The recent conversation on iambic pentameter got me thinking about how we approach “Shakespeare”. I say it like that for a reason, because it really means two things – the man, and the work. We don’t say “the stuff Shakespeare wrote”, we just call the whole body of work “Shakespeare.” Or, “to study Shakespeare.”
But sometimes, such as the iambic discussion, the line blurs – when are you talking about the work, and when about the man, and can you draw a line between the two?
Let me put it like this. When I look at the plays, I almost always envision the characters are real people, and speak of them that way – what did Hamlet mean by this, what happened to Ophelia’s mother, did Gertrude know what Claudius did? Likewise with the sonnets (here and here) I try to see them for their narrative (oh, Carl will love me for this…). Maybe that’s a bad term, though, because I’m not talking about the story told by the entire sequence. I’m talking about the picture that is painted, much like how you could see a work of art hanging on a wall and somehow feel that you could climb right inside it and stand next to the characters, have a conversation with them.
Very rarely do I stop and think “Shakespeare chose this word and this punctuation for this purpose.”
Sure, I do that when I’m trying to explain something to someone, as those linked posts show. But for my own enjoyment I don’t, you know what I mean? The sum is greater than its parts, maybe that’s how I want to say it. I agree completely that because he chose the words and punctuation he did, that the whole work manages to explode into a whole new universe for us to explore. But rather than studying the parts I study the whole, does that make sense?
Maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. It’s what’s in my head right now. I see everybody getting excited about the tricks and techniques Shakespeare used to emphasize certain syllables for certain reasons, and why there’s a full stop here but not there, and it’s like the excitement is more about the brilliance of the man, than the final product.
So which is it with you? When you speak of love for “Shakespeare” are you talking about the man or the work? I won’t say which came first because that makes no sense, but which *comes* first, for you? Which is greater?
Somebody jump in here, I’m rambling.