J. R. R. Tolkien didn't really dislike Shakespeare. I don't think he could have. As an Englishman educated in the first decades of the twentieth century, Tolkien ingested Shakespeare along with his ABCs, and could no more have uprooted "Shakespeare" from his thought than he could have discarded the alphabet. All English writers of his generation, as of many earlier and most later ones, thought and wrote with Shakespeare's language as a significant influence. For Tolkien, disliking Shakespeare would have been like disliking English -- not the English, which some English writers have found easy to do, but English -- and we know Tolkien loved English. He was, for God's sake, a philologist.
But Tolkien had a beef with Shakespeare. Two, to be exact.
First, he was annoyed -- indeed, angry -- with what he saw as the damage done by Shakespeare to the English idea of Elves. Elves, Tolkien said, was "a word in
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The BBC is launching a new series about the Gunpowder Plot which will reach American TVs in due time. Despite being produced in the home country, and however good the acting, the show is likely to be lamentably historically inaccurate, as are most of these dramas (e.g., the preposterously punked-out Elizabethan theater world as represented in the recent series Will). One of the major female characters, a reverent Catholic spinster, will be played by Liv Tyler. This is not a good sign.
All the more reason -- since you will watch it -- to prepare yourself, before viewing, with a fictional account of the plot that is grounded in research and historically likely -- and, for Shakespeare lovers, one that theorizes his plays' influence on the Plot in a way that is not merely wish-fulfilling (Shakespeare as fellow conspirator), but undoubtedly true. Yes, of course I'm talking about my own 2016 book, Gunpowder Percy, whose prime reading date has once more come round! But don't take my word on the book. Here are what some authors and reviewers have said:
". . . a thrilling story, vividly and skillfully told." -- James Shapiro, author of
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
You don't have to be a news junkie like me to know that Trump recently embarrassed himself in what he surely meant to be a consoling phone call to the widow of one of the four Green Beret soldiers recently slain in Niger. To put the best face (for Trump) on what happened: having been challenged by reporters on why he had not yet publicly acknowledged these soldiers' sacrifices or contacted their families to express sympathy, Trump claimed that he had written letters which hadn't yet been
Sunday, October 1, 2017
1. Shakespeare wrote it and it's really funny.
2. The Biblical injunction "Wives, submit to your husbands" is not an archaism for a significant minority. (This is news to most academics.)
3. The play presents an intriguing study of how behavior can be altered through a program of targeted rewards and consequences.
The third reason is most interesting to me because it's the most useful. That is, if we put to the side the issue of the ethics of "taming" a woman, the play can afford us some insight into ways to effect change in another person's behavior without drugging that person. Behavioral psychology, whether focused on spouses, children,
Friday, September 1, 2017
Sadly, Eggers fails to develop this premise into a plot with the slightest degree of nuance, complexity, or believability, partly by refusing to let any character raise the argument on behalf of privacy that will occur to most readers. No one in the book objects that a loss of privacy is also a loss of intimacy, since while privacy hides shame, it also allows specialness. (Even the young woman's ex-boyfriend, who is adamantly opposed to the intrusive "Circle," does not hit on this objection.) It also makes no sense that none of the Circle's thousands of young-genius employees questions the
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
To counter the barrage of absurd Tweets coming from various players on the U.S. scene, here are some eloquent and appropriate ones for current occasions. As usual, they come from the man who said everything best.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Thursday, June 1, 2017
A friend who works in Washington tells me the only way people can understand current political craziness is to read Shakespeare. I know what she means. I think Shakespeare is connected to everything and vice versa. So many other folks also think this that Shakespearish interpretations of Trump have been a feature of news and commentary since well before the election. The New York Public Theater is staging a "Trump" Julius Caesar, and just the other day a Washington Post article compared the U.S. president to the mad and erratic King Lear. It's easy to understand the association. Like Lear, Trump is childishly sensitive to insult and makes rash decisions based on his sense of personal injury. And the actions of a president, which have momentous implications for an entire people, naturally prompt thoughts of tragedy, which since its origins in Aeschylus has represented mistakes in high places.
But at the same time I'm offended by these comparisons, not on Trump's behalf, but on behalf of King Lear, Richard III, and Macbeth. I consider these characters friends. The fact is, Trump is way too dumb to be a credible real-world analogue for any of them. Despite their huge flaws, Shakespeare's heroes are highly intelligent,
Monday, May 1, 2017
They got them. Within days, local citizens coordinating charitable efforts were wading through piles of donated ski jackets, snowsuits, hats, mittens, and gloves of all sizes, and looking for a large central warehouse in which to store the extras. Space was soon provided by a mosque near Western Michigan University's campus, where Kalamazooans also brought household items, and a regular Saturday morning
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Is it not also the case that Macbeth's interrogation of the equivocal Witches both registers and promulgates England's growing rejection of interpretive license in the perusal of sacred texts?
I don't know. Whatever.
(Audible breath intake among listeners, followed by a buzz of whispers.)
Questioner (regrouping, after a pause):
What I mean is, given that in the early years of King James's reign, tropes suggestive of Jesuitical doublespeak in the popular theater were at once superficially orthodox yet indirectly subversive, did no central ambiguity result from the early-modern ethos that stressed any individual's power to interpret texts? I mean, an ambiguity which undercut all claims to stable meaning?
You're asking me?
Yes, what I mean is, wasn't Macbeth implicated in this cultural trend toward the destabilization of language-systems as generators of reliable truth claims?
Couldn't tell you.
At this point the meeting broke up in confusion. The greater number of attendees, clearly shaken by the breakdown of acceptable conference discourse, solaced themselves with hotel-issue coffee outside the ballroom. Within minutes, rapid exchanges of polysyllabic shibboleths such as "hermeneutical circle," "cultural imaginary," "monolithic hegemony," and "inescapable binary" had restored color to cheeks, and good humor reigned once more.
Yet the effects of the event still reverberated among a large proportion of younger scholars, some of whom were applying for academic jobs at the conference. One Ph.D. student, in answer to an interviewer's question regarding her dissertation's implications for the "presentist deconstruction of late-Victorian Bradleyism in Shakespeare studies," was heard to reply, "Sir, I have no idea. I was writing about something else."
Reports differ on whether she was abruptly dismissed or offered the job on the spot.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
When I tell them so, I take care not to criticize the book, movie, play, Youtube short, or TV commercial in question. Each might be good, bad, mediocre, or excellent in its own right. I like the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate and the film 10 Things I Hate About You and Disney's The Lion King. Having myself written two Shakespeare-based novels, to roll my eyes at such adaptations would be hypocritical. In fact, I can add some celebrated titles to the conversation: Huxley's Brave New World, Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter, and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. There are hundreds of adaptations out
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
- Spanish Civil War For Losers. Glad I Didn't Go.
- Can't Decide Whether Poetry Changes Anything or Not
- Seven Tips for Staying Gay and Sane in Oxford c. 1955
and so on.
Now, it occurs to me that if we can sign up to receive updates from Auden, even more enthralling possibilities exist. As far as I know, William Shakespeare has at