Tag Archives: The Complete Works of Shakespeare

How People Viewed Shakespeare in His Day Versus Today

I am finding as I post more and more thoughts on Shakespeare, and as a rule in general, people are very skeptical when it comes to reading or talking about Shakespeare. This, in truth, is a shame, and I find myself scratching my head and wondering if I am just bashing my head against a wall in wanting people to stretch into his plays and words. What am I missing? Or is it that people are doing themselves an injustice in reading the first ‘thou’ or ‘whence’, shaking their head in intimidation and shutting the book?

Curiouser and curiouser, I find.

I started doing some research on what people of Shakespeare’s generation thought about him, and while I do acknowledge that his generation already used (to a certain extent) his wordage and they were familiar with the Elizabethan stage, I started wondering about the ordinary person; or what about later generations who read his plays? What did they think?

Here is what I came across in Craig’s editorial: “A powerful impulse came to the study and appreciation of Shakespeare with the generation who lived during the epoch of the French Revolution. A new Shakespeare criticism was part of that revival of art and letters which we ordinarily call the Romantic Movement. The thinkers of that day were interested in a wider variety of ideas about life than were the pseudo-classicists. They found in Shakespeare such a marvelously significant and consistent picture of life that they came to think of him as endowed with the insight of a seer and the power of a poet, as greater and more significant than life itself. Each of his plays became a microcosm capable of yielding to the student, if he came with love and admiration in his heart, finer truth than science could yield. Science, they argued, bounds itself by fact; poetry has no such limits, but is a mode of revelation of the philosophy of life, presenting in concrete and constructive form what life means and what life might be. Shakespeare, the poet, was thus metamorphosed into a philosopher and teacher so that his works became a hunting ground where one might find the greatest thoughts about existence.”

Wow! What a boost into immortality for this small town actor and writer from Stratford-upon-Avon!!

But what about today? Where is this thinking on Shakespeare in the ordinary modern world of today? Will a movie need to be made, will a game for the new gaming system need to be created, will an app for our cell phones have to be developed to reach the millions of modern tech seekers in this generation for Shakespeare to find a voice in this world of microchip and internet flood? Will his ancient words and his creation of the 17th-century human even make a ripple in this ocean?

My hopeful heart says yes, that somehow his plays still matter and his works will continue to be a hunting ground where one might find the greatest thoughts about existence. Craig continues later saying, “Human nature remains the same from age to age,” so we must continue to see Shakespeare, the poet, as that philosopher and teacher for this modern generation for when we read his plays, we see ourselves. We are Hamlet in his cowardice, in his pain; We are Iago in our jealousy and hate; We are Juliet in our teenage rebelliousness and first love; We are Prince Harry in his stirring ambition and victory, and on and on and on…

These are my thoughts for today about the man, the genius and the poet. I would love to hear your thoughts on how his works influence you or how one might encourage this modern generation to delve into his words…. please comment below!

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley

The Mind of a Master Discussing a Master

I decided to do some research on the editor of my grandmother’s college book “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, and get an idea of the man behind the research done in the preface and introductory analysis of each play, and I have to say, I am astounded.

Wikipedia describes him as the foremost authority on Shakespeare and Milton of his time.

Here is the Wikipedia description of him: Hardin Craig (29 June 1875 – 13 October 1968) was an American Renaissance scholar and professor of English. In his 65-year academic career, he served on the faculties of eight different colleges and universities, published more than 20 books as either author or editor, and was one of the few Americans to be elected to the Royal Society of Literature in Britain.

I thought how interesting it would be to continue posting direct quotes of his from the book while adding my own annotations in parentheses since it seems my blog is becoming more and more Shakespearean by the day. Or at least it is starting that way since I have the intention of delving more into Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, as well as some of my other favorite authors: C. S. Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ken Follett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Rosalind Miles, Daphne Du Maurier, The Bronte Sisters, and Jane Austen.

Shakespeare seems to be a good start to this blog, so I hope you enjoy the journey through Shakespeare, to feel the intensity my own heart feels for the plays and the passion that the words of the Bard can portray in these modern times.

(I love these words of Craig’s): “One does not approach Shakespeare as one approaches authors less well known, authors to whom the track has been opened mainly by historical scholars. The road to Shakespeare is a well-traveled highway. Every modern person who has any pretense to culture knows something about Shakespeare and considers himself in some sense an authority in the interpretation of such characters as Hamlet and Shylock, and usually has a firm rooted opinion that Shakespeare was a self-made man with a proclivity for deer-stealing. To ask a person if he knows anything about Shakespeare is to ask him if he belongs to a respectable family and has had any care in his upbringing. No author ingrained in popular thought as Shakespeare is, no author whose words are proverbs for daily use, can be properly studied without some attention to such questions as how he got into print and how his fame grew and thrived through the centuries.”

(Ah, so true…. opinions about Shakespeare are as common as the noses on people’s faces… and those of wanting to debate whether or not he indeed wrote the plays is becoming more and more common. There was a time when I believed he did not write the plays, but as the time passes, I have come to realize that my belief came simply from my in-depth research into my own novel “Blood and Ink” which delves into the possibility of Marlowe being the actual writer of the plays of the First Folio. When Craig says ‘Every modern person who has any pretense to culture knows something about Shakespeare and considers himself in some sense an authority in the interpretation of such characters as Hamlet and Shylock, and usually has a firm rooted opinion that Shakespeare was a self-made man with a proclivity for deer stealing,’ a smile came to my face. There is such a sacredness for those of us who love Shakespeare, especially those of us passionate about the man and the works, and after immersing into learning the beauty of his words and genius, we indeed feel like we have a firm rooted opinion and consider ourselves in some sense an authority in the interpretation of much of his characters and words.

But, in reality, none of us lived during the 1600s. None of us have had the opportunity to interview the very man, so all the authority and opinions any of us feel like we have, they are indeed just opinion and our own interpretation of our idea of what he may have meant in certain passages, what provoked his thoughts to write quips or scenes or develop certain characters, and what in his background added to his ability to create the incredible blank verse we are so fortunate to have before our eyes in this 21st century.

I have found that as an author myself, experience adds much to writing. My thoughts as to Shakespeare’s experience sometimes wavers and tick-tocks back and forth like the movements of a cuckoo clock. Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don’t, that he is the actual writer. But again, I remind myself on a daily basis, I am just a historical fiction writer, not a historian. I am content to remain an avid Shakespearean geek and leave the philosophizing of his authorship, his education, and background to those who, in reality, cannot, and will not, ever truly know.

I am content to revel and relish his words, no matter if they are Shakespeare’s or not. They inspire me… they make me feel happy when the words filter across my tongue. I think Shakespeare would smile at this thought because after all, isn’t that what all of us as authors wish? To one day, five hundred years from now, for our characters and our words to dance through a stranger’s mind and still, after all those passing years, years after we have passed off this mortal coil, for them to inspire another soul and to bring happiness to another human being. That is what Shakespeare is to me.)

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley

How to Enjoy Shakespeare

I found this passage while rereading Hardin Craig’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare and found the words immensely agreeable to anyone who might wonder how on earth to completely enjoy reading or watching the plays of Shakespeare.

There are so many I have heard through the years who roll their eyes and sigh with disgust at the very thought of attempting to read or watch anything Shakespearean. I am not of that opinion, nor have I ever been, but I can see if one is intimidated by the wordage or form or style of his plays and sonnets, how they might shrug off any attempt to give them a try.

The passage reads like this and after meditating on the idea Craig offers, maybe if you are not a Shakespearean fan, maybe this will give you the impetus to give him another chance.

Craig says, “All of this repeats from another point of view an age-old criticism of Shakespeare; namely, that he is an exuberant artist, that he is not restrained and classical. But this exuberance has been his chief source of power; we merely cite the facts in order to control, in the interest of a true and vivid appreciation of Shakespeare, idel and unintelligent speculation on the interpretation of Shakespearean characters and plots. We should learn to surrender ourselves so completely and so intelligently to Shakespeare’s artistic appeal that we, like the audiences for whom he wrote, can enjoy his art in spite of its conventions. In doing this we shall not need commentators who insist forever on doing the work over in needless paraphrases of plot and endless discussions of characters. We should put ourselves, if we can, into a sufficiently receptive mood to enjoy Shakespeare’s appeal to simple emotions,, though in doing so it may be necessary for us to suspend our demand for naturalism and philosophy. We should recognize that what we have is a story, told usually marvelously well, with the somewhat crude device of the Elizabethan stage; and that it is a story which, however replete with originality, was usually already familiar to the audience for which it was written.”

Here, here, I say… bravo!! Shakespeare was the Lin Manuel-Miranda of his day. For those Hamilton fans of the Broadway stage, Shakespeare used the devices common to his day to tell the audiences stories of history, of love, of hate, of violence, of jealousy, of joy, of lust, of betrayal, of innocence, of arrogance, of passion, of the travails of the ordinary man as well as noble. The invention of the human, as we all know is still happening on the Broadway stage and lesser stages around the world. The genius of Shakespeare is seen clearly today in our modern versions of Manuel-Miranda and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Craig also points out: “…the more nearly we can see as Shakespeare meant us to see, the more adequate will be our vision and the keener our enjoyment. Neither the Elizabethan writer nor the Elizabethan audience had a body of ideas like ours, knew what we know or in the way we know it, wanted the same things from life that we want, or thought of drama or life as we think of them… Since Shakespeare did not and could not think and talk in terms of such ideas, he should not be made to do so.”

