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I Hate Shakespeare

Richard Burton as Hamlet at the Old Vic, 1953

4,551 words

For 250 years Shakespeare has been central to the Western literary canon. No other writer of any land or age has enjoyed popularity and renown on such a colossal and astounding scale. 

Shakespeare is considered the greatest of all dramatists. Hundreds of editions of his plays have been published, including translations in all major languages. He is the most widely quoted author in history, and his plays have probably been performed more times than those of any other playwright. Academics have written thousands of books and articles about his plots, characters, themes, and language.

But, as entertainment or literature, I don’t care for him, and never have.

In his own day, Shakespeare’s work was appreciated and esteemed, and as a theater owner he became wealthy. But he was not the superman—”the Immortal Bard”—that subsequent adulation has made of him.

His reputation took off around 1769; actor David Garrick apparently had a great deal to do with it.

One cannot help but wonder whether simple affectation plays a significant role in perpetuating Shakespeare’s stupendous status.

How many people really know him, read him, and attend performances of his plays? Does Shakespeare genuinely move most people? Is his reputation wholly deserved, or partly the result of a mutually reinforcing “Shakespeare establishment”?

Mark Twain’s definition of a classic was “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” A Shakespeare classic is a play you can safely avoid seeing or reading because no one else will own up to not having seen or read it either.

I am not utterly alone in my anti-Bardolatry. Important Shakespeare skeptics have included Alexander Pope, Voltaire, Lord Byron (“Shakespeare’s name, you may depend upon it, stands absurdly too high, and will go down”), George Bernard Shaw (who coined the term “Bardolatry”), and Jewish philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

“During the course of his life,” we are told, “Tolstoy read Shakespeare in Russian, German, and English, but he never found a translation or an edition that convinced him that the Bard was anything more than a bombastic hack.”

Wittgenstein wrote: “I am deeply suspicious of most of Shakespeare’s admirers,” adding, when “I hear expressions of admiration for Shakespeare made by the distinguished men of several centuries, I can never rid myself of a suspicion that praising him has been a matter of convention.”

See Erin Sullivan, “Anti-Bardolatry Through the Ages—or, Why Voltaire, Tolstoy, Shaw, and Wittgenstein Didn’t Like Shakespeare” (2007).

Why I Don’t Like Shakespeare

The Plays are Boring

Ultimately, I dislike Shakespearean drama because the plays do not touch me, move me, or interest me.

My idea of a good Shakespeare play would be a movie, not 3- or 4-hours worth of poetry recitations. And if I did desire to attend a poetry recitation, I’d prefer Tennyson—Idylls of the King, perhaps.

Truthfully, the film version of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons (1966-British) starring Paul Scofield as Thomas More and Robert Shaw as Henry VIII is close to what my idea of a Shakespeare play should be.

The Question of Political Correctness

In general, my dislike for Shakespeare has little to do with race or politics.

Nevertheless, updating or making storylines or settings “hip” or “relevant” in various ways, casting females in male roles (as early as 1899 Jewish actress Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet), inappropriately casting nonwhites, and countless other methods of injecting propaganda into the dramas provides ample justification for skipping contemporary productions.

Elites ultimately chose radical reworkings such as these over simply tossing the plays onto the white cultural ash heap.

A high school English teacher fashionably hinted in the pages of the New York Times in 1988: “In an age of re-evaluation of the so-called classics, texts that glorify monarchy, sexism, patriotism and charity [sic], one wonders why Shakespeare still maintains a privileged status in American high schools.”

Of course, in Elizabethan times there were no actresses, so all women’s parts were acted by boys, whose lithe figures and unchanged voices made them ostensibly suitable as substitute females. So there were problems from the beginning.

Leaving modernism aside, drama critic Ivor Brown believed Shakespeare was ideologically plastic: “By the method of your citation you can make him Fascist or Jacobin with ease.”

Alternatively, CC writer Andy Nowicki assures us that “Most of the Shakespeare canon affirms a conservative worldview,” adding, “Coriolanus is undoubtedly the third most politically incorrect play of the Shakespeare canon, just behind the gleefully sexist Taming of the Shrew and the vigorously anti-Semitic The Merchant of Venice.”

Shakespeare’s references to Jews are typically derogatory; Jews have railed against and censored The Merchant of Venice since they obtained power over the West—The International Jew contains a discussion of systematic Merchant censorship that occurred a century ago.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio teaches his fellow Italian Katherina (“as brown in hue as hazel nuts”) “submission.”

And in Othello, all characters take it for granted that Desdemona is debasing herself with the dark-skinned Moor.

This raises a question: Is Othello a Negro, or a North African Moor? There is debate about this, but a psychologically intriguing view is that of English essayist Charles Lamb (1811) that Othello’s color does not offend us in the reading, but only when shown on stage:

Nothing can be more soothing, more flattering to the nobler parts of our natures, than to read of a young Venetian lady of highest extraction, through the force of love and from a sense of merit in him whom she loved, laying aside every consideration of kindred, and country, and colour, and wedding with a coal-black Moor — (for such he is represented, in the imperfect state of knowledge respecting foreign countries in those days, compared with our own, or in compliance with popular notions, though the Moors are now well enough known to be by many shades less unworthy of white woman’s fancy) — it is the perfect triumph of virtue over accidents, of the imagination over the senses. She sees Othello’s colour in his mind. But upon the stage, when the imagination is no longer the ruling faculty, but we are left to our poor unassisted senses, I appeal to every one that has seen Othello played, whether he did not, on the contrary, sink Othello’s mind in his colour; whether he did not find something extremely revolting in the courtship and wedded caresses of Othello and Desdemona; and whether the actual sight of the thing did not overweigh all that beautiful compromise which we make in reading; — and the reason it should do so is obvious, because there is just so much reality presented to our senses as to give a perception of disagreement, with not enough of belief in the internal motives, — all that which is unseen, — to overpower and reconcile the first and obvious prejudices.

