Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Rant about Wrongly Used Words, and What Shakespeare Says

About twenty years ago I wrote a book about Shakespeare and his biggest theatrical rival, a (mostly) comic playwright named Ben Jonson, seven years younger than William S., who was astoundingly popular in the London theater of the late 1590s and the first two decades of the seventeenth century. Jonson and Shakespeare knew each other well. Shakespeare's company staged some of Jonson's plays, and Shakespeare acted in at least one of them. They appear to have been friends, but had different temperaments. Jonson's humor was way more satirical and biting than Shakespeare's -- though Shakespeare has his moments -- and a comparison not only of the men's plays but of their lives suggests Jonson was a lot less tolerant of popular innovations in language. He mercilessly ridiculed fads, especially speech fads. Language affectation infuriated him, while Shakespeare poked more gentle fun at verbal follies, or deepened even his ridiculously word-mad characters by giving them a few lines of dialogue calculated to create pathos and generate audience sympathy. I wasn't even halfway through the writing of my book when I recognized that I was way more like Jonson than I was like Shakespeare. I really don't like it