Mandela and Shakespeare.

I have read somewhere that, when Nelson Mandela was consigned to emprisionment on Robin Island he was allowed to take one book. Just one. And that he chose to take the collected works of William Shakespeare.

Later on, having marked his own favourite passage on the page, he circulated the book around his fellow prisoners, asking them to do likewise. This, it is said, is the passage marked by the great man...

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Clearly we can each interpret this choice in any of a dozen ways. Myself, I feel that Mandela was intent on conveying a 'sensible paradox' to his fellows. On the one hand he is pointing out the triviality of Mankind and his doings within the great scheme of all things, "Be of good heart, friends, for this that has happened to us means little or nothing", and on the other hand he is saying that Mankind (witness Wm Shakespeare) can sometimes, if very, very occasionally, see everything, expose everything to the pure white searchlight of truth, thus assuming to himself the stature of the Almighty.

Perhaps we can now say that Nelson Mandela himself became the embodiment of the latter.

1 comment:

  1. He was a wonderful man, a true example of how hardship can transform you rather than destroy you.


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