Charles Lamb by William Hazlitt, 1804

Settings and Imagination

Too many of Shakespeare’s plays have Latin European settings—Greece, Rome, Italy, France. I have a prejudice against fictional stories, plays, or movies with such settings, preferring American, English, “pan-Angle,” or Scandinavian locales.

No matter. Shakespeare does not evoke atmosphere or settings well. You’re expected to conjure them in your mind’s eye, based upon descriptions or allusions in the actors’ speeches.

Shakespeare pedantically lectures the audience about its duty in the Prologue of Henry V:

[C]an this cockpit [the bare stage] hold
The vasty fields of France . . . ?
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies . . .
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts . . .
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings . . .

Hamlet may serve as an example. Though set in Denmark, it never feels like Denmark.

Vivid sense of place is further destroyed by characters with names like Claudius, Polonius, Marcellus, Bernardo, Francisco, and Reynaldo. Fortinbras, described by one writer as “the cool-headed, balanced Norwegian who plans and acts in due proportion and at appropriate times,” eventually acquires control of Denmark.


The Winter’s Tale is set on the nonexistent seacoast and desert of Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic)—which has neither.

Old-time radio achieved imaginary evocations of atmosphere and setting extremely well; Shakespeare does not. Character perhaps, but settings no.

Yet Shakespeare did not play well on radio, either. It was attempted by both NBC and CBS (Columbia’s Shakespeare, aka The Shakespearean Cycle), in 1937, when they engaged in rivalry over the matter.

NBC’s version, Streamlined Shakespeare, is representative. The one-month series starred John Barrymore and his wife. Barrymore streamlined each play to 45 minutes, modernized some of the language to make it comprehensible to the radio audience, and employed long sections of narrative with only the major scenes dramatized.

These compromises demonstrate core problems with the plays: they’re too long, have archaic or incomprehensible lines, and lack much real drama.

Reading Shakespeare

The Need for Guides and Handbooks

Traditionally, the 37 plays are divided into three genres: tragedy (Hamlet), history (Henry V), and comedy (The Taming of the Shrew). Shakespeare, who died at 52, wrote about two plays a year; his use of sources would probably be characterized as plagiaristic today.

I own The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a 2-volume Doubleday book club edition I’ve had for as long as I can remember. It contains all of the plays and poems, but no footnotes or explanatory material.

Simplifications or explanations of Shakespeare are indispensable to the student, and have existed in profusion for at least two centuries, from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare (1807), reducing the archaic English and complicated plots of 20 of the plays to simple narratives that children could read and comprehend, to modern Cliffs Notes and Monarch Notes summaries of the plays and poems.

Margaret Webster’s Shakespeare Without Tears (1942) (note the tacit acknowledgement of the problem in the title) is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books in a similar vein. Webster was a lesbian theater actress, producer, and director in England and America. Her 1943 production of Othello starring Negro Communist Paul Robeson in the title role ran for 296 performances on Broadway, the longest run by far of any Shakespeare play there to date.

Interpretive works are legion, indicating it isn’t possible to engage Shakespeare without mediation or guidance of a rather substantial kind.

His plays and poems, separated from us by a great gulf in time, conventions, and language, do not speak directly off the stage or page in classic, unadulterated form. Perhaps that explains, too, why so many odd Shakespearean productions are mounted.

The best handbook of this kind I happen to own is Frank W. Cady and Van H. Cartmell, eds., Shakespeare Arranged for Modern Reading (1936), illustrated by Rockwell Kent, 1,165 pages long. It contains no footnotes.

The editors of the book include every play, plus the poems Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets.

For each play the characters are listed, every Act is included, and a great deal of the text is reproduced exactly, interspersed with summary paragraphs by the editors where original passages have been excised. At the end of each play there is a brief “Historical Data” section.

As Cady and Cartmell state in their introduction, “countless people have read no more of Shakespeare than was required in school.” It is therefore necessary to cut “through obsolete or abstruse passages to the heart of the universal Shakespeare,” presenting “a very great percentage of all that is wise and beautiful in his writing” while eliminating “extensive tracts of minor lines and passages” that “have little meaning for the average reader today.”

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

The English language, and the times, have changed so much since Shakespeare’s day that a glossary or extensive footnotes are necessary to adequately comprehend much of the text.

That’s why A. L. Rowse reissued the plays in modernized English—but without any footnotes or textual explanations—in the 1980s. He was roundly denounced for this by “the Shakespeare establishment” (as he castigated it).

His modern versions were easy to mock by way of isolated example (“Romeo, Romeo wherefore are you Romeo?”), but who can reasonably object to the replacement of “Who would fardels bear?” with “Who would burdens bear?” or “chirurgonly” with “surgically”?

Verse Drama: Shakespearean Plays Are Actually Poetry

Apart from archaism, what is the single most striking feature of Shakespeare’s plays? Surely the fact that most of the spoken lines are (literally) poetry—patterned speech—rather than the prose characteristic of modern plays, movies, and TV shows.

Moreover, it is Elizabethan poetry, which makes it even more inaccessible.

The poetry in Shakespeare’s plays, the lines of which are visually apparent on the printed page, consists mostly of unrhymed iambic pentameter (“blank verse”). Only a few plays, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, feature extensive rhyming.

Typically, only lower-class characters speak prose.

Richard II is the only play written almost completely in verse, and The Merry Wives of Windsor the only one written almost entirely in prose.

