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Not so long ago, but seeming far away, in northern Minnesota when he, she and it were not yet lumbered with felled wood it was permissible to reach well beyond ourselves and attempt things outside a local grasp. We (unwitting social criminals would seem) did Shakespeare.
Often called The Bard, he is these days often censured or condemned as unsuited and unfit for the education of tender minds gripped by the hand of other minders.
Now, there’s a fair argument be made that Shakespearean English is a challenge for moderns, teens included. The challenge to an educator is to meet the task, not make excuses why it’s too difficult, meaning put something easier (and easier taught) done in its place. Ah sweet bliss to be rewarded for less effort with lesser result approved by acclamation of lesser powers. (So think some.)
It’s a curious-funny thing when education becomes a justification of lesser learning and lower aim. In its basest form (one level such learning can achieve) it applauds students for being able to urinate on their own feet. Well done! Passing! You did it! We award you!
Am I too severe or sarcastic? Maybe, but after meeting with a new law school graduate who did not know the purpose of commas in a series (“old grammar” didn’t matter) or was told by authority that including a grade transcript and publication history was “unfair” to other applicants I’d have to wonder that even 20 years ago a serious creep of expectations had begun.
What replaced grammar or grades or expectations of higher learning? Social and political thought seem to be the current fancy, meaning the study of Shakespeare is currently happy dealing in what he can be accused of, the vile and wretched sinner who should have been burned at the stake as heretics were in his time. I thing the elevated moderns are not so, after all.
The Bard has his faults. You’ll hear contemporary performers wobble-mouth around the social traps they need run to defend performance of work ‘Speare’s detractors typically fall well shy of understanding.
Criticism is easier than performing. Indeed, a critic finds centuries of approval due cause to cry “Tear it down!” When all’s torn down we abide in drivel land where a puddle of youse is all a people are allowed to be.
To the Bard’s tear-down detractors his failings cannot be borne and are enough to bring him down. Ripping down the flaws in others is always easier and preferable to dealing with one’s own frailties, but best not say that to the tearers’ down of others as it much upsets their bile with issue of much yowling.
A Reader article isn’t the place for a detailed Shakespearean piece, but in a compact way let me try to at least some. In his Henry plays (sometimes referred to as the Hollow Crown series) the supposed outdated and out-of-touch Bard deals with a nation with sharply divided factions, revolt, dissension, treachery, loyalty, betrayals, cruelty, nobility, faith, trust, love, greed, honor and other things we see and hear every day in news. I think it may be it irks the modern pride to be reminded that things 500 years ago were as they are today.
Frankly, it’s more than irksome having open-ended endless subjectivity applied as if it was ultimate and holy truth.
Have we mislaid the attempt to be objective, or is it lost? Why should the complaint of one become the worrisome problem for all? Is it a world gone topsy-turvy or is turvy-topsy the corrected form of the condition?
Why do we go along with condem-nation of wisdom because there’s a flaw hidden somewhere that negates all else?
Reminds me of the plight of a school district somewhere that wanted a pure and innocent logo for the district. They settled on Evergreen until someone gasped “Wait! That might suggest a tree for lynching!”
Of all trees ill-suited for lynching the evergreen spruce or balsam are it. But for those traveling in travail the halls of political worry a practicality is as nothing to their focus of chasing down the evil Bard who dared ask “Who is the author of our discontent?”
‘Speare asked and demonstrated in language that after hundreds of years manages, still, to give sight into the human condition. The evils of a balsam lynching are easier imagined than done, but let that not stop the decrier who says it’s most real and must be seen for what it is imagined to be.
For all the (for us) difficult language and style we still recognize in the Bard’s characters the role of decriers, of the vain, of the greedy, of the honest, the poor, the noble heart, treachery, and much else the revolutionary will stoutly deny as if nothing on the blessed earth ever came before the dawn of their wakeful revolutionary revolt.
Whoever the ‘Speare was (I’m of Oxfordian inclination) they certainly had (in my view) both knack and grasp and also perspective.
But wait, what possible modern perspective could there be in the War of the Roses with governing factions bloodily divided?
OK, I take back the question. The perspective, then, comes in seeing social and human conditions through other eyes and in different times. There are simply too many things in the Bard’s work that ring reasonably true 500 years later. Greed is certainly still with us in much the same fashion, but then so is the gift of generosity (in spirit or wealth) if we allow it.
Instead of ill judgment of ‘Speare as writer see him as a prodigy child who cast a part fitting his young eyes and life.
If we shadows have offended – Think but this and all is mended – That you have but slumbered here – While these visions did appear. – Now give me your hands if we be friends – And Robin shall restore amends.
Child Robin speaks: Seen beyond the now these are but visions. The play’s an act, not so hands in friendship clasped restoring the present to peace. So friends, gentle readers, good night unto you all.