With the blessing of video, I watched King Lear again last night (30 August2014). Like Macbeth and Hamlet, it examines power and corruption. As these issues are inherent in social living, Shakespeare’s plays remain permanently relevant. In King Lear, power is not usurped; it is given away voluntarily but it still leads to corruption; even more vicious and inhumane than in the other plays. Lear in giving away his power, impoverishes himself and is powerless. His benefactors adopt the attitude recently expressed in the phrase spoken by an eminent millionaire/billionaire of the ANC, “F--- the poor!”

We can look at King Lear and evaluate the play simply in terms of human interactions and compare the decent human beings, Kent, Cordelia, the King of France, Edgar with the more human ones, Goneril, Regan, Edmund, who actually do f--- the poor. But as I watched the play, I began to think once again in terms of government. Since 1994, I have been trying to understand democratic government. Like Lear, before 1994, I naively believed in the trust that we give to government with our vote. Since 1994, living in a ‘democratic’ society, I have come to realize that government depends on the integrity of those who govern and that has nothing to do with demos kratos, amandla awethu, power to the people. Democracy does not give power to the people. It gives power to the governors. People give away their power in the vote and like Lear, people are dependent on trust in the governors.

As Shakespeare lived in times when the universe was thought to be geocentric, kings are placed at the centre of existence and all life revolves around them, the gravitational pull being trust. Once trust is vitiated, the whole system falls into chaos. In the modern age, we have moved into an expanding universe, the extent of which is beyond our calculation, the centre of which we cannot pinpoint, and which consists of a scattering of constellations and planets. We now know that the earth is not the centre of the universe and does not exert a gravitationl pull on other planets but is itself in rotation around the sun. Nevertheless, the way we organise our societies is based on the geocentric model.

We vote to give all power and trust to a central government and hope for the best. There are those who believe that capitalism is evil and democracy is good. But democracy is a form of capitalism. We give our votes in the same way as we deposit our money in banks. Our votes represent the accumulation of power in the government. Bankers invest our money to make profits largely for themselves; similarly governments use the power we bank with them to ensure their own well-being. King Lear gave away his responsibility as a governor and became dependent upon those to whom he had given his power; he was dependent on their goodwill and they had none. “F--- the poor!”