To illustrate, in Macbeth, the noble characters speak blank verse (poetry) while commoners speak prose. The witches speak another kind of poetry, which sets them apart—a form of trochaic tetrameter with rhymed couplets:

Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe.

As a Canadian academic points out:

Interpreting plays written in dramatic poetry requires the interpreter to take into account various features of poetic language in order to understand fully the meaning of any particular utterance. It is not enough simply to grasp the literal denoted meaning of what a particular character says. One needs also to attend carefully to the ways in which the various poetic qualities of the language evoke an emotional understanding in the listener of the utterance. This point is crucial. With many characters, what matters is not so much the literal meaning of what they say (or not just that), but the patterns in the language they use to express their thoughts.

Given the massive literature on Shakespeare’s plays, and extensive analyses, explanations, and simplifications of their plot lines and characters, it is astonishing that this aspect of his plays has been so rarely explained or elucidated.

The poetic structure creates a major barrier to easy enjoyment of the plays, particularly if students or audiences aren’t even aware of what verse drama is, or that Shakespeare wrote it.

Contemporary dramatic poetry does exist, though it is not popular. W. B. Yeats, Christopher Fry, and T. S. Eliot are 20th century exceptions who wrote verse dramas for the stage, though they are far more often read than performed.

For a long time, though, verse drama was the dominant form for plays in Europe. The English Renaissance saw the height of dramatic (stage) poetry in the English-speaking world, with playwrights such as Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare all writing plays in poetic form.

How many fans of Shakespeare—never mind ordinary folks who happen to attend a Shakespeare play or movie—understand this? Do they really know what they’re listening to, even in a basic way?

I wonder.

I Don’t Hate Everything

Just as I like selected Shakespearean sonnets (e.g., Sonnet 29), I like certain passages from the plays, such as the dying John of Gaunt’s famous “sceptered isle” speech in Richard II, which sounds prophetic when read today (note the disparaging reference to Jewry):

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired
And thus expiring do foretell . . .
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

Discrete passages from Shakespeare such as this are more effective when read than listened to in the course of a play as the author intended.

In addition, poems, due to their concentrated intensity, function best when they’re not overly-long—not book length, and not poured forth for hours on the stage as verse drama.

Charles Lamb asserted in “On the Tragedies of Shakespeare” (1811) that Shakespeare is best appreciated when read:  “[H]earing anything spouted, withers and blows upon a fine passage . . . It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help being of opinion that the plays of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage than those of almost any other dramatist whatever.”

Was Shakespeare Homosexual?

It is striking how many homosexuals are members of the Shakespeare establishment—as producers, directors, actors, academics, etc.

Shakespeare dedicated two erotic narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), to the 20-year-old Earl of Southampton.

He also wrote 154 sonnets divided into two main groups, 126 of which were addressed to a young man in the most endearing terms, the remainder to Shakespeare’s female mistress, the “Dark Lady,” who had dark skin, hair, and eyes.

This raises the issue of whether Shakespeare was homosexual or bisexual.

A 1965 commentary I possess gives various arguments supporting a negative response, concluding, “the best scholars are agreed” that Shakespeare was not homosexual.

One of the most intriguing suggestions is that in the first 17 sonnets, Shakespeare, acting as Platonic pedagogue to his “beautiful” friend, exhorts the young man to marry and beget children. A major argument of the poet is drawn from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30. Shakespeare contends that Southampton is improperly hoarding his beauty by not producing children, who would preserve that beauty for future generations.

In 1973 A. L. Rowse, a homosexual English historian turned Shakespeare specialist, maintained that Southampton, the male friend of the sonnets, was bisexual, but that Shakespeare was heterosexual.

Shakespearean Cinema

Watching film versions of Shakespeare’s plays is a logical alternative to reading them or watching them on the stage.

In theory, a movie should enhance a play. Film should open the plays up, release them from the claustrophobic confines of the stage, add zest, make them more accessible, enjoyable, and understandable, and, most of all, supply the colorful settings so sorely lacking on stage.

Most filmmakers cut a considerable amount of the material—e.g., 55%. Many of the cuts are common in the theater as well.

But others are filmic in nature: rearranging, reducing, expanding, or interpolating scenes, replacing words with action, and so forth.

Like so many approaches to Shakespeare, however, it is evident that even under the best of circumstances fidelity to the original is attenuated.

Olivia Hussey & Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968)

My earliest exposure to Shakespeare was homosexual Italian director Franco Zeffirelli’s movie Romeo and Juliet (1968). This is considered an exemplary cinematic version of a Shakespeare play.

The year before, Zeffirelli had directed Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew, and later he directed Mel Gibson in Hamlet (1990).

As leads, Zeffirelli cast two unknowns, Leonard Whiting, age 17, and Olivia Hussey, age 15.

The two actors were much more age-appropriate (re the play) than had been 43-year-old Jewish actor Leslie Howard or 35-year-old Norma Shearer in homosexual Jewish director George Cukor’s 1936 filmization.

Clark Gable, one of many actors considered for the part of Romeo in the latter movie, responded, “I don’t look Shakespeare. I don’t talk Shakespeare. I don’t like Shakespeare, and I won’t do Shakespeare.”

In the original play, Romeo’s age is unstated, but is somewhere between the mid-teens and mid-20s; Juliet is 13—yes, 13.

When I saw Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, I was too young to really understand Shakespeare, but I didn’t like the Italian setting, and thought even then that the mutual deaths at the finale—made even worse by Juliet’s “recovery” and subsequent suicide—were dumb, melodramatic, and unbelievable.

