William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
Here’s the problem with Shakespeare – he is so important to me that in the last 12 months I have ruined 2 parties and 1 Christmas defending his name.
That’s right – somehow the Shakespeare advocate has been the bad guy. ‘Outrageous!’ I hear you cry. You are right!
Let’s see if I can figure out where I’ve been going wrong.
Well Meaning Guest; Peter, I hear you like Shakespeare?
Peter; Oh I really do, don’t you?
Well Meaning Guest; I can’t say I’ve read much and it’s a little difficult to understand. I like reading to be easy and allow me to escape for a little while.’
Peter; You fucking…..
(20 minutes have gone by and Peter is only half way through his rant – during which he has explained to this idiot why they HAVE to love Shakespeare and stop spending their life in front of the TV watching X-factor. Peter has used lots of those words that really pretentious arseholes use including ‘derivative’ and ‘archetypal’ – oh and a host of swear words.)
I’ve lived this scene many times and think I have figured out the subtle way that I’m not converting people.
Instead of explaining to someone why they are wrong for not loving him I should instead just tell them why he matters to me....calmly!
I genuinely believe that the complete works of Shakespeare is the closest answer we have to the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ I think, if there is a soul, then Shakespeare has found a way to bare his and in doing so looked straight into mine.
Yes, he has influenced culture, society and language beyond anything that we can measure. In fact, during my rants (lets call them lectures) I have been known to show how pretty much any work that you can think of since 1600 is just a copy of something that Shakespeare did. (This is the part when I use those terrible words ‘derivative’ and ‘archetypal’)
He has been the subject of numerous lifetimes worth of scrutiny and research with very intelligent, technically minded people explaining his enduring success.
But... I honestly don’t care about the phonological devices he uses or that iambic pentameter is the rhythm of his dialogue. I just care that when I first met Becky (my wife) we acted like Benedict and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), or when I have dark thoughts and questions about myself I drift into a Hamlet style soliloquy, not to mention parallels with Othello's jealousy, Mark Antony's pride and Romeo's longing amongst others. Shakespeare seems to have written explicitly for any situation in which I find myself – humans, it appears haven’t changed much in 500 years.
Some detractors have said to me that ‘Shakespeare couldn’t have written this stuff, he was just a glove maker's son who had never been anywhere.’ Can you imagine being someone who would waste oxygen as flippantly as that? Sadly those people really exist!! Seriously though, I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t Shakespeare who had written this stuff. All that matters to me is that this stuff exists and, to my mind, shows the absolute pinnacle of humanity in all of its poetic beauty, ugliness, paradox and uncertainty.
I'd like to steal a few words that Alexander Pope wrote for Sir Isaac Newton which may very well have been written for Shakespeare;
Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!
William Shakespeare matters to me. I hope he matters to you.