Time has passed profitably, though I would not be so certain it has been beguiled.
Well, I’ve now read twenty-three plays. There are some that I never want to see again: Titus Andronicus is like a Quentin Tarantino script, terrible dialog – almost a pastiche of Shakespeare and lots of violence to conceal the defects; The Merry Wives of Windsor could be the unfunniest comedy ever written, indeed, dental surgery without anesthetic may be preferable to that play. Pericles, Prince of Tyre is quite dull and it ranges with too much material to be engaging, whilst A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is whimsy but the language make it enjoyable and humorous; Much Ado About Nothing is the ideal RomCom, even if the title indicates that Shakespeare might have inspired the Carry On series of saucy movies. All’s Well that Ends Well is surprising and mysterious, perhaps with too many extraneous elements but interesting all the same. The less said about The Comedy of Errors, the better. A waste of time. It’s clear why Troilus and Cressida was unproduced for nearly two hundred years, it’s a very difficult play and while the themes are vaguely interesting the odd bawdiness and prolix make it just too long. I wonder if he listened to his quotes about brevity being the soul of wit? Obviously not before he wrote Hamlet but at least after. Brevity is in Timon of Athens, a miserable, misanthropic rage of disappointment, though there are questions as if Shakespeare wrote part of it. Antony and Cleopatra is superb, riveting and with a clear line of character and language.
It’s clear to me that Shakespeare had almost no idea about structure, or that it was of no importance in his day; the appeal was the words and presence of the voice. Therefore something well plotted didn’t matter as he could use any device to make characters become lovers instantly, or have them disappear altogether.
The idea that if he were alive today he’d work in movies and TV is nonsense. He’d never get a job; not in comedy anyway because his comedy has dated. Today’s writers are mostly very good structuralists. Imagine Shakespeare writing a sitcom: twenty-one minutes for a half hour slot in peak time. Shakespeare produces a two and half-hour comedy. There is mistaken identity, plenty of disguise, and cross-dressing, some additional cousins for good measure; a running lame joke over a fat cuckold is repeated, often: very often (that really made them laugh back in the day); and all the ad breaks are missed because each scene is too long and the punchline jokes are mostly incomprehensible, or about the fat cuckold, again. The major story and the minor story don’t overlap, in fact, they hardly correspond.
Don’t get me wrong; the man could turn a lovely and memorable phrase, and I agree with GBS, that no-one could write a better tragedy than King Lear, but work in today’s media industry? No.
25 May 2012