Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Few Old Notes on Old Shakespeare Readings (From the Pre-Blog Archives)

Coriolanus: The traditional interpretation in the circles in which I moved was that W.S. is sympathetic to Coriolanus's greatness and superiority, being a great and superior man himself after all, and is equally disdainful of the masses as a concept (qua masses), but judged that (Coriolanus) exercised his superiority unwisely. Of course these struggles between the truly superior type of man and the vermin become more acute and uncomfortable to hold an impassioned view of if one gets older and understands that the side he naturally belongs to is not the one with which he breezily identified as a younger man.

Macbeth: I was impressed by the manner in the many longer speeches in which image after image after image bursts out, each seemingly at an extreme of human possibility, language, characterization and meaning. The standard of expression established in itself makes the writing self-evidently important in a way that is unknown except among the very small number of the truly greatest writers in history. I don't know how many constitutes the number of those possessing this quality, but it is a small minority even of those whose work is recognized as literature, even of those whose work has legitimate historical importance.

Othello: If one can find everything in Shakespeare, one ought to write about him every chance...

All is found in all. The answer was indicated in every pattern... (on Iago's speech comparing the body to a garden in I, iii).

More human condition in all its glory and squalidness (sic). O. never one of my favorite plays. Problems perhaps not my problems (?). The demonstration of active will is a proper chastisement to me, however. Much irony, half-true observations by Iago. Is Othello sensitive or just intemperate? I suspect the latter. Was does W.S. think about life, as gauged by this play? A hard call...

Iago achieves his ends by speaking exact truth in a manner of a man of philosophy and poetry...wise, yet evil...more dangerous because paradoxical...convinces Othello that women are devils and dishonest by nature, or at least that all desirable ones should be...He believes he cannot enjoy what he loves, and thus believes that Iago is wise and honest (I used to struggle with a problem similar to this)...Because his reason is powerless, he is already lost...

The wordplay and poetry serve direct purposes and augment such language as was already necessary, unlike in other, less mature Shakespeare. Poetic power and literary experience (tightness, immediacy of action, etc) are here combined at one of the highest levels ever attained.

I post this because it is a kind of tradition in our language for literary men to record their personal impressions of Shakespeare from time to time, probably in order that others may better know them, by what they like, what they take from him, how they come off against and amongst the idea of humanity that he has put forth and in which the at all competent reader (or player) of him must be immersed. If there are very specific, esoteric meanings in him only to be gotten at by a specific intelligence and education and upbringing, I certainly will not be one of the people that has them. I really don't think that is the case, however. Certainly not the whole case, in any event.

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