July 25, 2014. In addition to all our travels these past few weeks, it has been difficult to return to philosophical reflections on pain and suffering when there is so much real pain and suffering around the world. After seeing pictures of the carnage in Gaza, of the MH17 crash site, of Syrian and Central American refugee children, I sit down to write and feel like Leonato in the last act of Much Ado About Nothing: “give me not counsel;/nor let no comforter delight mine ear.”
When Leonato’s brother tells him that he’s acting like a child crying about his grief, Leonato exclaims:
I pray thee peace; I will be flesh and blood;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods,
And made a push at chance and sufferance.
There may be much truth in Leonato’s observation:
No, no, ’tis all men’s office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow,
But no man’s virtue nor sufficiency
To be so moral when he shall endure
The like himself.
But the fact remains that Leonato grieves because he has been tricked into believing that his daughter took another man into her bed the night before her wedding. In the end “honor” is restored when the truth comes out
A few months ago we saw a Princeton student production of Much Ado About Nothing that tried to challenge the essentially sexist premise of the plot and the ending. They didn’t change Shakespeare’s words, but used the placement and posture and emotional attitudes of the characters to convey that there was something wrong with the so-called resolution.
As hard as it is to contemplate in these times of turmoil, we can avoid Leonato’s mistake of wallowing in our own emotions. If we continue to make “a push at chance and sufferance,” we can wake up to misfortune and suffering. Leonato rightly rejects those who would “speak patience.” If, on the other hand, he had listened when someone spoke truth to him, told him that he was a fool not to trust his own child, told him not to value his male “honor” over love, he might have saved himself, and his daughter, a lot of pain.