Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shakespeare Said It, Now Figure Out How To Make It True

Here's a quick game for a weekend day. Surely we've all experienced a certain amount of rationalizing that goes with our Shakespeare, whether it came from casual conversation or directly from our teachers. What am I talking about? I heard an old stand by this morning about Juliet being 13 - namely, "Oh, well you see, that was the typical age for a girl back then to get married."

Really? Back when, exactly? The late 1500's when Shakespeare was writing? Or something more in the 14th century, based on Porto's original? If the latter - then why did Porto have Juliet as 16 instead? (I think I have those facts right, this is off the top of my head). If Shakespeare was talking about his own time, what's it mean then that at 18 he married a pregnant woman nearly 10 years older than him?

Or instead is it that we read Shakespeare, we think "Well, whatever he wrote has to make sense, therefore this love story about a 13yr old has to make we'll tell ourselves how it makes sense."

Then there's the "second best bed" that he left to his wife. Surely you've heard people tell you that "Oh, well you see, this was commonly done - the *best* bed was the guest bed, of course, and the second best bed would have been their wedding bed." Really? Has anyone ever seen independent confirmation of that, or is that just wishful thinking?

Then of course there's the whole gay thing. Sonnets written to a dude? Of course they were, that's how people talked back then! It was perfectly natural for one guy to write love poetry to another guy!

I'm curious, this fine Saturday morning ... can we make a list of those? More importantly, can we decide once and for all which are right and which are just wishful thinking?

1 comment:

JM said...

On the age of Juliet question:
It's interesting to note that reading through it, you notice that Shakespeare paraphrases--much more elegantly-- the ideas in many lines of Arthur Brooke's long narrative poem, "Romeus and Juliet".
It's thought that Brooke was Shakespeare's immediate source. In Brooke's poem, some of Nurse's lamenting lines leap off the page when asking the question why Shakespeare decided on Juliet being nigh unto 14 years old:

"One thing there is which most of all doth cause my endless ruth.
At sixteen years I first did choose my loving fere,
And I was fully ripe before, I dare well say, a year.
The pleasure that I lost, that year so overpast,
A thousand times I have bewept, and shall while life doth last."

Shakespeare has Lady Capulet chide Juliet for being older than "old enough", or " fullyripe", as the Nurse would have it, even at the impending onset of turning 14 years old, telling her, in effect, that other girls are mothers by her age--herself included. If being " fully ripe" was the qualification, who would know the answer to that question re: Juliet better than the Nurse and Mom?

Anyway, I know this isn't by any means definitive...but it's interesting to note how it might have influenced Shakespeare.