I've finally figured out the reason why Shakespeare has frightened me so much. It's not the erudite vocabulary (though the words are certainly flowery and alluring), and it's not the convoluted plots that wander from here to there, through winding narrative backroads that loop in on one another (though they certainly do that, too).
No, the scary thing about Shakespeare is this: It's all conversations.
That's right -- it's the dialogue that does me in. (Even the all to0 frequent monologues are, in fact, dialogues, with the audience as co-conspirators.) And considering that ALL of Shakespeare's plays, (and all plays in general, for that matter) are dialogue, that means I either conquer my fears or head on over to the Judy Blume section of the library for once and for all.
Of course, I'm in a wounded state. I just made it through (barely) THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, mostly because a) I realized I hadn't tackled old Willie in a long, long, time and b)I saw a copy of the DVD of the new MERCHANT OF VENICE featuring Al Pacino as Shylock in the video store, and I want to see it, I do, but I also want to underSTAND it when I watch it.
Having finished the play, I can attest that I comprehended, tops, twenty, twenty-five percent of what went down. (It was only while reading the critical notes at the back of the text that I realized: Oh. This was a comedy. Somehow the jokes went RIGHT over my head.)
It's the dialogue, see.
In real life, we talk to communicate. As do Shakespeare's characters, of course, but they communicate in verse and in riddle, in poems and in parallelograms, it seems like, and I'll be damned if I can ultimately figure out what they're saying, to themselves or each other. It's poetry, is what it is, rich and full and evocative. It's not the way that people have ever spoken to each other in the history of the world, or at least in the history of EVERYBODY LOVES RAMOND. (Never seen it, heard it's good, r.i.p.)
But I guess that's the point. We go to the theatre, we go to the movies, for something more-than-life. We go to the theatre to see language elevated, to see life elevated.
Shakespeare's plays provide that. They hint at what life could be and might have been like, in a denser time.
They should be watched, I think, to be fully comprehended; they were meant to be performed, after all, not read. Right now Denzel Washington is playing Brutus in JULIUS CEASAR, and man oh man would that be a sight to see. (Included in the cast is Canadian Shakespearan great Colm Feore, who also played the bad guy in THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, but don't hold that against him; I saw Feore performing CEASAR in Stratford, Ontario, during my second year of high school, minus the Denzel.) Reading the play is difficult enough; I can't imagine performing it, night after night. Then would be the time when Shakespeare's words came truly to life; then would be the time when you could appreciate, truly and deeply, what the words can and must do. (I can't imagine how Shakespeare is translated. I would LOVE to know Japanese well enough to read Shakespeare in Japanese. I'm tempted to spend the rest of my life doing just that -- studying Japanese more so I can understand Shakespeare in another, ulterior context, and I'm halfway serious about that. But maybe it's better I don't. There was a Japanese translator who committed suicide after trying to translate Faulkner into Japanese, so perhaps some things are best left a mystery.)
If there was a Shakespeare. Many people think he didn't even exist, that the dude who wrote the plays was Marlowe, or the Queen of England, or an amalgamation of a dozen other playwrights. A new book by Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields is the latest in a line of texts backing up this claim.
I'm all for the discussion. Bring it on. Keep forcing stiffs like me to be interested in this guy, because even though it hurts like hell to read his stuff, and even though my brain feels tired and aggravated after a twenty-minute session with the words (and what words they are!), there is a resonance, an aftertaste, that promises better and longer feasts to come, if I endure a little longer.