On the radio today I heard it was soon to be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. So since my workload today was fairly light I decided to read of Shakespeare’s works in my collection. It was Cymbeline, King of Britain. It took about 3-4 hours and was on kindle.
In many ways it bore similarities to Shakespeare’s other works. It was primarily about royals and nobles. It involved things such as fights to the death or a woman passing herself off as a man. The story began somewhat up in the air (or at least it felt that way when reading it) and then began to make more and more sense until finally there was a highly satisfying resolution. The plot is quite complicated and I found it quite difficult to remember which character was which.
I can think of two distinct ways that Shakespeare was sublimely talented. First, as I’ve mentioned there is the macro-level story: he created terrific stories. Aside from this though, the first quality I noticed in Shakespeare was that he crafted these remarkably trenchant portrayals of real life. He’d bring to literature a reflection of life which seems neither hear nor there elsewhere in language, yet manages to convey something we recognise to be true perfectly. It makes the mind smile simply because we’re reading on a page something so indicative of real life, and yet so masterfully articulated (somehow with Shakespeare “crafted” seems a better word than “articulate”).
A third talent comes to mind: the ability to create vibrant characters and dialogue.
General praise aside though I did find this work slower and perhaps more boring than others such as Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar. Well, that’s why the latter are the famous ones for a reason. On the other hand though these are plays, intended to be acted out. I’m sure the text would be enlivened if it were to acted out with scenery and body language et cetera.
Part of what makes a classic a classic is that it is timelessly human. Classics may be rather more boring and challenging to the modern reader, however it is well to know that one is fathoming the deepest and most sublime depths of language when one attempts them. I personally believe in the power of re-reading classics (although admittedly I have rarely done this) and one is apt to get much greater traction, flow and understanding of the text. Cover as much ground as possible while you’re young I say, and when you’re more settled take the liberty of rereading the world’s finest with a mind equal to the challenge.
“I do note that grief and patience, rooted in him both, mingle their spurs together.”
“Hang there like a fruit, my soul, till the tree die!”
“Kneel not to me: the power that I have on you is, to spare you; the malice towards you to forgive you: live, and deal with others better.”
“A smiling with a sigh, as if the sigh was that it was, for not being such a smile; the smile mocking the sigh, that it would fly from so divine a temple, to commix with winds that sailors rail at.”