Shakespearean Tragedies and Children of the War

“I realized that my brother was shot in the head and neck. I witnessed how his soul left his body”UN News

The on-going Syrian civil war has put a huge strain on the children of the country. Many children are being forced to work as child soldiers while others do intensive labor to support their families. The children are often targeted and injured as a result of cross-firing and active bombing. Having been surrounded by violence and bloodshed their whole life, these children have witnessed constant destruction. The ruins and blood have been normalized and integrated within their lived experience. This has not only shattered their dreams of a fulfilling life but also created a condition of constant trauma and misery.

Misery represents a vision of the flawed life. In this article, I attempt to use Shakespeare’s idea of the Tragic Flaw to analyze the lives of Syrian children who are unfairly disadvantaged due to war. In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth’s fate is entangled with his ultimate destruction (in this case his death). The reason attributed to the death is a tragic flaw. In the play, Shakespeare constructs an ambiance that makes the viewer pity his death. Destruction becomes an inevitable component in his plays due to the inherent tragedy of a character’s storyline. It is accompanied by a shift in the audience’s perceptions towards the characters, the ultimate destruction becomes a source of pity rather than a site of injustice. This not only serves as a means of legitimizing their destruction, but also makes it an inevitable component in the character’s life.

Global perception towards Syrian children seems to follow a similar conception. Syrian children are perceived to have a tragedy attached to their life, which leads to conditions where children are physically and mentally abused. The flaw, in this case, being caught up in a conflict zone changes the global perception towards them. The tragic conditions of the children are seen as inevitable. This inevitability creates a situation of ignored responsibility on the part of the global actors in resolving the issue. The effort towards improving their situation is minimalized and they are fetishized as pity cases. This is evident in the refugee policies around Syrian children. Most refugee children in Lebanon live in poverty and lack basic necessities. Beyond their grave economic situation, the children have experienced extreme stigmatization and ostracization within society. The conditions of Syrian children in host countries highlight a precarious situation;  refugees are not hated, but rather they are pitied. Their identity as ‘children from conflict zones’ is presented as a tragic flaw that legitimizes their inhumane treatment by the host countries. The comparisons between Macbeth and the condition of Syrian children are visible in how they are perceived internationally. The substandard treatment along with xenophobia creates a new identity for these children, where their existence is entangled with destruction. Globally, Syrian children are identified as individuals headed towards destruction due to the possession of flaws. Their treatment is rooted in a feeling of helplessness. The flaw is represented as something that is not fixable, denying them a hopeful life and rendering any help useless. The helpless attitude towards children is accentuated and exemplified in profound ways, including a failure to provide basic amenities like education, sanitization, and healthcare.

Throughout his play “Macbeth,” Shakespeare conveniently convinces the audience that the tragic flaw determines the fate of his protagonist. Therefore, Macbeth’s death and destruction becomes predictable. The tragic flaw represented in Shakespeare’s play resonates with how Syrian children are perceived within society. They are often portrayed as merely charitable or lost causes. Being born in the conflict zone becomes a tragic flaw where death is attached to their identity. This creates a situation of minimal response from the global actors to address the needs of Syrian refugees. Internationally, host countries feel able to withdraw their responsibility in providing these children a better life.  

Aarushi Sharma
International Correspondent, MENA Desk