I’ve watched both Laurence Olivier’s filmization of Henry V (1945) and Kenneth Branagh’s (1989). I liked Branagh’s best. Both movies were exactly 2 hours and 17 minutes long.

In Branagh’s version, the text of the play was heavily cut, and extracts from Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 were added.

Though in theory film should enhance Shakespeare, it is an impossible task to transform very long poems in monolgue form into action. It just doesn’t work. Shakespearean films are generally not box office successes; indeed, Branagh’s critically-acclaimed Henry V lost a lot of money.

The Stage

Shakespeare’s plays are longHamlet, at a little over 4 hours unexpurgated, is the longest. Most are between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, uncut. If you’re not captivated by the monologues, they can be torture to sit through. Of course, material is often cut, but they still seem excruciatingly long.

Many of the problems previously mentioned are applicable to Shakespearean stage performances. In addition, actors often do not deliver their lines ideally—which, admittedly, is not easy to do. Shakespeare’s highly patterened poetic monologues sound extremely artificial.

This problem apparently existed even in Shakespeare’s day, for the playwright has Hamlet instruct actors within the play—sharply—about method prior to a performance in the castle, in a long passage at the start of Act III, Scene II (Lines 1-45).

Hamlet, speaking for the playwright, says, in part:

Do not saw the air too much with
your hand, thus, but use all gently;
O, it offends me to the
soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear
a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action;
O, there be players that I have seen play, and heard others praise,
and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that strutted and bellowed,
they imitated humanity so abominably.

Burton as Hamlet, 1964

I’ll discuss only one stage performance, that of Richard Burton in Hamlet (1964), since he is probably my favorite Shakespearean actor, it was an actual play not a movie, and at 3 hours and 11 minutes was relatively complete.

The Burton play was directed by homosexual actor John Gielgud (who was of Polish, Lithuanian, and part-English descent) at New York City’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. At 137 performances, it remains the longest-running Hamlet in Broadway history. Eileen Herlie repeated her role from Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film version as the Queen, and the tape-recorded voice of John Gielgud was heard as the Ghost.

Aside from Burton’s own performance, Hume Cronyn’s Polonius was particularly noteworthy and critically acclaimed. Unfortunately, he wore half-spectacles with a chain around his neck, and rather affectedly brandished a walking stick.

This was because the stripped-down production was conceived of as a dress rehearsal, so the actors wore contemporary garb. The set was extremely sparse, and props almost nonexistent. Apart from the inappropriate costuming and spare staging, it was a classic production—pure Shakespeare, so to speak.

There were cuts, as there often are in stage and film productions of Shakespeare’s works. Hamlet is his longest play; by comparison, Kenneth Branagh’s unabridged 1996 film is 4 hours long.

But a movie is not a play, Branagh indulged in what one critic called “stunt casting,” and the time period of the play was shifted forward to the late 19th century. So, in a sense Branagh’s film was “less pure” despite its length. (The longest prior screen adaptation of the play was the 1980 BBC made-for-television version starring homosexual actor Derek Jacobi, which ran 3 1/2 hours.)

A black-and-white film of the Burton production, shot on June 30 and July 1, 1964, was made using “Electronovision,” a method of recording live stage performances before real theater audiences with multiple video cameras and then editing them into a single film.

Incredibly, by contractual agreement all prints of the film were to be destroyed following its limited theatrical run. However, by chance, a single print was discovered in Richard Burton’s garage following his death, and his widow allowed it to be distributed on VHS, and later DVD.

A four-record Columbia Masterworks LP album set by the original cast was also released in 1964. However, it was recorded in a studio, and has so far not appeared on compact disc.

Many speaking parts in Shakespeare’s plays are extremely long and tedious. For Richard Burton particularly, there were many lines to memorize and perform live for more than three hours night after night. Nor was it simply a matter of remembering lines, but of imbuing the character with life (acting).

While watching Burton’s Hamlet, I followed along in the Complete Works. Every actor, including Burton, spoke Shakespeare’s lines word for word. No one flubbed their lines, either. The only difficulty I had was when an excision unexpectedly occurred, causing me to suddenly lose my place and have to search ahead to wherever they’d skipped.

Of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, Charles Lamb wrote in 1811:

I confess myself utterly unable to appreciate that celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, beginning ‘To be, or not to be,’ or to tell whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, it has been so handled and pawed about by declamatory boys and men, and torn so inhumanly from its living place and principle of continuity in the play, till it is become to me a perfect dead member.

Compare his opinion to Richard Burton’s, recorded in his Notebooks:

[A]fter 10 weeks of playing Hamlet on the stage one’s soul staggers with tedium and one’s mind rejects the series of quotations that Hamlet now is. Has there ever been a more boring speech, after 400 years of constant repetition, than “To be or not to be”? I have never played that particular speech, and I’ve played the part hundreds and hundreds of times, without knowing that everybody settles down to a nice old nap the minute the first fatal words start.

Tolstoy thought King Lear‘s death-ridden conclusion was absurd. Again, I thought exactly the same thing about the death-riddled finales of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. They’re ludicrous, not tragic.

Having seen Richard Burton’s perfectly nuanced performance in Becket (1964), the film adaptation of Frenchman Jean Anouilh’s play, I expected that he would not violate Hamlet’s stern admonitions to his Players. But, at isolated points in the play, even Richard Burton wasn’t able to adhere to the Prince’s advice.

I’m glad I saw Burton’s Hamlet, which came as close to a classical presentation of the play as one is likely to find (except for the lame costuming and ultra-spare staging), but it did not make me a Shakespeare fan.

I lack Richard Burton’s fortitude; my soul staggered with tedium long before even a single performance was over.

Shakespeare is always an ordeal for me.


