The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

The Suppression of Good Will


Dear Unknown Friends:

One of these days, it will be seen that the chief thing man has suppressed so far is his good will. This, perhaps, is the largest matter in human history.

At the present time, the good will in man is somewhere struggling to come forth, as more powerful than ill will. The way of economics which the world has adopted is the large hindrance to the emerging of the good will which, somewhere, has always been in man, hoping to be seen and to be given its due.

The reason Edgar Allan Poe is so valuable as artist is his dealing so much with the consequences of suppressed good will. That subject, as I said last week, made Europe favor Edgar Allan Poe as against most other American writers. I shall consider Poe's important story, "Ligeia," carefully. Meanwhile, in this number of TRO, it is well to see that the suppression of good will has taken place. Good will is a daily subject of debate in the lives of persons: every person.

1. They Suppressed Good Will

Shakespeare, as might be expected, tells of the suppression of good will. He is not as elaborate as Edgar Allan Poe in this matter; yet Shakespeare enables us to see the suppression of good will, visibly, simply. It must be said that Poe has a distinction making him, for the while, more important than Shakespeare. The reason for this is that Poe writes of the unseen, everyday desire of everyone to suppress good will, while Shakespeare is concerned with the visible attempt to abolish good will, or put it aside.

However unexpected it may sound, the person in "Ulalume" who carries the "dread burden" to a tomb, tells more deeply of the suppression of good will than Richard III, or Lady Macbeth, or King Claudius of Denmark in a pious fit. There is something deeper about the suppression of good will in some lines from Tamerlane by Poe, than in the abrogations of good will by Macbeth's queen, or the planning Duke of Gloucester—later Richard III, or by that uneasy taker of a kingdom, Claudius of Denmark.

I quote again from Tamerlane lines telling of the supersession of good will, or good will's defeat, or, in contemporary terminology, the suppression of good will:

My passions, from that hapless hour,

Usurped a tyranny which men

Have deemed, since I have reached to power,

My innate nature—be it so.

Poe here, almost alone in poetry, tells of how the nature he was born with has been "usurped" by something else. Only in the Sonnets is Shakespeare, in the matter of this usurpation, as deep as the youthful Poe. Shakespeare is somewhat aware that something he began with has the chance of being defeated by another possibility of himself, encouraged by the Elizabethan time.

Yet it is necessary to look at suppression of good will which is clear, and at some noted suppressors of good will who worked pretty much in the open.

2. Instances of Good Will's Suppression

The Richard III of Shakespeare, in the first lines of the play, says:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days. (I.1.28)

The Duke of Gloucester, determined to be king of England, gives, as everyone does, some reason for his choosing ill will. He is a hunchback, and therefore has disadvantages. He cannot be soft-spoken, and therefore cannot accomplish the amorous deeds of others.

Whenever good will is suppressed or diminished, we have a reason for it, however dimly we may see the reason. It is so easy to think that the outside world has been unfair to us, inequitably grudging. As soon as the outside world is regarded as a careless or disproportionate judge, good will is in for a bad time. The large question is whether good will can be rightly maintained, even when we see ourselves as the recipient of injustice.

In the instance of Lady Macbeth, the early Scottish noblewoman justifies ill will: she has seen good will as a hindrance to her purposes. Always, ill will has been looked upon as more favorable to ambition than meek good will, so given to considering what is due to others. As the grave-digger in Hamlet might say, "Your consideration of other people not yourself thwarts your lofty endeavors." Well, Lady Macbeth knows good will accordeth not with ambition. She says (Macbeth, I.5.41):

Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full

Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,

Stop up the access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctious visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between

The effect and it!

The desire to demolish good will which Lady Macbeth manifests in this renowned passage from English drama and literature, is a desire we have much seen in recent world history.

The Nazis around Hitler in 1932 and later were emulators of Lady Macbeth. They possessed strongly the feeling that kindness would be in their way; that consideration was an encumbrance; that fellow-feeling was a superfluity that should be banished. How much we can do in the field of annulling some consideration of another has not been measured yet. There is no limit to how rigid, fixed, uncompassionate, merciless we can be. There is no limit, this means, to the suppression of good will.

In Act III, Scene 3 of Hamlet, we are told by King Claudius himself of how he wishes somewhat he could restore the good will he has suppressed. Here are some words from the anguished, debating soliloquy of the new Danish monarch (III.3.38):

Pray can I not,

Though inclination be as sharp as will.

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,

And like a man to double business bound,

I stand in pause where I shall first begin,

And both neglect.

