The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, October 12, 2014


By the Way: All’s well that ends well

NEWS FLASH:  Fragments of a new Shakespearean play have just been discovered in the Jakarta archives of the British Council. 

Bearded archaeologists quivering with excitement believe the Bard mislaid the priceless palimpsest around 1601 during his tour of the Spice Islands while researching material for another work.  This was probably A Midsummer Night’s Scream, which featured several kuntilanak (malicious ghosts) and inspired their inclusion in later plays.

Literary experts agree that the ‘enchanted isle’ of the play is Java.  So it’s logical that the most celebrated writer in the English language should have taken a stopover in the Indonesian capital waiting for the next VOC three-master.

Under equatorial skies we imagine he chilled out with other worthy wordsmiths sharing a few mugs of soda gembira (happy soda) in a riverside tavern. Doubtless he found the Ciliwung reminded him of his beloved Avon.

While scholars scramble to determine the play’s provenance The Jakarta Post has been given exclusive world rights to the lontar-leaf manuscript with jottings from other writings, creating some confusion. 

The play is a tragedy, or comedy, or tragicomedy – it’s unclear. As the full folio has yet to be found there are disputes regarding the title, but it was probably called Macbowo

Others claim it’s really the forgotten folio known as The Merchant of Menace though left-wing academics assert it’s really As You Will Like It.

The plot centers on a zealous soldier believing he has rights to the crown and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. His climb to the top of the food chain starts, appropriately enough, with three old ladies stirring a boiling cauldron of road kill.  Their predictions set the tone for what’s to follow:

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,
Fair is foul and foul is fair.

The next scene provides a character insight, with the villain astride a charger soliloquising:

I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent,                                                              But only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself                                                      And falls on th’ other.

Macbowo knows he’s not the only one with plans above his station, so seeks advice from the weird Ibu-Ibu.  They tell him:

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man.

Great news for a grandee. Yet despite taking these warming words to heart, Macbowo’s paranoia persists, as seen in these staffing orders:

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yon (name indecipherable) has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Later we find a few lines from the unnamed famished thinker pondering on a response to his rival’s campaign tactics:

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

A major gap in the script follows, but it seems safe to conclude that Macbowo insists a great wrong has been done despite all evidence otherwise.  So he appeals to a court where he’s confronted by a smart lawyer:

Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

He loses, and from now on its downhill. Macbowo’s mates depart. Wifeless he suffers nightmares:

Then comes my fit again; I had else been perfect                                                          
Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,                                                                    
As broad and general as the casing air                                                                       
But now I’m cabin’d, cribb’d, confined, bound in                                                     
To saucy doubts and fears

The last page we have includes a reflection:

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.

Clearly this isn’t the final Act; work continues to unearth the rest of the manuscript. We hope to bring you this by 20 October. Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 October 2014)

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