Ambitiosa! I was taken aback by the complaints against a female presidential candidate in comments on Facebook. Sure, I expected the allegations of her being a traitor for giving up her Filipino passport and the woes against the necropolitics that brought her into senatorial power. But one of her qualities kept being brought up by naysayers. People were complaining that she was ‘too ambitious’ for wanting to be president. I found this a weird complaint as someone who has lived abroad for so long. Being ambitious is no flaw; it’s a virtue. If anything the allegation that someone was ambitious would make them more attractive to me rather than less because it means they have vision that can propel them beyond their present position, which is doubtless what we need for the Philippines. We need someone who can look beyond where we are to where we can be. We need someone with drive. I wondered if the label “ambitiosa” was misogynistic. I have never heard it applied in the context of any male candidates. Was this the tweeting population’s way of telling a woman to know her place?
Macbeth, how medieval ambitions can look very modern
This inner dialogue came back to me when watching the most ambitious of Shakespearean couples, the Thane of Glamis and his lady. This version of Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel, is all moody mists and grey bogs, bringing out the portentous and spooky atmosphere of this supernatural/psychological tale of witches prophesying the ascent of Macbeth to the throne of Scotland. Michael Fassbender, as Macbeth, delivers his lines as naturalistic as is possible to deliver Shakespeare, full of raw but mumbled emotion, that vivifies the play on screen in a way more moving than I have ever seen Shakespeare performed cinematically. Primarily, it is Marion Cotillard’s performance as Lady Macbeth that really pulls at the heartstrings, as her ambition and belief in her husband’s destiny motivates her to plan the most heinous of acts. Cotillard’s eyes do most of the work as they turn from feigned, ladylike virtue, to steely determination, and finally the guilt-driven madness (don’t cry spoiler, this play is five hundred years old for heaven’s sake).
Lady Macbeth Starts It, but The Laird Completes It
While Lady Macbeth prompts the violence, it is Macbeth who amps it up to another level; he goes even beyond her suggestions as the evil within him takes over. There are few more harrowing scenarios in literature than what befalls Macduff’s family, strongly portrayed in this version. Place he crown on the head of a violent man, and what else could you expect?
Our Own Pinoy Tragedies
This powerful film is probably even more poignant in our political setting because it reverberates in the quest for power we witness so clearly today. That dark and seedy air of Macbeth’s machinations feels all too familiar. In our recent history, we also have an apparent Lady Macbeth, a beautiful president’s wife whose ambition and greed it has been claimed pushed her once virtuous husband towards corruption that lead to dictatorship and plunder. However, most who know the situation well dismiss the story, claiming that our despot’s wife has nowhere near the brains to plan anything like that. All we have here is a beauty queen too self-obsessed to wonder where her crown actually came from. However, if anyone has seen any documentaries about her, one has to wonder how she became so unhinged. Is it from guilt or age or just evidence of the weak mind people have often accused her of having?
Ambition: Yea or nay?
By Shakespeare’s account, is ambition a virtue? No, not really. Ambition, in the setting of Macbeth is dangerous when it brings protagonists to disrupt the natural order of things; when we commit heinous acts like regicide, murder becomes a way of life. In other words, when ambition is achieved through violent means, we will only find more and more violence. Until that point, ambition has its place. The moral then is, be careful with ambition. As for me, I would always rather put the scepter in the hands of a clever woman, rather than a violent man. Of course, the problem with politics often is that we are regularly left with a choice between candidates who have more of the ambition to power rather than the virtues needed to lead well. Most would quit here, asking what’s the point when they are all bad. My answer is that if you don’t choose the best, even of a bad bunch, you might end up with the worst.
Macbeth is showing in Cebu this Sinulog weekend January 15-17, 2015.