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Macbeth: false face must hide ... false heart

Justice is turned back; and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it was evil in his eyes that there was no justice. [written c. BC 710] Isaiah 59: 14-15


The words in bold above describe a distressing situation in Jerusalem 2,700 years ago. As now in Jersey, justice was important to everybody. Without justice running through the whole of society human distress turned into human preparedness to discount and disobey all laws – in order to achieve justice for self. And “justice for self” was injustice for others.


But did you notice why, at that time, justice was “turned back” – why “uprightness” could not “enter the public squares”?  The local picture would be large signposts on every street leading into Jersey’s Royal Square: “NO ENTRY FOR UPRIGHTNESS”. Why?


The answer in Jerusalem so long ago was that “truth has stumbled, truth is lacking.


Recently Jersey’s former Comptroller and Auditor General reported on information which had (it appears) been provided to him by a States Treasury Official. That official received the CAG’s report the day before publication and has written to say that he had been totally misreported.


Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank recently went before the UK Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee to give evidence about LIBOR rate fixing. He refused to concede that Barclays Bank had a “culture problem”.


In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Duncan, the King of Scotland, is opposed by the Thain of Cawdor who hides his treason from the King. His deceit having been found out, the Thain is executed. This is reported to the King.


Duncan then muses. “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.”


Absolute trust? Yes, because no ability was available to Duncan to detect from Cawdor’s face the lies of the Thain of Cawdor.... How often we imagine that we can. But guilt is best suspected from the face that brazenly denies it. Media training is the taught skill that is moving Duncan’s admitted inability into a present near-impossibility.


Shakespeare’s Duncan then appoints the new Thain of Cawdor. Macbeth’s name is in the Honours List. Macbeth’s face must have fitted – in Duncan’s art-less mind. Duncan doesn’t know that Macbeth, fuelled by his wife, Lady Macbeth, intends to kill him so as to become King of Scotland....


How true, yet again, were Duncan’s original words: There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust. The new Thain of Cawdor is no better than the old.


Duncan would learn, savagely learn, of the next consequence of his own inability to read the mind’s construction in the face. He is murdered – when a guest in Macbeth’s castle.


Interestingly, the face (today the “reputation”?) was a deep concern for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before the deed was done. They agreed: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.


Neither was troubled (unlike Isaiah – see bold above) about the public consequences of “truth stumbling in the public squares”, about what happens when “truth is lacking”. Not only is “justice turned back”; but also “righteousness stands far away”. What happened then is what Bob Diamond denies has arisen in Barclays Bank – a culture change for the worst - a culture change where “uprightness cannot enter”.


Jersey? Truth-free places don’t welcome uprightness. In those places, “he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”  Yes, in truth-free environments those who do turn from evil and do try to walk in righteousness will find that they are targets.


But the real problem is that it is “evil in the LORD’s eyes that there is no justice.” What happens? What happened 2,700 years ago?

‘Because I tell the truth you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth why do you not believe me?’ (Jesus Christ, John’s biography, 8: 45)
‘Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it; but there it is.’ (Sir Winston Churchill, KG, Statesman, 1874-1975)
Richard Syvret

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