Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Else Do You Read?

As I’m working my way through Catcher In The Rye (and not enjoying it) I was struck with a good question for the weekend:

You’re a Shakespeare fan, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.  What other authors, modern or classic, do you or have you read that you feel … how can we say this… give Shakespeare a run for his money? 

What do I mean by that? I’m trying to decide. As I read Salinger I’m trying to find parallels with Shakespeare, in character or theme or plot or something. Not finding much.  So I’m wondering if there’s some author out there that I might read where you could clearly say “Ok, see, this guy is roughly following the tragic hero model, here’s where his flaw becomes his downfall…” That sort of thing.  Am I making sense? Some other author that crafts characters or stories that you’d feel comfortable drawing a comparison to Shakespeare.

I used to work with a guy who was Hemingway Geek to my Shakespeare Geek.  His job was much harder because Hemingway’s work is not in the public domain, so there’s no way that he could just search across the Complete Works like we do.  But we had many conversations about similarities between the two.  Personally I don’t see it, Shakespeare as a playwright was driven by plot and dialogue and Papa Hemingway could write 50 pages about a guy standing in a river by himself catching a fish.

19 comments:

Darren said...

I'm a fan of Hemingway, and I agree with your point about him. I'm also a fan of Catcher in the Rye, although I haven't read it in years--maybe it's different from a parent's perspective. Gatsby is another favorite of mine. I haven't put much thought into it, but he seems to be a tragic hero--and the plot is driven by a lot of details.

Ren du Braque said...

Hi,

Good grief, I gasp. I don't want to give this away, I may be completely full of crap, but below is my read of the two... read below my take, which I don't think you'll find anywhere, or wait until you're done and see whether what I'm writing makes any sense at all.

Here it goes... last chance to give suspense a chance...

Holden and Hamlet are adolescents forced into an adult world before they are ready. Everyone is absolutely phony in Denmark and New York... Only a few/younger souls are able to see the ghost, hang onto an innocence. The marriage/funeral of Claudius is so jarring, forced and phony. The ordeal of Holden reveals a world that is jarring, forced and phony... Hamlet says to Claudius that he is "more than kin than kind," i.e. the KING is a big phony. Holden asks where do the ducks go in the winter. Hamlet, talks about child actors, which reminds me of Holden's clinging onto youth and the perils of growing up. Neither of them can handle the changes they going through. They are both going insane! ah... what is the tragic flaw that links the two? I can't tell you now. It's there. I swear it is... maybe you don't see it now. You may later. First find Hamlet's flaw... Ask yourself:

Is Hamlet justified when he murders R&C? Is Holden really justified in what he does? Sure, the court of Denmark and the prep school world are full of crud-balls, but murder, blind faith in being a catcher in the rye, of holding (holden) onto lost innocence? Doesn't Hamlet want to hold onto something too? who is that drunken teacher at the end who says know the ... what was it... limit of your mind, then you'll be happy?

It's not the same story but I swear Hamlet heavily influences Salinger.

I hope my opinion does not lead you down some blind alley.

Ren du Braque said...

To be closer to the Bard, I would suggest to read Montaigne and Cervantes. Montaigne, because I read that Shakespeare found him very interesting. Cervantes, well because it's just too darn good and he's Shakespeare's contemporary. I have only started Montaigne. It's hard. He has a certain stoic philosophy that was prevalent at the time of Shakespeare. I'm also interested in Petrarch and one of these days I'll have to read very carefully Chaucer.

Twelfth Night said...

I love Hemingway, but you're right, he doesn't have much in common with Shakespeare. I think a good author from recent years for a Shakespearian to read would be Cormac McCarthy. They both have voices that are beyond this plane of existence. Hemingway was famous for speaking in a more "common" voice. (As well all know, in Shakespeare, "common" can have good and bad connotations. I certainly don't mean it negatively. I just mean Hemingway is famous for writing the way most people talk in "real life.")

McCarthy, on the other hand, is grandiose, powerful. He speaks like Lear in the storm or, as one famous reviewer said, God speaking to Job at the whirlwind.

Go out and get yourself a copy of "Blood Meridian." Hurry Hurry! :)

Of course, Ren is also right that there are many authors from Shakespeare's era that are even more similar to him. Cervantes is a good one.

Ed said...

I love The Odyssey, particularly the translations by Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Fagles.

Also, and one who acknowledged his debt to Shakespeare, Herman Melville, specifically Moby Dick.

Katja said...

In my opinion, both Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights" and Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray" fit your description.