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  1. Petronius
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Come on…! Shakespeare kicks major ass, and he never ages… seriously.

  2. Greg Johnson
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I love Shakespeare. I think he is one of the greatest English-language poets and dramatists. But Shakespeare also demands a lot from the listener/reader: one needs to learn his language; one needs to learn the dramatic conventions of the time; one needs to learn something about the historical background and sources of his plays; etc. If one puts the work in, however, one can reap immense rewards. And one also has the right to offer criticisms, because Shakespeare is also very uneven.

    But if you read Shakespeare without the proper preparation, chances are you will hate it, but it is hard to know where the fault really lies.

    For a native English speaker the impediments to appreciating Shakespeare are certainly less daunting than those to appreciating any writer in a foreign tongue. You really have to know German to appreciate Goethe and Schiller as dramatists and poets. You have to know German and music to fully appreciate Wagner as a dramatist and composer. But, like Shakespeare, they are worth the investment. The same sort of preparation is required to fully appreciate Homer, Aeschylus, and Sophocles (in Ancient Greek) or Corneille and Racine (in French) or Pushkin (in Russian), the Great Italian operas (from Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, etc.), and almost every other great work of poetry or drama.

    There’s no guarantee, of course, that you will like any of these writers even if you do put the work into them. But at least one can discern whether one’s displeasure is rooted in the works themselves rather than in the linguistic and cultural impediments to one truly encountering them. But the mere existence of such barriers is not Shakespeare’s fault.

    Shakespeare is constantly being travestied. The same thing happens to Wagner all the time. But these travesties have nothing to do with the original. They are not Shakespeare’s fault either.

    Shakespeare, like all poetry, is a form of music and needs to be read aloud — it needs to be performed — not read silently. So you need to learn the language, learn the context, and then see it performed well before one really has the experience.

    Because it is hard to get into Shakespeare or any great dramatist, there are many adaptations. The most radical, of course, are translations into other languages. With English dramatists, there are shortened versions and retellings in the English of the day and of different audiences (e.g., Shakespeare for children). There are adaptations into other artistic media, e.g., film or opera (there have been many Shakespeare operas as well as films). All of these need to be evaluated on their own terms as well as in terms of their adaptation of the original, but some of these adaptations are great works of art in themselves, e.g., Verdi’s late operas Otello and Falstaff are among his very best, and Kurosawa’s Ran (an adaptation of King Lear) is one of the greatest movies of all time.

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Verdi’s late operas Otello and Falstaff are among his very best

      I forgot to mention that Franco Zeffirelli, who, as I mentioned, directed three Shakespeare films, also directed a film version of Verdi’s opera Otello (1986-Italian).

      Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which I have used for decades and, besides being packed with valuable factual information is a pretty reliable guide as well, rates it three-and-a-half out of a possible 4 stars–very high by its standards.

      I haven’t seen Otello, and wouldn’t be qualified to comment even if I had, but the Guide says it is “Nearly flawless in all respects; a must for opera buffs.”

  3. rhondda
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I love Shakespeare too, but I love the theatre experience with great voices, great actors and great presence. They bring the play alive and one becomes so emotionally involved in the action that even if you know how it turns out, that suspension of not knowing that is evoked.
    In high school we used to get to go to dress rehearsals at Stratford in Ontario. It was a wonderful reward for trying to figure out the language.

  4. Micronaut
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I tend to agree with Greg. A small cultural barrier has sprung up between the modern reader/watcher and Shakespeare’s work due to the antiquated language. Moreover, more than other poets, S. seems to use colloquial and dated expressions to a greater extent that further distance his readers. I personally am unable to follow a Shakespeare play acted on stage if I have not first studied the printed version. As I have “learned” S. diction, I am increasingly rewarded by reading it. He has a naturalness and beauty with the English language that I find rarely in other writers. Tolkien, Housman, and RL Stevenson have it.

    That said, I must agree that Shakespeare is over-rated. Tolkien also thought so. Overrated does not necessarily mean bad, however.

    On the question of homosexuality, based on an examination of his works alone, I am fairly certain that he was gay. The sonnets have homosexual themes and some are overtly erotic in this sense. Many of the cross dressing scenes from the plays have homosexual symbolism. Homosexuals believed in those days that they were women caught in male bodies. This is a recurring symbol of homosexuality in literature. These arguments combined with the general prevalence of gay poets. Marlowe was also homosexual.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Shakespeare is surely overrated by those who deny he can do any wrong. But seriously, as an English-language poet, he ranks with the very greatest. If I could take three English poets into exile, they would be Shakespeare, Blake, and Yeats.

      (Three Americans: Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Robinson Jeffers. Three Germans: Goethe, Schiller, and Rilke. Three French: Hugo, Leconte de Lisle, and Baudelaire. Three Greeks: Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles.)

      • Horatio
        Posted October 20, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Once you get to read Hoelderlin (quite difficult even in German), you will possibly drop Schiller and settle for him instead… it is one of the most amazing things in German ever written. Heidegger spent many decades of his life meditating about them.

        • Greg Johnson
          Posted October 20, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Hoelderlin is an amazing poet, but not on my desert island list.

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the information about Tolkien’s view of Shakespeare; I was unaware of it.

      Tolkien is an author I have yet to read, although I own his major books.

      As to Shakespeare’s possible homosexuality or bisexuality, I remain open to the possibility. I’ve wondered whether there might be a subtle aesthetic in his work that causes it not to resonate with me.

      I do find it very strange that Sonnet 29 (as I understand it) is addressed to a man. The weird thing is, it works perfectly from a heterosexual point of view (i.e., thinking of the person being addressed as a woman).

