How much evil is sustainable, endurable? Is it even possible to know?
Two shows currently running this spring under DC Shakespeare Theatre Company's umbrella are, in what seems a coincidental way, exploring just such a theme. With the ultimate question: is human nature open to change?
There is racial and gender prejudice, domestic violence and state-sponsored terrorism - not to mention murder - on full display across the Lansburgh and Harman Center For the Arts stages through early April .(See www.shakespearetheatre.org) If nothing else - if your emotions can stomach the display - both '1984' and 'Othello' are epic illustrations of mankind's most depraved ambition for power. Curiously, both are standard reads in high school English classes but what effects they have at a singularly impressionistic age is impossible to know. Both are cautionary tales that apply to present day events: the overreach of government intelligence agencies investigating civilian correspondence as brought to light by Edward Snowden and the unthinking paranoia exhibited in attacks on Muslims and on migrants both here and abroad.
In the George Orwell epic, set in some presumed future day that could be now, Big Brother in the form of masochistic overlords subverts the core values of democracy, using torture to achieve its ends. (The U.S. government's sanctioned behavior towards prisoners in Iraq.) Shakespeare's classic tragedy relentlessly drives home the corrupting influence of envy and jealousy, as Iago sets out to destroy Othello, the dark-skinned Moor, whose wife Desdemona becomes the victim. (One among many.)
Rumor and suggestion alone turn Othello into a mad man obsessed with revenge to satisfy the aspirations of Iago. But to what end? Truth and justice are employed too late. Similar manipulation occurs regularly in the halls of Congress, where powerful interests are endlessly competing for influence. Similar disregard for truth reminds a person, too, of behavior by some candidates in the current presidential contest hoping to sway the voters by whatever means at their command.