Shakespeare vs Chekhov in Northern Ireland
Deaglán de Bréadún
Talking to a friend about Northern Ireland yesterday we mulled over the dangers and possibilities that exist, or in some cases lurk, in the present situation. The killings of the two British soldiers and the (Catholic) police officer as well as the recent street disruption suggested there are more deadly dangers than hopeful possibilities at the moment.
Easter is coming up shortly. It’s the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, of course, so the dissident republicans will be endeavouring to bring off a big “spectacular”. The blood is up over Easter in republican circles and it is seen as a time for renewal of vows to the cause. The morbid accountancy of these matters is that a fatal shooting at this time of year generates greater support than at any other.
I am sure the dissidents are well aware of this stark and terrible reality. Likewise the mainstream republicans in Sinn Féin who have opted for a very different course of action.
After 25 years of war and a campaign that made the 1956-62 endeavour look like an afternoon picnic they chose the path of persuasion. Unlike the area freed in the War of Independence, there is a very large majority in the North which wants to remain in the United Kingdom. The bomb and the bullet won’t change that and the only way to do it is through politics.
Personally, I believe it can be done but it will take time and, more importantly, leadership. Politics is long hard road and can be very frustrating at times. Enoch Powell, a largely-forgotten Tory maverick in the House of Commons, said that all political careers end in failure. It’s a sobering thought, especially for republicans inspired by the apocalyptic vision of Patrick Pearse.
But some 20 years ago the unification of Germany – a very different country with a very different history it should be said – was achieved without a single shot being fired. Apartheid was overthrown in South Africa, mainly by political means rather than armed actions.
There are some parallels between the North and the longrunning Israeli-Palestinian stand-off. The Israeli novelist Amos Oz has said that there are two types of resolution to a conflict: Shakespearean and Chekhovian.
In a Shakespeare drama, the stage may be littered with bodies but all the wrongs are righted, all injuries revenged, all loose ends tied-up. In the dramas of the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov everyone is brokenhearted, embittered, disappointed, sad and disillusioned – but they remain alive.
We are in the middle of a Chekhov play in the North at the moment but there are signs that the audience – including perhaps sections of the media – is getting bored and feels tempted to go next door to see the sword-fight in Hamlet. Meanwhile someone is phoning in a warning to say there is a bomb in the theatre but, as is supposed to have happened in Omagh, the correct message isn’t getting through.