Pulling at our heartstrings - A British philosopher, an American theatre critic and a dead Mexican woman remind us what counts
Terry Teachout, drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, recently reminisced about the good, bad and excruciatingly awful Lears he has seen since 2003, and asked a provocative question,
The only thing these five productions had in common was that the same words were spoken by the actors. Yet each of them -- even the awful one -- was so brusquely immediate in its impact that it might have come straight off the front page of today's tabloids.
So here's my question: If a play like "Lear" lends itself to such diverse and contemporary approaches, why is its author so widely derided in certain progressive-minded circles as a Dead White European Male who has nothing of interest to say about the way we live now?
Teachout quotes Roger Scruton’s answer. The British philosopher, who lives in Virginia, has just published Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged,
Only a very shallow reading of Chaucer or Shakespeare would see those writers as endorsing the societies in which they lived, or would overlook the far more important fact that their works hold mankind to the light of moral judgment, and examine, with all the love and all the pity that it calls for, the frailty of human nature. It is precisely the aspiration towards universal truth, towards a God's-eye perspective on the human condition, that is the hallmark of Western culture.
This is the culture that 30-year-old Aura Estrada loved, despite the relentless attempts of educators to force her to reject it.
In “Mia Aura”, her husband writes,
About six years ago, in a bar in Brooklyn, I met a pretty Mexican girl, with shining black eyes, the sweetest smile and an adorable gap in her front teeth. She was standing at the bar with an acquaintance of mine, declaiming from memory a long poem by the 17th century English poet, George Herbert. (“I struck the board and cried, ‘No more, I will abroad. What? Shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free. . .’”)
Aura died in July while swimming in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico. Herbert's words touched her, touch us, are part of the "aspiration toward truth" that Scruton describes.