Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Short shrift

This term appears in Shakespeare's longest play, Richard III. Lord Hastings is to be executed, to his surprise, and these being christian people, the condemned is supposed to be allowed last rites for the benefit of his eternal soul. To be shriven is to use the sacrament of confession, hence 'Shrove Tuesday'. Hastings is being pressured first by Ratcliff, and then by Lovel to hurry up, and dispatch. Richard (Duke of Gloster) is hungry, presumably so are they, and he wants the beheading executed, so that, he can be nourished and satiated.
Lord Hastings. Woe, woe for England! not a whit for me;
For I, too fond, might have prevented this.
Stanley did dream the boar did raze his helm;
But I disdain'd it, and did scorn to fly:
Three times to-day my foot-cloth horse did stumble,
And startled, when he look'd upon the Tower,
As loath to bear me to the slaughter-house.
O, now I want the priest that spake to me:
I now repent I told the pursuivant
As 'twere triumphing at mine enemies,
How they at Pomfret bloodily were butcher'd,
And I myself secure in grace and favour.
O Margaret, Margaret, now thy heavy curse
Is lighted on poor Hastings' wretched head!

Sir Richard Ratcliff. Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner:
Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.

Lord Hastings. O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hopes in air of your good looks,
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready, with every nod, to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.

Lord Lovel. Come, come, dispatch; 'tis bootless to exclaim.

Lord Hastings. O bloody Richard! miserable England!
I prophesy the fearful'st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look'd upon.
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head.
They smile at me that shortly shall be dead.

[Exeunt] III. 4.
One of the characters, in the novel and movie, The Reader, speaks of the task in killing many people. One of the soldiers, the fellow speaking, sits down to smoke a cigarette, between dispatches. This bunch is done, and I take a smoke break, and then return to the job at hand. No thought of significance or morality, just the infringing annoyance preventing an ordinary enjoyment done several times a day.
"...It was in a quarry, and above the Jews and the soldiers there was an officer sitting on a ledge in the rock swinging his legs and smoking a cigarette. He looked a little morose. Maybe things weren't going fast enough for him. But there was also something satisfied, even cheerful about his expression, perhaps because the day's work was getting done and it was almost time to go home. He didn't hate the Jews. He wasn't..."
Evil is often banal. Consideration for a victim's life is trivial in comparison.

No comments: