Is Shakespeare Irrelevant...

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
7,175
In my comment #79 above there are a couple of things I should have said better.

"And films of the plays inadvertently support his notion" should be "And films of the plays inadvertently support this notion."

The thing about Caroline Spurgeon's book that I wanted to point out is that she finds, in various plays, that a way that Shakespeare unifies a given work is by using a pattern of imagery or concepts. You don't need a technical knowledge of poetry to pick up on this key feature of poetic craftsmanship. Check her index. Here are some examples:

Romeo and Juliet -- light and forms of light
Julius Caesar -- animals
Love's Labour's Lost -- war and weapons
The Tempest -- words relating to sound are common
Hamlet -- disease, an ulcer
All's Well That Ends Well -- astronomy, stars, astrology

A reader doesn't need to obsess about this, worry himself or herself about whether a given expression qualifies or not; the point is just to notice that Shakespeare does this kind of thing and that, whether we are conscious of it or not, it may help the play to come across to us as a unified poetic construction. Shakespeare often doesn't concern himself with the famous Aristotelian unities of time and place, but his works exhibit artistic unity in other ways, and that can be part of our pleasure in reading them.
 

Bagpuss

Shipwrecked & comatose - where's the mango juice?
Joined
Jan 9, 2017
Messages
201
Reading through the thread, a question emerged in my mind, which was this: If Shakespeare were alive now, what do you think he would write?

I know what I think, but then I wondered what everyone else might think. In terms of format it can be books, films, tv, comics, whatever. It's more the type of story that he might write if he were writing now.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
7,175
Bagpuss, it'll be interesting to see what others say. To me, personally, it's a meaningless question. Shakespeare is on the other side from us of the novel (basically) as well as more obviously technologically-enabled things like movies.

People often, today, think (I believe) far too much of Shakespeare as a popular entertainer. He was, but he also identified with a poetic culture more associated with an aristocratic world. He was a poet, and being a poet then was pretty different from what it is today, from what I have seen. He'd studied classic poets like Chaucer but not in a modern academic way, rather as the "ornaments" of English culture, and that meant a living connection with Classical literature (Greek and Roman). For him, those ancient poets that our footnotes mention were in a living tradition that we have let go over the past century and more.

So when people ask what Shakespeare would write today -- ? I guess we just have to think in terms of someone with a great poetic gift. But what would nurture that gift today? How would a poetic gift like his -- let's say bestowed at birth upon him by his fairy godmother -- be developed, shaped in a culture like ours? Would that even happen? Maybe he wouldn't write at all.

I mean -- again, just my 2c -- I think the question is like asking what Ray Bradbury would write if he had been into medieval Byzantium, or what Mark Twain would have written if he'd been born in Edo during the shogun period, or what Jane Austen would have written if she'd been born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2000.

Shakespeare's of perennial interest, but it's important to think about how different his culture was from ours. One of my favorite examples is to recall Othello to our minds. We can hardly think of the history of slavery in the English-speaking world when Shakespeare makes a Moor his protagonist. But Shakespeare is on the other side from us of modern racism. His audience would not see Othello as belonging to a "race" that endured an epoch of slavery. Shakespeare also would have had no experience of the Darwinian legacy of supposedly scientific racism.
 
Last edited:

KGeo777

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
311
Location
Canada
True, a Moor would have been more likely to have been associated with the slaver side of slavery! Europeans were getting kidnapped by Barbary Coast pirates around that time.

What's especially interesting about Othello is how modern it feels. He is approached by someone who admires his military campaigns, presumably someone who would have considered himself tolerant and worldly by inviting him into his home. But this allows his daughter (who we might assume led a sequestered life) to fall in love with him which enrages the father--he's not so worldly after all and doesn't see his part in creating the situation which he now laments. Furthermore, there's no shying away from the clash of cultures and identity--so Othello is manipulated into a murderous act---Shakespeare is not letting him off the hook either--his violent nature is also a culprit in the tragedy.

Excessive passion is a common cautionary theme in pre-20th century writing, from the Iliad to Moby Dick, as well as the threats in venturing beyond one's community.

"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow." Frankenstein
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,428
One of the reasons why Shakespeare is still so popular today (if not for his original work then for the modern adaptations) is that his work still resonates with us. This is either down to clever writing on his part or perhaps the human conditions of love, lust, hate, greed, envy, wisdom, foolishness etc have really not changed in the intervening half century; probably a combination of the two.
 

KGeo777

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
311
Location
Canada
"And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies."
Measure for Measure
 

Guttersnipe

logolept
Joined
Dec 28, 2019
Messages
326
Location
Limbo
I don't think he's irrelevant, but I don't think he's the best playwright there ever was (cf bardolatry). I wish I'd read other playwrights' works in school, at least for the sake of variety.
 

Don

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
186
Othello and Desdemona remind me of Romeo and Juliet; two pairs of star crossed lovers. Mercutio's star shines brightest in Romeo and Juliet (until Shakespeare kills him off early to make room for the dim love puppy). And Iago's psychopathy steals the show in Othello.

Yes, school children need to read Othello in order for them remain mindful of the Iagos out there in the non-fictional real world.
 

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
2,140
I don't think he's irrelevant, but I don't think he's the best playwright there ever was (cf bardolatry). I wish I'd read other playwrights' works in school, at least for the sake of variety.
To paraphrase Brian Clough: I wouldn't say he was the best playwright in the business. But he was in the top one.
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,428
If he truly was one person, who was able to write so many plays about so many different things; to be able to make convoluted plots that all come together perfectly by the end, who was able to come up with so many words and phrases for the very first time that are so successful that they are still used today. If he could do all that - one man - then he is the greatest author who ever lived. Personally I believe he was an amalgamation of several authors of the 16th and 17th centuries , and maybe one day someone will wonder who Harper Collins was, and how he managed to write so many books! But if he was one person then - genius doesn't even begin to describe him.
 
Top