Posts tagged shakespeare
Posts tagged shakespeare
Alyssa Rosenberg argues on Slate that Romeo and Juliet “is full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love.” She’s quite right … because that’s the point of the play. Reading the text, instead of assuming it represents the genre “perfect love that is tragically thwarted,” makes it clear that other characters and arguably Shakespeare himself see Romeo and Juliet’s love as gravely flawed.
There are many ways of being original. Inventing a plot from scratch is only one of them and never held much appeal for Shakespeare. Aside from the soliloquies, much of Shakespeare’s creativity went into the play’s verbal texture. In writing Hamlet, Shakespeare found himself using and inventing more words than he had ever done before. His vocabulary, even when compared to those of other great dramatists, was already exceptional. The roughly four thousand lines in the play ended up requiring nearly the same number of different words … According to Alfred Hart, who painstakingly counted when and how Shakespeare introduced each word into his work, Shakespeare introduced around 600 words in Hamlet that he had never used before, two-thirds of which he would never use again… . Hamlet, then, didn’t sound like anything playgoers had ever heard before and must at times have been taxing to follow, for by Hart’s count there are 170 words or phrases that Shakespeare coined or employed in new ways while writing the play.
It isn’t just the words he chose but how he used them that make the language of Hamlet so challenging. Shakespeare clearly wanted audiences to work hard, and one of the ways made them do so was by employing an odd verbal trick called hendiadys… .(286-87)
James Shapiro. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599. New York: Harper, 2005.
Recently I went to a commencement ceremony at the Greenhouse, a co-op of sorts for Christian homeschoolers here in Wheaton. Kids go to school there one day a week, and it provides a kind of a spine for their homeschooling curriculum. The commencement service consisted largely of children reciting things that they had memorized. For the younger children it might be a Bible verse; for the older children it got more and more ambitious, with the 14-year-olds reciting lengthy passages from Shakespeare. Someone did Richard II’s speech about weeping over the death of kings. Somebody did Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strain’d.” Then there was a student who did one of Queen Elizabeth’s speeches, and another one who did John Donne’s “Meditation 17”: “No man is an island, entire of itself.” And at the end of it I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever spent a more delightful hour at an official educational ceremony. By and large, the kids had internalized these wonderful words, and they were saying them with some conviction and understanding.
Those kids have been taught that to read is not just to scan their eyes across the page but to know it by heart, and then to speak it for others. (George Steiner, the literary scholar, is really good on that phrase, “to know something by heart,” which means more than being able to recite a text word-for-word.) That’s really reading. That’s the whole trajectory of the reading experience—taking the words in, knowing them by heart, and then bringing them forth again. It’s really beautiful to see.
The association of this symbolism with the death and revival of human beings is more elusive, but still perceptible. The fact that the heroine often brings about the comic resolution by disguising herself as a boy is familiar enough. In the Hero of Much Ado About Nothing and the Helena of All’s Well That Ends Well, this theme of the withdrawl and return of the heroine comes as close to a death and revival as Elizabethan conventions will allow. The Thaisa of Pericles and the Fidele of Cymbeline are beginning to crack the conventions, and with the disappearance and revival of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, who actually returns once as a ghost in a dream, the original nature-myth of Demeter and Prosperine is openly established. The fact that the dying and reviving character is usually female strengthens the feeling that there is something maternal about the green world, in which the new order of the cosmic resolution is nourished and brought to birth. However, a similar theme which is very like the rejuvenation of the senex so frequent in Aristophanes occurs in the folklore motif of the healing of the impotent king on which All’s Well That Ends Well is based, and this theme is probably involved in the symbolism of Prospero.
Northrup Frye, “The Argument of Comedy” from Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945-2000. Russ McDonald, ed.