Friday, December 9, 2016

Micah Cozzens' Advice on Studying Shakespeare

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Dear Nonexistent Younger Sibling,

You have chosen to study Shakespeare. I always enjoyed Shakespeare. The language is a bit of a bear, but once you get an edition of his works with some decent footnotes, the uniqueness of the verse will impress you, as it did me. 

My favorite play is A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Hamlet being a close second. I think you would enjoy Othello—lots of people die, so it's your kind of story. You know how I wrote that paper about carnivalization last summer? Well, it turns out Bakhtin talked about Shakespeare too. He said that Shakespeare used many carnival elements in his works. I think this explains how Shakespeare was able to use peasant/lower class characters to undermine the authority of the aristocracy. But he includes a lot of Christian elements, which I believe point us to his faith in a Christian God, which sort of balances out the satire. At the same time, his plays are never moralizing--the perfect blend of insight, wit, and meaningful themes. In my opinion, that's why they've lasted as long as they have. I'll be interested to see what you think about this, after having read some yourself. Anyway, I liked reading about the themes. Shakespeare laughs at everyone, kind of like we’re all actors on his stage. He uses a lot of plays-within-plays in his works. What do you think that could mean?

The formal analysis is a bit of a struggle, but just make good notes in the text. It'll help you notice patterns. Particularly watch out for when he breaks from verse (the iambic pentameter you probably learned about in High School—you’ll discuss “blank verse” in class) and uses prose. This generally means a commoner is speaking. While I think Elizabethan elites would have seen this as Shakespeare’s way of laughing at peasants, I think he was slyly undercutting the monarchs’ way of speaking by demonstrating how neatly dishonest it was—and the fact that he included dialogue from peasants at all makes me think he wanted to form a dialogue between classes in a satirical sort of way. Of course, I do want to see him as this secret social revolutionary, which he probably wasn’t, so I may be making a lot out of nothing. Anyway, I’ll be glad to hear what you think.

I’ve started talking to people on a Hamlet fanfiction forum. I mean, a lot of what they write is about Hamlet’s gay fling with Laertes—yes, and Horatio—which I haven’t read. (Something tells me Shakespeare is rolling over in his grave, but maybe he’d be flattered that they care.) They have really good insights about character motivations, though formal analysis isn’t their cup of tea. I really like talking to them, and one of the members and I have actually started a correspondence. We’re both puzzled by the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship. You should join. I know it seems weird, but at the very least, after reading an enthusiast’s take on Horatio’s supposed affair with Hamlet, you will never read it the same way again. And you’ll have a fresh perspective to build on when you’re writing your papers. J

I wouldn’t worry too much about including Shakespeare on your personal blog. My family and friends seem to take it in stride. A few of our cousins are reading Shakespeare in high school, and they were able to talk to me about it. I hope I got them more excited about it. Granted, my family think it’s a little weird, but—to be honest—they thought I was plenty weird before I started quoting Shakespeare on the blog. J Write soon.


1 comment:

  1. It would be interesting if you got a response from the nonexistent younger sibling. But pretty cool. Neat that you're talking to fanfic peeps! Way to continue your exploration past the class:) (This is Shelby, btw. Work computer.)