The new monarch of Denmark is here soliloquizing, as many other persons might. Men and women have not felt that their desire for power could go along with the feeling of being just. It seems clear, then, that if one wants power and if justice or good will stands in the way, justice and good will must be told to mind their sacred, useless business. In the long run of inner debate, this is what Claudius does: he tells good will something else is wanted more.

3. Debating Good Will

In the tragedies of Greece, good will is much debated. The fleeing, mobile Orestes is much taken with the question of good will for his father and mother. The Furies, not the final authorities on the subject of good will, are disposed to torment him. The debate about good will in the Sophoclean and Aeschylean dramas is valuable at this moment.

The richest debater on the subject of good will and what it deserves is Hamlet. Even he, however, does not get to a depth about good will to be seen in Poe's "Ligeia" and "Ulalume"; also here and there in Tamerlane. Hamlet, all through the play, is trying to be angry enough to avenge his father's ghost unquestionably and effectively. But a neat revenge is interfered with, slowed up, by inward considerations of depth, subtlety, relevance.

As I said in, Shakespeare's Hamlet Revisited, Hamlet is not an entire inward advocate of his father. He saw his father as too given to the military life; to prowess on an icy battlefield. And then there were ways of seeing women and the universe had by his father which Hamlet did not like entirely. Hamlet tries, however, to nullify good will in any form by saying, with the Ghost near and apparently listening, that he, the son, will put aside all considerations, mementos, regards that might hinder him from having a swooping revenge.

Hamlet earlier has said (I.5.29):

Haste me to know it, that I, with wings as swift

As meditation or the thoughts of love,

May sweep to my revenge.

May it be noted that Lady Macbeth, seemingly, only seemingly, could not be more accelerated or expeditious?

And then later, as I said, Hamlet says he'll put everything aside so that he can fulfil the behest of his father (I.5.97):

Remember thee!

Yea, from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

That youth and observation copied there,

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain,

Unmix'd with baser matter.

In Hamlet Revisited, I make lightsome fun of these words of the moved heir of Denmark. We do not know the state of good will in our minds; nor how subtle a thing good will is. That Hamlet was poetically affected by the subtlety and grandeur of good will has helped to make him the most noted character of drama.

For even though Hamlet made strong, resolved speeches to himself, he did not have the unitary character in the great field of ill will that the Scottish, strong noblewoman, Lady Macbeth, had; nor did he have the pure, inconsiderate ambition of the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III; nor did he have the large ethical slag, awryness, superfluity of his uncle, Claudius.

Hamlet represents the indefinite orchestration of good will and ill will, determination and uncertainty, that the human mind has. And so he lives as a great character, ever so great, in drama. Certainty and uncertainty are so poetically mingled in him.

Edgar Allan Poe lives too, as a person in Richmond and Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York; and lives as a writer of poems and stories, for he tells us that good will cannot be everlastingly suppressed. The dead Morella, representing good will in a story of 1835, has a child uncomfortably like her. And Ligeia, in the great story, "Ligeia," becomes victoriously her rival, Lady Rowena of Tremaine. It is Ligeia's life which is more living than that of Lady Rowena. All this is a matter the greatness of which has not been seen as yet.

Shakespeare foreshadowed the becoming sick of Morella, of Ligeia, and of the Lenore of Poe's "Raven." A use by Shakespeare of the word "sicklied" is an engaging anticipation of the weakening health of the incompletely loved lady of Poe's poems and stories. I quote from the most noted of all soliliquies, the soliloquy supposedly having everything (Hamlet III.1.84):

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.

Whatever native hue of resolution Roderick Usher had is sicklied over by the presence of Madeline, the dying sister of Roderick Usher. And whatever resolution Roderick Usher seemed to have is questioned by the return of the sister, seen as dead.

The meaning of Poe's dying women and dead women who come to life again, cannot be told sufficiently in this number of TRO. The stories of Poe prove rather well that it is good will which man wants most to suppress, not what the doyens of psychoanalysis have said.

And Poe, sad as he was, unfortunate as he was, ill-tempered as he seemed and was, comments richly on these lines of Shakespeare: the comment has not been valued enough:

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover'd country from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will. (III.1.78)

How Poe makes ethical fun and most valuable fun of these lines will be told, I believe, in coming numbers of TRO. Death and ethics have been inescapably caught within each other. And both death and ethics tell of the suppression of good will. The lifting of this suppression of good will is the greatest thing man as all men, collective man, has to hope for; also that man as uncertain individual has to hope for.

With love, 

Eli Siegel