All Great Neptune’s ocean

‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red…’
[Macbeth, 2.2.59-62]

Earlier in the play Lady Macbeth had said, ‘A little water clears us of this deed’. Her husband is wiser and knows that his crime, the murder of a king, has a universal quality and cannot be absolved by washing his hands in the sea. Rather, the blood of the murdered king will turn all the oceans red.

At a time when humankind has created suffering and havoc in Nature on an unprecedented scale, it is essential to ask ourselves how our accumulated sin can be purged and redeemed. Or are we destined to keep turning the oceans and rivers red until we destroy both the earth and ourselves?

Hercules tried to clean out the Augean Stables (with their piled-up muck of decades) using a shovel, but soon realized that he would barely make a hole in it if he continued shovelling for the rest of his life. So he diverted the course of two rivers instead and that way washed the stables clean.

‘I am the world and the world is me,’ said Krishnamurti. Macbeth understood this, but didn’t act on his understanding. He could have washed away his sin, but it would have required a complete change of perception—the creation of a new channel of energy such as Hercules created by diverting the two rivers. In murdering the king, Macbeth killed his own soul.

Whatever the spin doctors might say, there is a huge price for human sin—one that not only we pay—and our pitiful lack of moral imagination is blocking the wellspring of absolution.

Take Physic, Pomp!


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