Arresting Images

The grammar school where Shakespeare learned how to say what he said

Why do I love reading Shakespeare? Why is it mandatory to read Shakespeare in most North American schools? Why has the rest of the world taken to translating Shakespeare?

I’m going to give you my answer, Reader, and will continue referring back to it through the course of this blog.

My answer: the mind-blowing interplay between what he writes about and how he writes about it.

What he writes about:

–       passion

–       love

–       jealousy

–       sex

–       friendships

–       ambition

–       betrayal

–       death

–       grief

…and so forth. These are issues that we all grapple with at some point in our lives. Shakespeare writes about issues we know, so we can sympathize with his characters and think, ‘How would I deal with this issue if it happened to me?’ and go further to empathize by comparing how we have dealt with these issues in our own pasts. The enjoyment we get out of this subject matter, therefore, is entirely narcissistic, and why not? Shakespeare writes about issues we can relate to, which should ideally make reading his work less scary to take on. He’s not reinventing the wheel. We’ve seen the wheel, driven on that wheel, gotten into the same crashes as his wheels.

What makes reading Shakespeare so scary? His wheel is going in the same direction as ours, but is constructed quite differently. It’s like driving a car in standard: you can’t imagine learning how to do it and doing it without crashing, but once you get a hang of it, you realize that driving standard brings a new grace to driving. You have a whole new control of the vehicle and, from then on, assess the roads around you thinking ‘I can tackle this road so much better in standard!’

Lost? Let me bring you back to my point, Reader. Shakespeare writes about every day issues in the most arresting way. In Shakespeare’s time, students went to school to learn Latin language and Latin literature – English literature as a genre had barely sprung its roots, so they found their amusement and mental exercises in translating these works from Latin to English and back again, each time trying to use the most arresting images and turns of phrase in the English language in order to do the original texts justice. Many people like to point out that Shakespeare was not university educated, but the fact of the matter is that he was doing these challenging exercises in elementary school. Therefore, just as in evaluating the roads as a newly-taught standard driver assessing the roads in terms of gears and clutches, Shakespeare saw the images in the world around him and chose not the easiest way to say something, but the way that would provide you with the most arresting image in your head. The image so true to life, so true to the imagination, that it brought both Queens and prostitutes, lawyers and beggars, out to see his plays.

So, Reader, if my explanation still lives you in the dark, that’s okay, because the only way you can understand what I mean is by reading these passages. As much as I love seeing Shakespeare performed dramatically, the reason why I remain a steadfast reader of the Bard is because the way he writes stops me in my tracks every time. You cannot press pause on a play (although you can with a film!), and Shakespeare deserves that time to stop and just contemplate these most amazing ways he says what he says.

Ideally, I’d like to post one of these arresting images a week, and walk you through exactly how Shakespeare takes an ordinary theme and puts it into words in such an extraordinary manner that for a moment, your mind is blown. In addition to that, I will also be posting about critics and books that have illuminated the way I see Shakespeare, along with productions, and specific actors who, through their performances, bring Shakespeare’s texts to light in ways that I had no personally conceived. The beauty of Shakespeare scholarship being such a large body of scholarship is that, while reading is private, this study is collaborative. So please feel free to post your comments, questions, objections, and so forth, and we can blaze an amazing Shakespearean discourse right here in the blogosphere!

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5 Comments

Filed under Arresting Images, Manifesto

5 responses to “Arresting Images

  1. Rach

    love it! can’t wait!!

  2. Pingback: On being a good reader « A bibliophile's h(e)aven

  3. Pingback: Life is too short to watch bad Shakespeare « Why I love Shakespeare

  4. Pingback: Procrastinating with Shakespeare! « Why I love Shakespeare

  5. Pingback: Arresting Images in Measure for Measure | The Bardolator

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