"Wuthering Heights" is structurally like Julius Caesar. The protagonist (in this case Catherine) dies rather early and the rest of the novel/play is then haunted by memories about this person and in both cases by the actual ghost. In terms of character I can see similarities with R&J: the two quarreling houses, mixture of masters and servants (Nelly Dean reminds me a bit of Juliet's nurse). And as for the tragic flaw: all of the characters in "Wuthering Heights" seem to have one, especially of course Heathcliff.

And as for "Dorian Gray", I think Shakespeare would have written a killer soliloquy for him.

Katja said...

I've just scrolled through my archive of Shakespeare articles and actually found one on Shakespeare and Wuthering Heights. I only quickly read through the introduction but it seems as if Emily Brontë had several Shakespeare plays in mind when writing her novel. (The article explicitly mentions Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III and King Lear... not Julius Caesar and R&J as I just did ;)

Ren du Braque said...

I forgot to mention that the Bible is very important to Shakespeare... Also Katja reminds me of what I think is very important regarding other literature. No matter what you read, if you know Shakespeare you start to see how drama is structured. In any author you can say, ah there's the maturing before one's time theme, here's courtly romance, love, betrayal, treason, etc. and you can see what's been borrowed and where the other author has diverged from Shakespeare.

While I was reading Hamlet, having Salinger in mind, I got to the verses about child actors and it struck me that Salinger latched on to this part. Salinger emphasized for me why Hamlet would be so interested in children and why Shakespeare would this theme into the the play in the play motif... which brings to mind Holden's obsession with the Hollywood, movies and contemporary culture and above all images...

anyway, reading Shakespeare and other authors, for me, is very symbiotic.

Ren du Braque said...

just one more comment, i meant to write why Shakespeare would WEAVE into his...

In my opinion, if Catcher in the Rye seems completely different from Hamlet, then kudos to Salinger for having heavily borrowed Shakespeare's themes and writing us what seems to be a new story.

Ren du Braque said...

sorry, too many comments. Dostoevsky (very influenced by Shakespeare) wove a lot of Macbeth into Crime and Punishment.

oh wait! run for Shakespeare's money! well, Molière is a good place to start. Don Juan has themes about forgiveness that seem to me quite similar to Shakespeare's... I missed it the first time I read it, but when someone pointed it out to me, I was amazed.

Ok, that's it. At least for a while.

Stacie said...

I actually found Catcher in the Rye quite fascinating, though I imagine if you read with the Hamlet comparison in mind (as Ren put forth), it might be a little disappointing. And Salinger's just not for everyone. (I also read it in a class taught by my Shakespeare professor, so that might've helped.)

Otherwise, I tend to read a pretty wide variety of things and don't have much by one single author. Naturally, I go for Shakespeare fiction, when I can find it, which is sometimes interesting and sometimes really disappointing. I also enjoy things set in the world of academia (David Lodge).

I've always enjoyed any Kurt Vonnegut I've read; he touches on some controversial issues in different ways that have always worked for me. Tom Stoppard is amazing (and has that Shakespeare connection): Arcadia has some Shakespeare-esque explorations of time and people and I've been recommended India Ink before. I also second Katja's recommendation of Oscar Wilde, even if only his drama.
For poetry, I usually head for Poe or Plath, with some William Blake sprinkled in for good measure.

Lately, I've really made an effort to read more modern work that isn't fluff and have picked up some fiction and poetry anthologies and chapbooks from some independent publishers. I've been pleasantly surprised and it's really helped with my writing, seeing what the average writer is doing currently.

Good luck with adding to your list!

catkins said...

I love your question, Duane, but it has many facets (that's why I love it).
Hemingway is a great writer, but he is not Shakespeare.
If you are looking for another writer to read who is like Shakespeare, stop looking, that writer does not exist.
If you are looking for another great writer to read, there are plenty, but who you will like will depend on your taste. I tend toward writers who have been around for a while. I think Dickens, in his way, is as great a writer of prose as Shakespeare was a writer of poetry. Yes, some of his stories can be predictable and long-winded, but, oh, can he sometimes turn a phrase!Everyone should read "Tale of Two Cities."
I would not recommend reading the Bible just because it influenced Shakespeare. There are some passages of interest and beauty, but, as a whole, it is rather boring. If you go for it, read the King James and take a deep breath first.
Montaigne's essays are fascinating but variable. Sometimes lively, sometimes dead dry. Donald Frame has a good translation. Not for the faint of heart.
I am also a fan of Vonnegut, especially "Slaughterhouse 5" "Mother Night," and his short stories "Welcome to the Monkey House."

Joseph Conrad always amazes me. I love his short stories and "Heart of Darkness."
Graham Green's "The Power and the Glory" blew me away.

Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is a classic. Some are fond of all of her works.

Almost forgot Maugham's "Of Human Bondage."

Notice the single titles? Interestingly, just last night my sister-in-law proposed that every author EXCEPT SHAKESPEARE has just one great book in him (or her). My wife argued to exclude Dickens and there was a lively discussion about that, with some contention that "Tale of Two Cities" was his only great book. I argued to except Hemingway on the basis of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Sun Also Rises."

Any comments?
--Carl

JM said...

Since you asked Carl, I think Dickens was the Shakespeare of his time. His picture painting, wordplay, (even phrasing sometimes), wit, character paintings, and character naming, even!; all so similar to Shakespeare. I've read most of his work. I think Tale is great, but to say it's his only great novel? What about Great Expectations, to name just one? Or Pickwick Papers, in a different vein of genius?

catkins said...

Great Expectations and David Copperfield were my wife's two other favorites. I think my ninth grade exposure ruined Great Expectations for me.
But you are right, there are too many great ones. I would even include A Christmas Story. And Bleak House. And I agree about Pickwick Papers, too.

JM said...

And is it mere coincidence that his first aspiration was to become an actor? He said, a goal only thwarted by a bout of influenza which postponed an audition he had arranged at Covent Garden, I believe? He remained involved in theatrical enterprises to his dying day; a benefactor to families of actors who had fallen on hard times. And several days short of his ultimate demise, he was outdoors reading his work aloud and acting out all of the parts, stopped only by the infirmity that led to his death. He was "accounted a good actor", by some (to quote someone else :) .

p-e-s said...

As far as "getting" humans go, only Anna Karenina comes close to anything Shakespeare's done.

As far as visceral books go, "Wuthering Heights" is some kind of mystical creation. Jon Gardner's "Grendel" is modern cynicism through a pre-modern lens, so very interesting indeed. Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" is also worth reading--not for the cadences, but for the flow and for the content. I'll leave much unsaid, as I think everyone could benefit from a fresh read of Whitman's first book of poetry.

Emsworth said...

I spend as much time with Dickens as Shakespeare, so there's my bias -- but surely Dickens is the only Western author who can fairly be compared to Dickens either in his thorough sympathy with human nature and his expressive art. Whether in tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, or tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, these two are alone at the top.

A couple of random points of comparison: Dickens really wrote only one pure comedy (Pickwick), but all his novels have comic characters and scenes every bit as wonderful and memorable as Shakespeare's. Both composed around historical themes (Dickens with Barnaby Rudge and Tale of Two Cities). Shakespeare's early plays, like Two Gents, are heavier on comic episodes and lighter on storyline; so are Dickens's earliest novels, Pickwick and Nicholas Nickleby.

A friend recently referred me to a short little book of wonderful, graceful, thoughtful essays comparing Dickens and Shakespeare that I must recommend to any Shakespeare Geek: it's Alfred Harbage's A Kind of Power. I found a used copy on Amazon. Indispensable for lovers of either Dickens or Shakespeare, I think.

Emsworth said...

I spend as much time with Dickens as Shakespeare, so there's my bias -- but surely Dickens is the only Western author who can fairly be compared to Dickens either in his thorough sympathy with human nature and his expressive art. Whether in tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, or tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, these two are alone at the top.

A couple of random points of comparison: Dickens really wrote only one pure comedy (Pickwick), but all his novels have comic characters and scenes every bit as wonderful and memorable as Shakespeare's. Both composed around historical themes (Dickens with Barnaby Rudge and Tale of Two Cities). Shakespeare's early plays, like Two Gents, are heavier on comic episodes and lighter on storyline; so are Dickens's earliest novels, Pickwick and Nicholas Nickleby.

A friend recently referred me to a short little book of wonderful, graceful, thoughtful essays comparing Dickens and Shakespeare that I must recommend to any Shakespeare Geek: it's Alfred Harbage's A Kind of Power. I found a used copy on Amazon. Indispensable for lovers of either Dickens or Shakespeare, I think.

Emsworth said...

Carl – just can’t agree with the notion that other authors have only one “great” book in them. Just to mention some of the British authors I love: Dickens wrote at least half a dozen truly great novels (Pickwick, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, Little Dorrit). Hardy had several (Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess, Jude the Obscure), Jane Austen had at least two (Emma, Pride and Prejudice), Trollope had at least three (Barchester Towers, Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, The Way We Live Now), Forster had at least a couple (Howard’s End, Passage to India), Wodehouse had several (Very Good Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters, The Mating Season, Joy in the Morning).