Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Misquoting Shakespeare!

Ok - so I am in a bad mood and nobody will read this post so who cares - but one of my great pet peeves are people who think they are being smart by quoting Shakespeare but they have not only the quote itself wrong but also the context completely wrong, so their cleverness is just plain ignorance.  Here are some examples:
1. The number one most misquoted line from Shakespeare that I have experience is from "12th Night." How many times have we heard folks (even politicians and preachers) in an effort to be profound come out with this: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."  Sounds so inspirational, right!  Wrong! It is not.  The context is that the line appears in a letter that Malvolio finds which he thinks was written by the Lady Olivia (who is his employer and his secret crush), but in reality was written by the maid Maria and her cohorts who are trying to trick and humiliate poor Malvolio - which, by the way, the succeed in doing.  The line in this context is pompous nonsense which Malvolio believes but we in the audience recognize is a ploy and is simple nonsense.  This is not profundity - it is trickery and manipulation!
2. "Romeo and Juliet" is not about love.  I just saw yet another silly Facebook piece of cleverness which attempted to be profound by spouting some eternal truth about "love" using R&J as the starting point.  Sorry - please go read the play.  The play is about vengeance, and revenge and hate, and how those things will eat you up and destroy you and everything you hold dear eventually (those who attempt to shore up their political power by manipulating hate and fear should take note - yes, I'm talking to you right-wing zealots!)
3. "The play's the thing!"  Isn't this such a nice quote to lift up the importance of theater?!  Sorry, not really.  The play's the thing to use to trick and manipulate the emotions of King Claudius so that Hamlet can determine if he is guilty of murdering his father!  The "play" is simply a vehicle to clarify for Hamlet the guilt of his uncle the King!
4. I have already written about the downright stupid ban of the play "Tempest" by people who obviously do not know or understand the play. 

The fact is that Shakespeare is perhaps the greatest writer in the history of western literature whose work is a deep reflection of the human experience - but it is not surface stuff.  What makes Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 incredible is not all of the battle scenes - it is the relationships between Hal and Falstaff and, especially Hal and his father. Shakespeare still has some incredibly profound things to say to us in our society.  I just saw a brilliant production of "Timon of Athens" and then a production of "Coriolanus." Both of these plays have a lot to say to us in our society - about the power and place of wealth and the political process. But please, please, please read the plays and if you are going to impress your friends by quoting him, know the not only the text, but the context too.

I think I need to watch something - let's see what will it be?  I have a "Winter's Tale," "Henry VIII." "Merry Wives," "King Lear," and "Hamlet" videos I have not yet watched.  In my current mood perhaps "King Lear" is not the best choice!

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