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On Curses and Power

October 1, 2018

I have been so sick to my stomach these past days.

I have not been a victim of sexual assault.  And yet the fear in my gut about the potential for being a victim has been there for a long, long time.

Now there’s rage, too.

On Saturday I watched an all-female performance of Richard III by the Seattle Shakespeare Company and upstart crow collective, an all-female theater company dedicated to the classics.  Richard III is a tough play, the villain taking center stage from the first lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent” and ends in a bloody battle where he is killed by his many enemies.

Among those Richard betrays and manipulates and traumatizes are four women:  Queen Margaret, whose husband and son were killed by Richard’s team York; the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother who can’t stand him; Queen Elizabeth, whose husband and brother-in-law are betrayed and whose young sons are murdered by Richard; and Lady Anne, whose husband was murdered by Richard.  They are have powerful monologues, giving voice to their suffering and grief at Richard’s hand.

And yet.

While the men in the play (and in the Henry VI cycle which precedes it) connive and battle and cause things to happen, the women have words.  That’s it.  Curses, sure; some of which end up being prophetic.

But really, words are all they have.  Not actions.  Not revenge or retribution or even agency.  They just get to talk about how Richard has harmed them for perpetuity.

Richard, the villain, dreams in Act 5 of all those he has directly murdered or had sent to their deaths.  In his dream, the ghosts whisper the same refrain:  “Despair and die.”  He wakes to mutter, “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”  There is a moment where he almost feels sorry for what he has done…and then morning comes, and with it the battle, and he claims again, “Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe: Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.”

And I could not help but think of Brett Kavanaugh and Senators Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn, Cruz, Kennedy, Graham, Flake, Tillis, Lee, Sasse, and Crapo.

And the priests and bishops and other “holy” men in the Catholic Church.

And all these abusers of power and privilege who not only deny publicly and seemingly also privately that they have done no wrong, but who also believe that causing suffering is unworthy of attention.

Those who grill a victim and presuppose the accused’s innocence, and then wonder why more victims don’t report their assault.

Those who demand “due process” (Sen. Kennedy), not remembering that Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam also had due process for the murder of Emmett Till, as did countless other perpetrators of violence where due process was had but justice was not served.

Those with power and privilege need to be held accountable for their actions.  Those who enable the powerful at the expense of those harmed need to know that they are part of the problem, and that if they will continue to “be on the wrong side of humanity,” then they should understand the consequences.

King Richard in the play did despair and die.  Maybe not as a direct result of those curses, but such appropriation of others’ very beings cannot last.

I tire of hurling curses at those who scorn the suffering of the lowly, the vulnerable, the scarred and traumatized.  But maybe, maybe our collective voices will make some demonstrable change.

To those who have been victims of sexual violence:  We see you.  We stand with you.  We believe you.

And it’s time to take to the streets, to the voting booths, to the halls of power, to wherever privilege is assumed as an entitlement, to dismantle it.  With our own forms of power.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. John Ewers permalink
    October 2, 2018 10:44 am

    This is a powerful, erudite piece of writing that deserves an attentive and wide circle of readers had you time to cultivate one, which under present constraints you unfortunately do not.
    Even so, do not let the rage be quieted or the voice stilled, however small the circle and many the voices full of sound and fury signifying nothing, for yours has wisdom and eloquence that will be heard and thought on until the latter leads to a greater fomenting of action in which you will find the justification for continuing your cries and incentive to make them heard and acted on.
    A non-Shakespearean reader who mildly regrets such a lapsed state.

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