When Shakespeare’s play opens, Hamlet’s father has been killed without anyone knowing how or by whom. All Hamlet knows is that his father was taken unprepared, which for Elizabethan audiences means he had no chance to confess his sins before dying. He was murdered before he could confess.
Ironic, since his murder was a sin.
This idea of murder–in both its literal and figurative senses–underpins my post. Recently, I have recalled a family member’s memory, heard a friend’s story and read a newspaper essay on related subjects. Each of these instances makes me wonder when and how competition, understandably rooted in nature, turns to murder of one sort or another.
In the memory I recalled, a young businessman with a wife and three children, was making plans to acquire the company for which he had been working. He and his two partners were nearing the final arrangements of their joint purchase. When the young man returned to his office early Monday morning, he saw two extra cars in the parking lot. Normally, he was the first to arrive. He began to suspect. As he approached the building’s glass doors, his “partners” stepped out to tell him he did not work there anymore. They owned the company, and he no longer had a job. Who knows where he drove first, as he pulled out of that parking lot?
The friend’s story overlaps significantly with the young businessman’s. In short, people to whom he had spoken in honest confidence rewarded him by lying in front of others about their conversation. They publicly declared he had never spoken to them. This “bold” lie created a tempest of worry, pain and confusion. And, as often happens, the storm proved people’s mettle. For example, not one person during that public declaration grabbed the helm or even offered a raincoat. Speaking of “bold.”
The newspaper essay from today’s New York Times describes global strife during the seventeenth century– fittingly, the same century in which Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. This essay addresses the role of natural events, like increased volcanic activity, in contentious relations among people and states. Such trying times, such competition for food and other resources, such struggle to survive–all show us who is who.
Although I understand the need to physically survive, and the competition that natural events sometimes heighten, I do not understand all of the factors at work when “partners” turn on other members of their group. What makes them knowingly injure, bewilder and “kill” someone with whom they have been working? Certain psychological mechanisms or emotional needs silence our capacity for compassion. I wonder what they are. I believe that if more people understood these mechanisms and needs, we would have fewer personal stories like those above. What sends us on these murderous quests?
photo credit: http://www.medievalweaponinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/daggers.jpg