Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shakespeare Wrote a Play

       One does not simply review Shakespeare any more than one walks into Mordor. It is not a land for common people or those with only high school diplomas. You must have at least a four year degree to attempt heroics of that nature.
       But some of the best stories are about ordinary people doing the things that should be left to kings and heroes.


           I am no Shakespeare scholar (yet). I have read Charles and Mary Lamb’s retellings of the stories, which left me with a working knowledge of the tales, and a slight sense of superiority. I have read A Midsummer Nights Dream, which, bewitching title aside, left me as confused and muddled as poor Helena when Lysander suddenly fell in love with her. It stripped away the superiority (OK, these stories aren't simple) but also rendered me a bit disgusted, what with all the philandering and ass's heads on idiots, and childish, vindictive fairies. I have also read Romeo and Juliet and part of Macbeth
Horrified and heartbroken...
I also watched a movie adaptation of Henry V, which with all its heroism and drama, left an impression on me of sick horror, stamped deep by the scene in which the French break through the back line (I can still see their horses jumping through that fence of stakes) and slaughter the unarmed messenger boys, leaving a field of dead and bleeding children. I still can't bring myself to read the play, because it wasn't the gory depiction that bothered me. It was the emotional carnage. I was still a child myself, and the one character close to my age was brutally and unfairly killed.

Because calling someone a fish is
much more insulting if it's a
deboshed fish...

Shakespeare, as well as being an esteemed and enthroned writer of plays, is a king of insults. I have a book full of insults and nasty names taken from Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a mug festooned with such cutting and hurtful remarks as “beetle headed, flap-eared knave.” (My favorite insult, however, does not come from Shakespeare, but from L.M. Montgomery’s book Emily of New Moon, in which the heroine’s father describes someone as having “the brains of a hen and the sensibilities of a cow.” If you’ve done anything with chickens or bovines, you understand just how expressive that saying is.)

Hamlet, played by Kenneth Branagh. "Whether 'tis nobler in
the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by
opposing, end them?"

I guess my question is this: Why does an English playwright from the fifteenth century become one of the most influential writers who ever set pen to paper? What is it about his words, his phrases, his stories, that has made them stick? And is it, in fact, the words, phrases, or stories? Is it the rhythm and power of the words he chose? Is it the multitude of sayings found in his plays that have now become so common, they could be considered cliches? Is it the dramatic and emotional stories that he told? 
William Shakespeare died almost 400 years ago. Why is he still in print?

        I don’t have the answer to those questions. It would be an interesting study to look at the structure and scaffolding that the national poet of England used. To examine the plots he used, the characters he invented, and the emotions he invoked. Until then, I’ll close with a particularly pithy observation of the Bard’s, one that highlights the fact that the more I study story, the more I realize that I don’t know, and that I will never have enough time to fully understand. 
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Isn't something like that in the Bible? Because Shakespeare, for one thing, got that right.