Regarding authority

Nov 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Ireland

The lesson was about King Solomon and his wisdom.  The first question in the text book asked, “If you were Taoiseach what skill or talent would you wish for? Why?

The answers ran from the evasive, “If I were Taioseach I would like the skill not be Taioseach”; to the discerning “I would like to be able to read minds so as to know the right words to say to people”; to the bizarre, “I would like the Pope’s hat because I think the Pope’s hat looks cool.  Oh, I’d also like to be able to fly”.

There was much winding up, and not a great deal of seriousness in most of the answers.  The most earnest responses came from those who expressed no wish to have any position of power.

What was lacking in the answers was any wish to exercise influence for good.  Amongst a class of children in one of the most affluent areas of the country, the attitude towards political power was almost exclusively one of cynicism.  Perhaps this is a reflection of parental attitudes at home, perhaps it is a reflection of the mood of a rising generation who were told when they were nine years old that they lived in one of the richest countries in the world, only to be told when they were twelve that their country was bust.

Perhaps the response to their answers should urge them to take more seriously those who provide political leadership, though on a day when the Government can find €50 billion for the bank bail out, after declaring the previous day that it could not afford €200 million for the old age pensioners’ Christmas bonus, the words might stick in the craw.

The answer about having the Pope’s hat was maybe a piece of unknowing satire, but the writer will hopefully grow up with a very Shakespearean egalitarianism and distrust of authority.

In the midst of the tragedy Hamlet there are moments of pure comedy, moments when Shakespeare betrays a dangerously revolutionary attitude towards ideas of status and power.  Prince Hamlet has killed Polonius when  his stepfather the King seeks him out:

King.  Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?

Hamlet  At supper.

King.  At supper! Where?

Ham.  Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table; that’s the end.

King.  Alas, alas!

Ham.  A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King.  What dost thou mean by this?

Ham.  Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

Of course, Shakespeare is not the Bible, but even the Bible varies in its attitude towards human authority, from Paul’s instructions to obey government because they are appointed by God, to Peter’s declaration that we must obey God rather than men.

Given the choice between Peter and Paul, the class might well favour the former.

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