make a good king, and he will only drag Scotland to the pits of hell if ever he becomes one.
That is where Macduff draws the line. He rebukes Malcolm, convinced that Scotland has run out of hope. But little does Macduff know that everything Malcolm has told him was a bluff—a ploy to test how far he is willing to compromise in order to free his country. That Macduff does not waver on his principles assures Malcolm that he is someone to be trusted. Thus, he accedes to his plan, and together they work to overthrow the dictator.
Our country’s history is marred by men who claim to be messiahs — local versions of Macbeth with varying degrees of horror. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the man sitting in Malacañang now merits comparisons with Shakespeare’s antihero. From persecuting his fiercest critics to cheapening the value of human life, he seems to have taken several pages out of Macbeth’s book.
But the most damaging legacy of this administration is making us believe that we must compromise our values to be given what we rightfully deserve. In the past three years alone, the ever-resilient Filipinos have repeatedly ignored red flags, lowered their moral standards, and diluted their dignity in hopes of finally getting the change that was once passionately promised. But as with every politician who came before him, the Big Guy today has failed to keep his end of the bargain.
Only this time, though, we’ve had to lose a lot more. The lives of the poor are more disposable than ever. Rape is now reduced to a punch line in a speech to enliven a crowd. Our national sovereignty is in its most precarious position in years. And gone are the days when our government was filled with noble statesmen whose wise words were immortalized in textbooks and museum walls; nowadays, it is dominated by clowns who spout nonsense as if they’re competing to be the face of the newest Facebook meme. The bar has been set so low it may take even decades to raise it to the level we once deemed appropriate.
Similarly, maybe the reason men like Isko Moreno or Vico Sotto are treated as heroes is not because they are objectively good, but because in a country that is so used to getting the short end of the stick, anything that is above the bare minimum is a cause for celebration. We have been so accustomed to contenting ourselves with crumbs that being offered a bite out of a cookie often feels like an undeserved privilege.
The greatest lesson that Macbeth has taught me is that we automatically lose when we fail to draw the line. Our nation’s fate is decided not so much by what we stand for, as by what we are willing to compromise. In the end, we accept the leaders we think we deserve.
* * *
Erwin B. Agapay, 21, graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman with a degree in business administration. He currently works as a branch banking officer.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.