March 6, 2007

Rule for Rule

I recently had the occasion to participate in a reading and presentation of Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure led by Oxford professor and errant gardener, Rory Stuart.

No, the play is not set in Italy – I can see you straining to remember back to your last English literature course – but Shakespeare, being the genius of the human psyche that he was, touches once again on the timeless topic of how hard it is to apply justice to do what is right, which got me back to thinking about the American “rule thing”.

The main character, Angelo, is set up by the ruling Duke of Vienna to take over the role of judge and make order in the city, particularly in the area of human love and in its most natural manifestations that were taking place “un-naturally” outside of marriage. Angelo takes the task to heart and applies the law to its most absolute degree, making no exceptions and nearly putting an “innocent” man to death. The problem presented is that by ridding the city of sexual promiscuity, he may just kill everyone off!

Does applying rules in a rigid and absolute way (a very American cultural trait by the way), sometimes lead us to miss the point end up actually doing injustice by upholding justice? Luckily, the Duke returns from his dark corners where he has been hiding in disguise and saves the day. No one dies, so I guess it was a comedy after all and we can all sigh a sigh of relief.

Shakespeare implies that sometimes rigid, absolute laws that are applied with no consideration of the particular situation can do more damage that repair. In the end, Angelo (and the other rigid character with absolute values, Isabella) grow and learn to be more flexible and in the end they apply justice in a more just (and flexible) way.

I feel another blog entry coming on…..this time about “cheating” in schools – I ran across a very intense expat online forum discussion about this recently. The issue is connected to the question of rigid application of fixed rules or their interpretation according to a particular situation.

But….it will have to be when I get back online next Monday,

A lunedi,

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