Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Rhetoric? Yes We Can.

It's been a whirlwind start to the week - a days' work on Storytelling, a staff meeting, first rehearsal for The Tempest and today's Ways of Seeing Lecture - which I was unduly nervous about.

I decided to go off the beaten track today and talk poetically about the significant moment. As I write this Americans are in the process of electing their first black president - who has exhibited all the qualities of a Shakespearean hero to be where he is, standing on the eve of a momentous victory.

We worked on the epic in class. A young black lawyer, handsome, charismatic and intelligent, works hard representing economically disadvantaged communities in Chicago, he rises up through the ranks of his party to claim the crown of nomination. First he has to halt the inevitable pattern of Clinton succeeding Bush succeeding Clinton succeeding Bush and in so doing defeats two of the most powerful and savvy political families in the history of America. It was our protagonist's Sphinx moment.

Having overcome this hurdle he is pitted against his nemesis. An experienced, war hero patriot, tortured, but unbroken, a man widely respected and revered. A man who stands loyal to his country behind the simple but resolute statement America First.

Faced with this our hero has to take risks, to look outwards and project a vision beyond the fear of other nations and cultures. He has to embrace and include. He has to risk change.

It's a notion of spring, in all its greenery he has captured and spring that he sells, even to the point of admitting his own naivety, which makes his opponent appear not just an isolationist, but a hibernation-ist to boot.

Then, on the eve of victory, the woman who nurtured him dies. She sees the view from the mountain top, but will never not accompany her grandson into the promised land.

There is a public history as well as this very personal one. A history that begins with the slave trade, the rise of a black spiritualist church, emancipation, segregation and civil rights. This history also reaches a significant staging post tonight.

It would be very hard to write this as fiction.

Except of course Shakespeare did over and over again, and our very sense of the drama of this regal American battle for the throne owes much to the structure of the grand histories in his canon.

Ian came in and magnificently delivered the two speeches from Julius Caesar's funeral; another moment of regime change. First, the considered, but laboured republican offering of patriot Brutus and then the easy flow and 'apparent' humility of Mark Anthony. I hope it made the antithetical point.

We ended by listening to Martin Luther King's spine tingling 'I have a Dream,' speech calling to us, a prophet across time. Tomorrow the world will have shifted slightly and in the right direction, I dare hope.

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