Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Ode to the Bard

So if I wasn't aware of my nerdiness before I was made completely aware of it the other day at work. I was just having a nice little chat with my co-worker and buddy, Adam, when he said something random and offhand about Shakespeare. As in William Shakespeare. The Bard. The man we practically worship as English majors.

I had no idea how heated I would get about someone saying something negative about Shakespeare (Note: I don't recall what Adam said but I do remember it being something about him not being very useful or something like that).

Just picture this with me for a second. Adam was reading a children's book when he made his remark. I reached over and shut the book and said "William Shakespeare changed the face of English literature. He is responsible for what literature is today." Ok so maybe that was an exaggeration, but I'm not far off the mark. C'mon, the guy was a genius. And his work has lasted for centuries.

All right, and I'm reading a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor. This book is fantastic. I've been devouring it because it has some amazing stuff in it. He has a whole section dedicated to Shakespeare. In it, he says that, basically, if it's an allusion, it is alluding to either the Bible or to Shakespeare. No other writer, or playwright for that matter, can claim that. None.

This seems like a silly argument to get into. You're probably thinking "Yeah, Jay, we all know that Shakespeare was a brilliant man."

Thomas C. Foster, the author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor says that sometimes we quote Shakespeare without even knowing it. That is how ingrained into our culture his work has become.

I even brought up with Adam how, despite the sometimes archaic language, Shakespeare's plays talk about issues we deal with in our modern day. Shakespeare understood the human psyche in ways that belies his time.

A big part of our argument was about Romeo and Juliet. Foster talks about irony in his book and it struck me that perhaps the play that we think is about tragic love is not really about tragic love. What if it was meant to show an ironic and jaded look at love? The ill-fated lovers do not, in fact, overcome all. The feud between their families, in the end, wins and, in turn, destroys two lives. True, they had a strong love. They died for each other. I mean...come on...But just think about it for a second. What if Shakespeare was pointing out the foibles of love? It seems that over the years we have twisted Shakespeare's play to be something more like a fairy tale than what it really, potentially, could be: a story about love being unable to conquer all.

On that note...

I hate that when we think of Shakespeare we automatically think of Romeo and Juliet. That is, by far, one of his lesser plays. Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, King Lear... I could go on and on and on.

But I will spare you.

For now.

I was considering reading all of his plays and then blogging about them. We'll see how ambitious I get.

I know what you're thinking. Get a life.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's refreshing to read someone else's take on different issues. This one is great, Jay! Admittedly I do not love all of Shakespear's plays--nor have read many--(my personal fav is Taming of the Shrew), but I think you're right. We definitely cannot discount what he did for literature.