      There, the argument for heterosexuality relies upon the contention that an expression like “thy sweet love,” plus, presumably, the kind of deep emotion expressed, was common between heterosexual men in Elizabethan England, which, if true, demonstrates again the substantial cultural barrier that has been thrown up by the passage of time.

      Of course, he had three children, so he would presumably have been bisexual.

  5. Jaego
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t like him until I heard him. The rhythm is intoxicating. That motivated me to read more to understand what I was hearing. That’s how I’d break kids in – thru the movies first since they’re used to that medium.

    Bucke, the author of “Cosmic Consciousness”, said the Dark Lady was his own Cosmic Self. Any other possibility lacked all dignity, Bucke said. And the young man, you ask with rising tone and arched brows? Who knows? Honey Boo Boo says we’re all a little bit gay. The more interesting question is who was the Bard to begin with? Francis Bacon used to be the main candidate. Some now say Southwell I believe – or it might be another Catholic nobleman. In any case, actors were not well thought of nor well educated. The Plays show a man of very broad learning – and a Traditionalist mentality.

    • Posted October 19, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      “The Plays show a man of very broad learning – and a Traditionalist mentality.”

      Indeed, as Martin Lings has documented, in a book that seems to get reprinted over and over with a different title each time, most recently with an intro by HRH Charles himself!

  6. Lew
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    A Hamilton essay I disagree with. I guess it had to happen.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

      Even Homer nods from time to time.

  7. Posted October 19, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    “I have never played that particular speech, and I’ve played the part hundreds and hundreds of times, without knowing that everybody settles down to a nice old nap the minute the first fatal words start.”

    Interesting. MST3k screened a German TV production of Hamlet [the Germans have always insisted that Bill reads must better in “the original German” — i.e, Schlegel’s translation]. This was Hamlet translated, cut, then re-dubbed in English [with Ricardo Montalban as Claudius and Sgt. Schultz as Polonius!]. Well, you can imagine. Anyway, at “To be” [this was Maximilian Schell, by the way, who dubbed his own lines in English] Mike says:

    “The duh-duh-duh-DUH [i.e., the opening of Beethoven’s 5th] of English drama!”

    which, legend having it that Beethoven called it “thus Fate knocks at the door”, mirrors Burton’s “fatal” line!

  8. Posted October 19, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    You can also add Colin Wilson to the Shakespeare haters, which of course he got from Shaw.

    AH might appreciate that Wilson claimed it was impossible to take S’s characters seriously, and their “dramatic” interaction was “like being at a party and forced to listen to two drunken homosexuals have an argument.”

    An odd phrase, but that seems to be the key; Wilson and Shaw, like Tolstoy, and so I suspect Ibsen? — disliked S. I think because they didn’t see the characters as having any kind of transcendental vector or teleology; just drunken peasants whoring and cutting each others’ throats. Oh, who will be the next king? Oh, who cares?

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the head’s up on Wilson.

      As far as I could gather from the summary of Shaw’s ideas that I read, his primary objection to Shakespeare seemed to be that he wasn’t politically correct or socially conscious enough—whatever, in Elizabethan times, was the equivalent of a pro-Communist Fabian Socialist, I guess.

      So Shaw seemed to be right for the wrong reasons.

      Tolstoy was the most outspoken Shakespeare critic. I admire his honesty and integrity on the subject.

      I discovered Charles Lamb on my own; his interesting observations sound heretical today. But it may be that Shakespeare had not attained the iconic status in 1811 that he enjoys now. The propagation and re-propagation of certain opinions and attitudes through the mass media could account for that. The media is so pervasive and powerful that people are unaware of the power it exercises over the mind.

      Wittgentstein expressed ideas close to my own. I suspect he more or less shared Tolstoy’s view privately (a guess) but, Jewish-fashion when it comes to certain sensitive topics, was much cagier and more reserved in expressing them.

      By the way, I got a kick out of the fact that you’d owned the same Doubleday Shakespeare; I remember you were likewise familiar with the first small selection of Alfred Rosenberg’s writings in English.

  9. Posted October 20, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I had the very same Doubleday Shakespeare, although more recently I acquired a lovely one volume “Oxford Shakespeare” with photo plates “from modern [viz, 1930s] stage productions” such as Claire Bloom, Geilgud, Guinness, James Mason, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Oliver, but no Burton — before his time!.

    More recently I think I’ve acquired a more sympathetic understanding of the cult through the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows, each season of which goes through one season at a fictionalized Stratford Ontario Shakespeare festival.

    but then perhaps only because it seems like a documentary of my time in Ontario.

  10. anon
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    “How many people really know him, read him, and attend performances of his plays? Does Shakespeare genuinely move most people?”

    What a bizarre question. I’ve never attended a performance of King Lear, for instance, without hearing many people in the audience around me audibly weeping – and coming to tears myself – at the end. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved.

    There’s two possibilities here, and the “he’s overrated” option loses out to the “you just don’t get it” option, IMO. Yes some of the Shakespeare-olatry is over the top; what I’m hearing here is more of a disagreement with the Shakespeare “cult” rather than a cogent argument against Shakespeare himself.

    • Christopher P
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      Actually, I think you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Lear.

  11. Colin Laney
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    The Winter’s Tale is set on the nonexistent seacoast and desert of Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic)—which has neither.

    Our first clue here is that the ‘deserts of Bohemia’ in the play are directly on the coast. The number of deserts in our modern sense that are directly adjacent to bodies of water large enough to be navigable is really very small. Could the author of Shakspere have used the word in some sense other than the modern one?

    In Two Gentlemen of Verona, we hear of ‘This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods”, obviously not a a desert in the Frank Herbert sense, but rather an unpopulated forest.

