Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Define “Shakespearean”

Just a quick question, looking for a quick, one word answer.  When you use Shakespeare as an adjective, what do you think it means?

Does it mean quality, as in “Just write me a quick blog post, I don’t need it to be Shakespeare”?

Does it mean sad, as in “Shakespearean in its tragedy”?

Perhaps grand, sweeping, epic? A story of Shakespearean proportion!

Or maybe difficult? “It all sounds like Shakespeare to me!”

Perhaps pompous? “Look who we got here, we got ourselves a real Shakespeare!”  Maybe “pompous” isn’t the right word there.  Superior?

The easy answer is probably “All of the above”, but where’s the fun in that?  Let me phrase it differently – when you hear it, what’s the first usage you think of?


Sophie said...

Quality/Well crafted. Which are three words, but I'm taking artistic liberty.

JM said...

Iconic, as it pertains to things Shakespeare. This probably isn't what you're looking for, but it's the best I can do at the moment. ;-)

Duane said...

I think I know what you mean, JM. It's like Mr. Shakespeare is the Everest for all of those adjectives, like he's the metric against which everybody else will be defined.

Second question -- is all of Shakespeare's work, Shakespearean?

Andrew Huntley said...

By the definition, all of Shakespeare's works are Shakespearean. That being said...Pericles. Not nearly as much.

Bill said...

To answer your question, the first usage I think of is "written by Shakespeare" but that might not be as much fun as you were hoping.

But as you imply in your post, context is key. Shakespeare can mean any number of things.

In the case of the quick blog post that "doesn't need to be Shakespeare," I interpret that not to be about quality, but a "more matter, less art" kind of thing.

Of course, it could mean quality as well. "I read your poems. Shakespeare you are not."

"It all sounds like Shakespeare to me" seems a bit contrived, and I don't know that this usage works for something confusing. You can quote Shakespeare and say that it sounds Greek to you, but saying something sounds like Shakespeare to you almost always implies that it provides the spiritual fulfillment of elegant poetry, even if the speaker who uses the term is not personally a fan of the actual Shakespeare.

"You might find Alan Greenspan boring, but when he speaks, it's like Shakespeare to me."

In the case of "Look who thinks he's Shakespeare," I wouldn't go with pompous, but perhaps someone who takes himself too seriously as a writer, or who writes too much.

"You're saying I used 'less' when I should have used 'fewer'? Well thank you, Shakespeare."

"Hey, Shakespeare, that e-mail you sent me was eight pages long."

Oh, and Pericles may not be my favorite play, but I would definitely call it Shakespearean. Plays like Titus Andronicus and The Merry Wives of Windsor are not Shakespearean, which should be taken to mean "I personally do not like them, and therefore they should not be considered representative of this playwright who I do like."

But not every play can be a King Lear or a Measure for Measure, now can they?