Flowery Shakespeare

John Sutherland on Shakespeare stuff. Harold Bloom, for instance. I like early Bloom, but I really hated his Shakespeare book.

…the Falstaffian Harold Bloom with Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998). Before the Bard, Bloom argues, we were only semi-human. We didn’t know how to express those feelings that separate us from the brutes (so much for Dante and Chaucer).

Not to mention Homer, Euripides, Seneca, Montaigne, and quite a few other people. But one can go too far in the deflationary direction too.

Stanley Wells is the acknowledged dean of the reviser school….[Shxpr] was a “working man of the theatre” – arguably (but not in every respect) superior to Dekker, Middleton, Jonson et al, and no different in kind…If you brought Stanley Wells’ Shakespeare to the present in H.G. Wells’ time machine and asked him “what are you doing, Will?” he would never have said “inventing the human, dear fellow”. He would have said: “turning an honest penny. And, by the way, can I interest you in buying a few tons of malt which I’ve just bought on spec?”

He wouldn’t have said either (as Sutherland is pointing out). The inventing the human thing is very silly, but so is the turning an honest penny thing. If he had been merely turning an honest penny and nothing more, there are thousands of lines he would have written quite differently. The plays are riddled with vocabulary, images, thoughts, effects, speeches, fireworks, that he didn’t need just to get bums on seats or feet in the pit. They are full and overflowing with excess. It is quite possible that he could have made even more money if he had written more simply: then he probably could have written more plays. He wouldn’t have written ‘Troilus and Cressida’ at all; ‘Hamlet’ would have been half the length; ‘Lear’ would have had the happy ending Nahum Tate gave it; the Sonnets wouldn’t exist; and so on. Yes he liked making money, but that’s not all he liked.

9 Responses to “Flowery Shakespeare”