    In The Tempest, the admiral says, “This island appears to be a desert.” But what we learn about the island regarding flora, fauna, and available sources of fresh water all indicate that the ‘desert island’ the Admiral sees is deserted solely of people, not trees. Ariel, you will recall, is rescued from a tree by Propsero, and again, trees are so remarkably rare in modern deserts that it would be a scandal to the National Geographic if one were to be found. So: fresh water for two (Caliban being a salt-water sea monster and not a Negro as in post-colonial adaptations), forests, trees providing fairly thick cover. What can the Admiral be saying when he says the island ‘appears to be a desert’? As you note elsewhere in your essay, words can change meanings with the passage of time, but since English retains a word, ‘deserted’, that has no implication of sand dunes, we can make some educated guesses about the connotative reach of the phrase ‘desert seacoast’ that has no hint of the Gobi about it.

    It is also instructive to note that Bohemia, during its most prosperous years, had not one but two seacoasts. As Mark Anderson, author of Shakespeare By Another Name points out, the first patch of foreign coastline Edward de Vere encountered on his 1575 trip down the Adriatic Sea out of Venice was land ruled by . . . drumroll please . . . the King of Bohemia!

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    • Jaego
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes. In Orthodox Christianity, any rural hermitage was likely to be called a desert – after the abodes of the Desert Fathers of Egypt. Thus, the northern forests of Siberia became “deserts” once the monks moved there.

  12. Christopher P
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    On the question of Shakespeare’s possible homosexuality see Oscar Wilde’s great work of fiction The Portrait of Mr. W.H. The questioning of his sexuality and the question of whether he actually wrote the plays seem to say more about the modern restive tendancy towards psychoanalysis, and preoccupations with essential individualism, than about Will himself. Anyway, another interesting essay and one which I enjoyed very much despite disagreeing with its central argument.

  13. me
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Shakespeare, there’s a controversy that Shakespeare may actually be Edward de Vere. Does Greg have a comment on it?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never looked into such debates. They seem pointless to me. Almost as pointless as arguing that Homer was not the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but that the real author was another Greek who was also named Homer.

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      That’s a question I’ve never investigated, but I do know that many people believe that Shakespeare was not the author.

      Joseph Sobran was one–he investigated the subject in great depth–but there are many others. While researching the article, I discovered that actor Derek Jacobi is among their number.

  14. Donar van Holland
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Staging Shakespeare is often indeed quite problematic, I think. So many of the lines should be thought through, be savoured in fact, that the action almost becomes a distraction. And staging with hardly any action can be terribly boring. In this, Shakespeare resembles Wagner. For all the superb language-music, the amount of action per minute is simply too low to make an engaging staging possible. I think that many plays by Shakespeare, like many Wagner operas would benefit from a performance as an oratorio. No distracting staging, just concentration on the language-music.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that the author tries to get his readers morally outraged by Shakespeare’s sexual mores. First, the “homosexuality” of Shakespeare. Whether or not the poet felt an attraction to men, and whether or not this attraction was expressed in sexual deeds, he can never have been a homosexual. As I have written before, the idea of homosexuality is a modern, 19th century invention. So there is no homosexual “essence” that could corrupt Shakespeare’s writing before he wrote a single line.

    Secondly, Juliet is indeed only 13. But anyone who has not been swept away by the whipped up frenzy about paedophilia these years, might acknowledge that in former times people married much earlier than now. After all, the average lifespan was a lot shorter, and health care was quite counterproductive. So people had to have children at the earliest age possible, as the risks increase with age. That we can afford to have different sexual norms today does not warrant an implicit accusation of perversion towards the poet.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      RE Staging Wagner and Shakespeare, I disagree that engaging staging are not possible. I have seen them. Get the DVDs of the Boulez/Chereau Ring: it is tremendously fluid and exciting, far superior to the dull, static Levine/MET Ring. Last year, I saw Francesca Zambello’s Ring cycle in San Francisco. Again, it was fluid, fast=paced, exciting, and easily intelligible. I just aw the dress rehearsal for a new Lohengrin in SF: there are a couple of snags, but I have never seen such a dramatic and engaging Lohengrin. All of these productions are not “traditional” Wagner, but they are not Euro-trash travesties either. They are first and foremost compelling theater.

      Honestly, the best way to appreciate Shakespeare or Wagner is to know the text by heart before you go to a good performance. It is a lot of work, as I said, but it is very rewarding.

      Treating Wagner like an oratorio — the dreaded “park and bark” style — is deadly dull.

      • me
        Posted October 21, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        I was discussing The Ring with another cc fan. I asked her how does she like The Ring , compared to, say, Mozart’s operas. She said Wagner’s The Ring tends to be quite a bit more emotional. She gave an example – her husband attended The Ring – she says he normally doesn’t cry – the only time she saw him cry was at his father’ funeral. She noted he did shed tears viewing some scenes of The Ring, the only 2 times she saw him cry. That’s how emotional The Ring is.

  15. excalibur
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Is Shakespeare overrated ? If someone is looking for ethical,moral content he will not find in Shakespeare’s plays,he may consider him overrated.If someone admires verbal richness he will think he is the greatest.What is unique about Shakespeare is his ability to focus on some human traits,to bring them to forefront as through a magnifying glass.This at times can distort.The vicissitudes of life,”the wheel of fortune” are often present in his play.
    I think Wordsworth is the greatest English poet.

