"Frailty, thy name is woman!" William Shakespeare's eponymous protagonist of 'Hamlet' says referring to his mother's betrayal of his father, now dead, in Act-1, Scene-2 of the play. In the latter years, the soliloquy was used in scores of contexts ranging from private relations to the slanted definitions of women by misogynists. There is another variation of the dialogue. Lots of other misogynists would like to define women as a symbol of cruelty. The observation became popular in the changed phrase, 'Cruelty, thy name is woman!' While saying this, they refer to the Greek and other mythologies which abound in scheming and heartless women. But the number of women filled with love for their near and dear ones and fellow humans is not less. They are also found in mythologies, and ancient and modern literatures.
In the modern-age fictions and short stories, there is no dearth of dedicated wives, loving mothers and elder sisters as portrayed by authors. In this context, one can refer to the possessive mother in D.H. Lawrence's novel 'Sons and Lovers'. Other such characters crowd the readers' mind. A most notable of them is Ursula, the matriarchal figure in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'. The Bangla novels also can take pride in their characters of mothers, sisters, fiancées --- and wives devoted to their husbands. But the presence of crooked women is also not negligible in Bangla literary prose works.
Many people never stop asking why only women are singled out as being 'villains' and sources of all evil-doings. Generally speaking, the male-dominated public perception is biased against the womenfolk. In fact, down the ages women have singularly been blemished with the follies of cruelty and treachery. In some cases women stood for sparks for war and bloodsheds. Although the trend later began dying down, its leftovers still haunt women in different societies. The question that arises rationally: Do not humans, both female and male, nurture the faculty of cruelty in their subconscious? Many philosophical schools define humans as an endless source of love, kindness and affection. The other groups find human species to be of completely opposite nature. According to them, man is born a 'sinner'. He is more inclined to engage in destruction than in creation.
Rational people will find these observations the products of extreme nature of thoughts. Being the 'most fascinating creature of nature', man is considered by sages and saints an amazing combination of good and evil. Perhaps it's mainly due to this human history is populated by wicked and cruel persons alike. They include villains like Vlad Tepes of the 15th century Romania, Ivan the Terrible of Russia, Attila the Hun, Adolf Hitler et al. A few historians also include the former Soviet Union's ruler Joseph Stalin in the list. In spite of his contributions to the making of Soviet Union a highly industrialised nation, Stalin also earned the infamy of a cruel statesman.
On a different plain, there are those who have carved out their places in different phases of history as consummately magnanimous and peaceful. They include Confucius, Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, and Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa, to name but a few. The latter two had dedicated their lives to the calling of nursing the suffering humanity. As viewed by many people, nature fills the earth with both good and evil persons. Amazingly, it is often seen the path of goodness and wisdom emerges victorious. Yet it appears to be a whim of nature when we see some phases of history being devastated by the cruel and wicked people. In these fraught times, the saner and the wise people, as well as the good Samaritans, are found being pushed to brink of losing hope in the positive aspects of survival. Finally, a few become incorrigibly pessimists. To the relief of great social thinkers and reformers, this phase doesn't last longer. Somewhere at some time, a few persons experience a catharsis of sorts by taking recourse to prophetic utterances; they do not hesitate to admitting to their agonies and disillusionments. One of them in the modern times is the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. Seeing the revolting dominance of the breaches of trust, suspicion and the growing penchant for engaging in conflicts, the poet observes: "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned …" Many other writers, painters and thinkers rued the time's headlong plunge into a fathomless abyss.
As has been seen in the past, during these periods the blood-thirsty monsters in human garb enter the global stage. Their greed for conquering as many territorial expanses as possible appears to be endless. In order to attain their objectives, they do not bother to stoop to the lowest scale of engagement in myriad types of oppression. Those are, invariably, accompanied by bouts of persecution and brutality.
In the medieval and modern history, the excesses of Attila the Hun or Adolf Hitler expose subconscious diabolical selves. In the 20th century modern world, it was the global war-related conflicts which had also sucked the general people into the apparently endless chasm of savageries. Visibly, there were no way out. Those are the periods when anarchy threatened to overpower the world. Here one would like to refer to the oft-quoted lines from W.B. Yeats, "Things fall apart, centre cannot hold…" But in course of time things have been found well in place, in the times following man-made crises like the two World Wars. It was because a saintly entity remains ever alive in almost every human being. It's this truth related to mankind that has saved him from being destructed wholesale. Thus mankind survived many an existential crisis.
The evil qualities of man have never been wary of getting overpowered by the time-honoured positive qualities of man. But the humankind doesn't feel safe. It tries its best to keep the agents of destruction and cruelty at bay. At times nature makes its intervention. Theology people refer to the Saviours, who teach the human beings how to save themselves. In the face of resistance put up by man, the forces of darkness beat a retreat. Yet they remain on the hunt for man's weaker points, such as disintegration of fraternity, mistrust and infightings, through which they can exert dominance on the bewildered humans. Doomsayers have started talking about the imminent Star Wars in which the infinite space will emerge as the battlefront, with weapons devised for extraterrestrial wars. In the distant future, the inter-galactic wars might keep the earthlings cringed as the spectre of man's annihilation will become more and more evident.
There are controversies as to which segments of man will finally emerge victorious: the evil-doers or those hooked on cruelty, or the virtuous people. When it comes to cruelty, every human is said to be nurturing one or another type of this trait in their subconscious. In the ancient times there were the blood-thirsty kings and rulers, with a passion for the macabre. They would release a hungry, ferocious tiger and a barehanded prisoner on the duel-ground of a spectator-filled amphitheatre. Most of the time, the fight would end with the warrior meeting a gory death. The last scene would show the growling tiger feasting on the meat and entrails of the dead man. Brutalities ranging from skinning of slaves for minor offences, men and women kept pilloried in public view, burning 'witches' alive or throwing boiling water on servants once were common practices in many societies. The pogroms and genocides, ethnic cleansing etc perpetrated by criminally disposed rulers are, however, abhorrent in today's civilised world.
Behavioural scientists say inflicting cruelty to fellow humans is a genetic affair. Others say it is inherent in humans; it's the coats of civilised norms and socio-cultural enlightenment which keep the beastly instincts subdued. It may prompt the dispassionate quarters to call man the perfect combination of Jekyll and Hyde. Hamlet is also in a dilemma. He observes although humans may appear to think and act 'nobly', they are essentially 'dust'.