The thirst for power has been a prominent theme of literary works since the ancient times. More often than not, critics would replace the term with a synonymous “lust for power” or, with a softer one, desire for power. In any case, thirst for power refers to people’s yearning to rule other people and dominate over the resources. Dante’s Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, brothers Eteocles and Polynices in The Thebaid are all affected by an insatiable thirst for power, which leads them to a tragic end.
Similarly, the thirst of power is what unites the following drama works: Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Dario Fo’s satirical play explores the theme of power through the lens of a Maniac or a Fool, who takes on the roles of a magistrate and other figures, aiming to “investigate” the mystery of one anarchist’s suicide. The police and the judge are shown I mocking way as representatives of the state power who want to retain power at any cost, even through cooperation with neo-Fascist groups and deaths. In his turn, a Chinese novelist Mo Yan, explores the theme of power through his story of three generations as they struggled in support for different groups as a part of struggle for power, as well as through intricate family relationship which also depended on power. Shakespeare’s Hamlet examines the theme of power through the downfall of Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather. THESIS STATEMENT: Thirst for power leads to destruction in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Red Sorghum, and Hamlet, and in all three plays this destruction is death.
Thirst for power leads to destruction in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. It is the state agencies and their allies neo-Fascist groups that succeed in retaining power at the expense of other people’s deaths. Be it a murder disguised as an accidental death or a mass murder in a terrorist attack, thirst for power is the driving force. The following excerpts from the novel’s text demonstrate how strong the thirst for power is in politicians and government officials and how it drives them to committing crime: The Journalist, who in fact is a representative of Italian parliamentary socialism, recognizes that “a scandal of that scale would actually do the credit to the police” and “when there aren’t scandals, they need to be invented because it is a good way of maintaining power and defusing people’s anger”; this thought is in agreement with the idea of The Maniac about the political benefit of “a nice juicy scandal.” Moreover, the Superintendent’s view is the same: “That would be like saying that scandal is the fertilizer of the social democracy!” (Fo, Accidental Death of an Anarchist)
In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, however, the leading scandal is the allegedly accidental death of a suspect – a young leftist railway worker accused of arranging a terrorist bomb attack. As the man “falls” out of the window, scandal takes place, where leftist newspapers publish materials accusing the police and the neo-Fascists of organizing a cover-up. Yet, by the end of the play, the flames of scandal get extinguished by the claims of “justice” and the power remains in the hands of the police and the state. The quotations above are important since they show the perverted psychology of the state agents who at all costs strive to retain the power, even if it is about cynical denials of the murder and no less cynical cooperation with the right-wing organizations. The idea of the corrupted state, which uses dirty methods to satiate the thirst for power, can also be found in critical sources on Fo’s play. Specifically, Carroll Dell’Amico explains that Fo represented dishonesty of the police and the state through The Maniac’s recital of the laws, as he minces words, manipulates language, and squabbles over sentences meaning. She also explains that Fo’s idea behind such representation was the historical reality: the police arrested the leftist leaders charging them with terrorist acts while, in reality, they knew that in most cases the neo-Fascists organized the crimes (Dell’Amico par. 10).
Unlike purely political dimension of the thirst for power in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the one in Red Sorghum is not only about political domination, but also about personal empowerment through destruction. On the one hand, Mo Yan’s exploration of the power theme is similar: the playwright describes how different political groups were fighting for power in China prior to the final establishment of Mao Zedong’s rule and the ultimate victory of Communist Party and how the thirst for power destroyed the fighters on each side. On the other hand, his representation of the destruction brought by power has another dimension. This is the thirst for power over the woman and her body. The narrator in Mo Yan’s play, describes how his father was conceived: his grandfather Yu Zhan’ao kills his grandmother’s kidnapper, abducts her himself, and rapes her in the field of red sorghum. Further, to keep control over the woman and her body, he kills her legal husband and his father, the grandmother’s father-in-law, wealthy distillery owners. To illustrate, the symbol of destruction brought by revolutionary thirst of power is the replacement of the narrator’s family “glorious talisman”, the red sorghum, with some green hybrid and the mention that the red one “has been drowned in a raging flood of revolution and no longer exists.” As for how thirst for power over Grandma led Yu Znan’ao on the way of destruction, the following quote illustrates this: “The act of grasping Grandma’s foot triggered a powerful drive in Yu Zhan’ao to forge a new life for himself, and constituted the turning point in his life (…)” (Yan 99). These quotes show how the thirst for political power leads people to death and eventual oblivion and how the man’s thirst for power over the woman leads him to becoming a force of destruction, a murderer and a rapist. The thought about the ironical representation of the grandfather as a rapist and a destructive can also be found in Tonglin Lu’s interpretation of the play (Lu 57).
Similarly to the two works discussed above, thirst for power as a destructive force was used by Shakespeare in his representation of Claudius, a character in Hamlet. Driven by a strong craving for political domination, Claudius is heading for his own downfall as he murders his brother and plots against his stepson. Here are his words about the motives of the murder: “Of those effects for which I did the murder:/ My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.” (Shakespeare, Act III, Scene 3). This quote shows the intentions of Claudius behind his murder of Hamlet’s father. It also shows the double nature of his intention: he, like Granddad in Red Sorghum wanted to possess the woman, Gertrude. To support this statement, Amy Berger observes that once Claudius becomes a king, he establishes himself not only as an able king, but also as a loving husband (Berger 24).
Overall, the plays discussed in this paper explored the theme of the thirst for power as a destructive force leading to death. At the same time, the two plays – Red Sorghum and Hamlet – focused not just on the theme of political power, but also on theme of sexual power over a woman. Besides, another meaning of destruction explored in Red Sorghum is that of sexual abuse.