  16. Horatio
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    As an Anglophile whose mother tongue is German, I want to say that (given you have a sense of literature) it is a supreme pleasure to work oneself into Shakespeare’s English, especially the famous soliloquies “To be or not to be…”, “Now is the winter of our discontent…”, “And tomorrow, and tomorrow…”, “Romans, countrymen, and lovers!…” etc. Or to hear them read/performed by great actors: Olivier, Gielgud, Ian MacKellen, Patrick Stewart…! It feels like being at the fountains of the language itself, like drinking from a strong, undiluted wine.

    Same experience may happen if one digs oneself into Goethe’s Faust or Dante’s Commedia in their original languages. As Greg said, this takes time and preparation, and I’d say a bit of talent and kindred spirit also. For Germans, Faust still reads very fresh and powerful, and a lot of it has entered the common pool and “the subconscious” of our language. It also still makes a terrific stage show, if well directed and played. All other Goethe plays do not perform that well today, but he was foremost a poet and not a dramaticist and playwright.

    One of Shakespeare’s decisive strengths is the vividness of his most memorable characters like Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Falstaff, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Richard III, Shylock, Puck, King Lear… they are really alive, unlike much of, say, Schiller’s characters, which mostly represent mere ideas. And furthermore: during the centuries, they have all become indispensable entities to inhabit our great pantheon of Western/European/White culture and identity, contributing to its uniqueness.

    I think also that the fact that 400 years after Shakespeare’s death there are still successful film adaptions being made constantly as well testifies to his lasting power and appeal.

  17. Horatio
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    It would also be fun to make a list of the countless movies, novels, stage plays and pop music bands that use a phrase from Shakespeare in the title.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      I am sure that such a thing can be found online.

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      One of my older books contains a six-page list of “Book-Titles From Shakespeare,” with the corresponding play passages they originally appeared in. Most were current popular titles at the time, and are not remembered today.

      However, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury , John Gunther’s biography of a Jewish advertising man, Taken at the Flood, Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Alistair Maclean’s The Way to Dusty Death, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are among them.

      The passage from Macbeth you cited beginning “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” seems to have been particularly fruitful in generating book titles.

      The same book contains a list of “everyday expressions from Shakespeare” and the name of the plays in which they supposedly first appeared. It is an impressive list, if accurate (hoist by his own petard, give the devil his due, to the manner born, etc.).

      But it includes “with fear and trembling” from Much Ado About Nothing. You may recognize the title of Søren Kierkegaard’s book. However, “fear and trembling” actually derives from Philippians 2:12.

      I found it amusing that you are a German Anglophile; there are also Germanophile Englishmen, like Houston Stewart Chamberlain and David Irving.

      • Horatio
        Posted October 21, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Chamberlain being dead for quite a long time, and Irving not being quite so young any more.

  18. Horatio
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Ah, and another aside: unlike with Wagner’s operas I do not think it is utterly necessary to stick religiously to the full printed text of the plays as meticulously as the described Burton performance. Probably back in the Elizabethan days the plays weren’t performed that way, exactly following the script. Shakespeare himself is said to have been an actor; any dramatic work on the stage has to have open space for “playing”, directing and tightening. Abridgements can actually heighten the impact without taking much of the spirit and meaning away, just like different cuts of a movie.

  19. Andrew Hamilton
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    anon: “How many people really know him, read him, and attend performances of his plays? Does Shakespeare genuinely move most people?”
    What a bizarre question.

    One approach is to take a look at Shakespearean productions on Broadway.

    New York City is America’s cosmopolitan capital. A large proportion of the country’s powerful, educated, wealthy, and successful elite is concentrated there. Theater tickets, I believe, are relatively expensive, prohibiting most members of the lower classes from attending.

    Burton’s 1964 Hamlet, at 137 performances, remains the longest-running Hamlet in Broadway history.

    And Margaret Webster’s 1943 production of Othello, with Negro Paul Robeson in the title role, is the longest-running production of any Shakespeare play there at 296 performances.

    It has been called perhaps the most notable American production of Othello, with a run almost twice as long as any other Shakespearean play ever produced on Broadway, and the first ever in the United States to feature a black actor playing Othello with an otherwise all-white cast.

    In the past, Othello was typically produced with a white actor in blackface, or wearing a black mask.

    It is almost certain that its exceptionally long run had a lot to do with the interracial casting. Elites had already determined where they intended to take the country (An American Dilemma, 1944). It was during the war, and Desdemona was played by German American actress Uta Hagen. It was novel and sexually titillating, foreshadowing the mainstream media and pornographic images of black man-on-white woman so pervasive today.

    In other words, there were factors external to Shakespeare involved in Othello‘s exceptionally long run.

    How do these two runs stack up against Broadway’s Most Popular list? Well, #1 is The Phantom of the Opera with 10,281 performances and #100 is Annie Get Your Gun with 1,201.

    So the Broadway runs of even the most successful and popular Shakespeare plays come nowhere near cracking the top 100.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Broadway success is not a good measure of quality, because Broadway is unspeakably vulgar, and as vast a cultural gulf separates Shakespeare from Spiderman the musical as separates real opera from The Phantom of the Opera. Nobody would take seriously the claim that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a better composer than Wagner because Cats has been seen by more people than Parsifal.

      A better measure of Shakespeare’s power to move cultivated audiences would be to look at the number of theaters and theater festivals devoted to Shakespeare:

      Chances are, many of the people who are hunting for a Broadway play and chance on Hamlet make that choice based on the cultural cachet of the Bard and find themselves unprepared and bored out of their minds. But on the whole, the people who flock to Shakespeare festivals and theaters are in an entirely different category. They know what they are getting, they are prepared adequately to enjoy it, and they derive a powerful aesthetic payoff as opposed to merely following the crowd.

      • Horatio
        Posted October 21, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        I’d also consider how many 400 year old plays are still around on contemporary stages?

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