Shakespeare must have been an impulse ridden young man for his characters often wrestle with the issue of self-control, best illustrated with his description of Macbeth being unable to “buckle his distempered cause within the belt of rule.” This image is that of a corpulent man trying unsuccessfully to fasten a buckle around his protruding belly. It brings to my mind, the corpulent Oliver Hardy, of “Laurel and Hardy” comedy team from the early 20th century, comically attempting to fasten his belt. Shakespeare presented Macbeth as deeply flawed, not merely in attitude and behavior, but deep down in the heart in the depths of his “cause,” or heart/will. Macbeth’s inability to control his impulses, leading to murderous intent, stemmed from something that had gone awry deeply in his soul. He was, to borrow a description from Ranier Rilke, “The toy of some great pain.”
This Shakespearean observation of Macbeth has been on my mind often recently as I’ve watched Donald Trump unravel before our eyes and watch his Republican Party stand by haplessly, not having had the courage in their own collective heart to intervene when they could have. Trump presents such a vivid picture of psychopathology and it has been amusing, and sad, to watch his cohorts attempt at various times in the past year to rein him in. But when one’s “cause” is so deeply “distempered” or diseased, there is no reining it in.
Trump is still living out of what we clinicians call “the terrible two’s” when the world is one’s oyster. Usually one’s familial and social context will provide limits so that the child will come to see that the world is not his to exploit for his own ends, but is a domain that requires cooperation. And surrendering to this external demand is excruciating to a nascent ego but most of us manage to endure the pain, learning to appreciate the value of trading immediate gratification for the deferred variety. Trump’s family indulged him, and so did his political “family” early in this campaign. One of his 16 competitors in the primary season, Senator Lindsey Graham, noted onetime in retrospect, “We all cowered in the corner of the stage” before Trump’s onslaught of bullying behavior. The “willfulness” that Trump demonstrates has made him wealthy but at the expense of a lot of people. A strong-willed person, with just a modicum of self-restraint, can be very successful in about any area of life. Will, or the exercise thereof, is very important but it can lead to one’s downfall.
Shakespeare is probably one of the most wonderful discoveries of my life. He knew the human heart and vividly illustrated its beauty and its foibles in his plays and sonnets. And it is very revealing that until my mid-thirties, I could not understand him and actually loathed him! His wisdom fell on deaf ears. At that point in my life I was only beginning to emerge from the darkness of “having ears to hear, but hearing not; having eyes to see but seeing not.”