Individuals who do not learn or see a variety of Shakespeare — in different phrases, most individuals — naturally do not perceive why they need to. What’s in Shakespeare for them? They could effectively ask, since Shakespeare is much extra usually pointed to — “Look! Biggest English author!” — than mentioned in a approach which could solid mild on why he is called the best English author. (Except, like me, you are a Shakespeare nerd who speaks with different Shakespeare nerds. However we’re a small slice of the worldwide inhabitants.)
Going to a very well carried out Shakespeare play supplies its personal reply to the “why” query. As a playgoer, you do not have to have learn any Shakespeare earlier than, to be struck by the wonder and insightfulness of Shakespeare’s dialogue. You might not perceive all of it. However you may perceive a variety of it, and the half you perceive might be not like something you have heard earlier than. Shakespeare takes on all topics, all elementary human experiences, sees them from the within out, and articulates them with bone-chilling precision. What’s that value? If a central function of literature — together with dramatic dialogue — is to carry a mirror as much as human nature, to point out us who we’re (as Hamlet says), then Shakespeare succeeds. And if one function of that motion is to make us really feel acknowledged and identified, he offers us that, too.
As a result of I’ve nothing higher to write down about right this moment, I’ll provide two examples, from speeches which, set towards one another, categorical diametrically opposed however universally recognizable human experiences. The one that wrote these speeches knew what he was describing, and he knew the right way to describe it.
First: apathy, listlessness, despair. Anyone really feel that approach today? Has anybody felt these items over the previous yr? Hamlet is your spokesperson. In acts one and two, he is depressed, and he is depressed about the truth that he is depressed. (“Melancholy” could be his phrase.) What pursuits him? Nothing. What used to curiosity him? All the things. We consider Hamlet’s purpose as discovering and punishing his father’s assassin. It’s, however his underlying purpose is recovering the self he has misplaced. Ophelia, too, wonders the place he is gone: “O, what a noble thoughts is right here o’erthrown!” However Hamlet questioned first. Listed below are strains from his first soliloquy:
O, that this too too sullied flesh would soften,
Thaw, and resolve itself right into a dew!
Or that the Eternal had not fastened his canon
That is undoubtedly suicidal thought. However the strains talk the broadly recognizable, garden-variety suicidal pondering of 1 who’s discovering reduction in fantasizing about suicide as a result of he lacks the vitality to off himself, although he finds life worse than a drag. Like Keats (probably impressed by this speech), who wished, in “To a Nightingale,” “to stop upon the midnight with no ache,” Hamlet does not need to take the initiative for such a alternative. He simply needs to soften right into a goodbye (an “adieu.” He is nonetheless bought sufficient vitality for a smattering of wordplay). He subsequent claims that each one that is stopping him is God’s edict towards “self-slaughter,” with one other little pun on the “fastened canon,” which is each a inflexible restrictive rule and a weapon geared toward that rule’s violation. However Hamlet is filled with causes to not do issues. That is his first. He is apathetic, listless, and sad, and nothing delights him. He says it greatest: “How weary, stale, flat, and uprofitable / Appear to me all of the makes use of [customs] of this world!” No spark of curiosity resides in something. It is all stale. Flat. Weary. Ineffective. He wasn’t at all times like this; he does not know why he is like this now. He later tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “I’ve of late — however wherefore I do know not — misplaced all my mirth . . . and certainly it goes so closely with my disposition that this goodly body, the earth, appears to me a sterile promontory.” Surprisingly, these bitter strains are the lead-in to the well-known exclamation, “What a bit of labor is a person!,” which, extracted from context, sounds exalted and appreciative. It is not. Hamlet follows that line with, “And but, to me, what is that this quintessence of mud? Man delights not me.” It is all not solely mud, it is absolute, concentrated mud.
Sure, he is depressed, and he is aware of the right way to say so. In different phrases, Shakespeare understood despair — probably the most enervated model of melancholy — and knew the right way to bear in mind and describe it.
However Shakespeare additionally understood pleasure.
Many glorious expressions of pleasure exist in Shakespeare, however the most effective is present in The Service provider of Venice, in strains spoken by younger Bassanio, as soon as it’s confirmed that he has gained the fairytale-like “casket take a look at” which supplies him the appropriate to marry Portia, whom (possibly) he loves. He says he’s too joyful to talk, though, after all, being a Shakespeare character, he nonetheless can, and in clean verse, too. He compares his (alleged) confused inarticulateness to the competing voices of a contented crowd which, “blent collectively / Turns to a wild of nothing save of pleasure / Expressed and never expressed.” A wild of nothing, save of pleasure. All phrases unintelligible, canceling one another out, however the sound of happiness nonetheless audible. That is the paradox of pleasure unstated, however nonetheless, by some means, spoken. So, whereas Hamlet has no pleasure, and lots of phrases (“Phrases, phrases, phrases” he drones), Bassanio has no phrases, and transcendent pleasure.
Numerous shades of human expertise reside between these two extremes. I might guess that a lot of them are inchoate, sensed however not clearly seen, till exactly described. Most individuals, even the wordiest, lack that degree of precision. The place Shakespeare discovered it, what equipped him with that expertise, is a thriller of the ages . . . .