Monday, April 23, 2007

Will the Thrill

San Francisco Giants fans dubbed Will Clark with the moniker "Will the Thrill." But as thunder rolls and a spring rain cascades, I salute a with a different will, Will (The Thrill) Shakespeare, on his birthday, or at least what passes for it (we can only deduce his birthday is April 23, because he was baptized April 26, customarily three days after birth; curiously, he also died on April 23).

The unfortunate thing about The Bard is that I can tell you as a former English teacher we mostly ruin him. "We murder to dissect," to quote Wordsworth. In other words, we often kill all the fun by dissecting his works for "meaning" and "interpretation." And we forget his plays were for seeing, not reading. And it wasn't high-brow stuff; more like professional wrestling than, say, educational TV. (This comes out nicely in the movie "Shakespeare in Love.")

In junior high (they call it middle school now), we had to memorize soliloquies of Shakespeare, from "Hamlet" or "Julius Caesar" or "Romeo and Juliet," among others. It was arduous but rewarding, even if we hardly had a clue as to what we were memorizing. (Do kids memorize anything anymore? he asks like an old curmudgeon.)

Of course, as with the Bible, out of context much of Shakespeare seems startlingly rude and violent and impolitic (like life). A guy named Thomas Bowdler tried to clean up Shakespeare and the word Bowdlerize (Bowdlerise, for Brits) survives. Did he venture the same effort on the Bible? (Apparently not, but he did so for The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.) (Bowdler changed "Out, damned spot!" to "Out, crimson spot!" Imagine him going to town on some contemporary hip-hop lyrics; examples invited, Mr. Russell Simmons; see, The Laughorist is as up-to-date as a headline only hours old!.)

Shakespeare came alive for me as an English major in college. We did skits of various portions of "Twelfth Night." We played with it, we goofed around, we had a ball.

Just as Will did with the language.

"Unkennelled" [referred to in a post last week] was just one of thousands upon thousands of lustrous language gems Shakespeare played with. Ah, but I just made the common fatal error, elevating him to a dusty place on the bookshelf and forgetting all about "play."

So, all you readers, go commit some foreplay and chalk it up to Will the Thrill.

"Ripeness is all" --

now there's a juicy start, from "King Lear," thanks to Mr. S.

p.s. Shakespeare is of course often quoted out of context. My favorite out-of-context quote is

"To thine own self be true"

which is said in "Hamlet" by Polonius. But people forget he's a supercilious blowhard referencing what was surely a cliche even in Shakespeare's time.


JR's Thumbprints said...

My favorite Shakespeare play is "Measure for Measure." Power does change purpose.

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

I'm not sure, but "Hamlet" may be my favorite. And your same crisp theme statement can apply to "Julius Caesar" -- or is vice versa in that play?

monicker said...

Boy, you said it about the over-dissection. I hated Shakespeare for ages - until I was old enough to overcome the absolute torture every English teacher I had made of lessons on The Bard. It was a long time before I could even look at the cover of Hamlet without involuntarily grimacing.

azgoddess said...

i have two that tie for favs:

romeo and juliet
midsummer night's dream

and did you know that back in the day -- all of the actors were men -- as women were not allowed to act?

Natalie said...

I love Hamlet so much. I often thought the same thing about all the various Poloniousisms that people thought were so insightful. The guy was a dullard.

Glamourpuss said...

Contemporary audience went to hear the play, not see it - a pedantic, if important distinction, as it primes us to the primacy of language.

That said, Will Shakespeare was a dirty bugger - he knew his audience; the British penchant for toilet humour. 'Come, let us speak of country matters' says Prince H to Ophelia, his head in her lap. Naughty.