Shakespeare was and is an artist, a writer, and for most of us who aspire to write even one percent of a tenth as Shakespeare wrote, we can understand the significance of allowing Shakespeare to simply be Shakespeare, the artist, and writer. As writers, we all make allowances for artistic expression and for the most part, seek to align ourselves with our audiences for the sake of commercialization. Five hundred years from now will audiences of that future look back on George R. R. Martin’s book series of Game of Thrones or Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth and think, “No, I will pass because the wordage and the style are just too complex or too hard for me to tackle.”

The thought should give us a moment to reflect. Shakespearean plays and sonnets are well worth the time and effort anyone might take to sit back and enjoy, whether by reading or watching. We have enough adaptations on BBC and movies to fill our bellies full of quality Shakespearean meat for any who wish to delve into the buffet without actually sitting down with a book. I have to admit, sitting down with an entire folio of his plays and sonnets is rather daunting, so I have listed a few of my favorite movies, and the links to buy, based on his plays for any who wish to give them him a try (in order from my favorite to least favorite):

Henry V – Kenneth Branaugh
Hamlet – Mel Gibson, Helena Bonham-Carter

Richard III – Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hollow Crown, The War of the Roses)
Henry VI, part 1 and 2 – Hugh Bonneville (The Hollow Crown, The War of the Roses)
Richard II – Ben Whishaw (The Hollow Crown)
Henry IV – Jeremy Irons (The Hollow Crown)
Henry V – Tom Hiddleston (The Hollow Crown)
Hamlet – David Tennant
Romeo and Juliet – Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet – Leonardo di Caprio
The Taming of the Shrew – Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Merchant of Venice – Al Pacino
Richard III – Lawrence Olivier
Hamlet – Kenneth Branaugh, Kate Winslet
Othello – Kenneth Branaugh, Lawrence Fishburne
Much Ado About Nothing – Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Twelfth Night – Helena Bonham-Carter
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfieffer
Titus Andronicus – Anthony Hopkins

I have yet to see an adaptation of Macbeth that I truly enjoyed, save for the possible one made years ago by Roman Polanski, but since it has been awhile since I saw that one, I left it off the list. These are my favorites. (addendum to this post: The newest Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard was, in my opinion, visually and intellectually fulfilling!)

So, my advice is to give Shakespeare a try again; who knows, perhaps with these words in your mind, the beauty of his verse may find its way into your mind and heart.

Thanks for reading! Please share and comment if you wish!!

D. K. Marley

My First Encounter with Shakespeare

My first encounter with Shakespeare came at the age of eleven. My grandmother, an English teacher and writer, introduced me to the works of Shakespeare. She inspired me with her love of books and love of English history and literature. My eager eyes spied a couple of her college books sitting on a shelf while visiting her one summer and my fingers brushed along the shelf, making imprints in the dust bunnies. I slid the books out and sat on the floor in front of the bookshelf and slowly turned the pages, soaking in the beauty of the language into my young heart. It wasn’t until later I realized she had been watching me, and after I returned the books to their hallowed place, she came up, took the books back down and placed them into my hands and said, “Here, these are yours.”

I still have them, to this day, some forty years later, and they hold such a precious place in my heart and in my home. Her gift and those words set my feet on the path of English history, inspiring me to take up my own pen to begin writing the stories floating in my head.

When in school, I adored English literature, the classics, the poets, the playwrights…. everything!

My first attempt at story writing was in eleventh grade when I joined the Short Story Writing Competition for our city. My story came in second place. And then, our school started a small literary magazine and a few of my stories made publication.

My senior year I began my first attempt at a novel entitled “Feringhi” – about a young Indian girl with a British father and Indian mother, set in 1800 Kashmir; a laughable piece, but now looking back on it, a necessary step toward developing my voice.

My next attempt, a sort of romance set in the 1700s during the early colonization of Massachusetts and Georgia and the barrier islands of Jekyll and Cumberland, in the style of one of my favorite authors in my younger days, Victoria Holt, entitled “The Jekyll Child”. Romance, or at least the style of Historical Romance, is not my forte nor my passion.

Later, after reading books such as Rosalind Miles’ “I, Elizabeth” and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon”, I knew where I wanted to take my writing. Thus, the combination of Shakespeare and learning my own voice, as well as my many visits to London, I arrived at the current air of my novels.

Writers write, and writers write what they know. I never went to college or studied Shakespeare to the extent I wish I could have, but I hope the passion for his works come out in my novels. My grandmother’s book is “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” edited by Hardin Craig and published in 1961 and I thought it might be interesting to blog about things within this book that inspired me, and hopefully will move others and younger ones to look into the incredible words of this genius. I hope my words mingled with Shakespeare’s will find some other eager eyes to pass along my dust bunny soul.

The opening lines of the book read: “In order to fully understand and appreciate Shakespeare, it is necessary to see him as a whole. It is not enough to read individual passages, scenes, and plays as independent units; they should be studied in their relation to the development of Shakespeare’s powers as a dramatist, to the drama itself, and to Renaissance literature. The student who would know Shakespeare needs to know the temper of the Elizabethan age. As the student comes to understand better the meaning that Shakespeare had in his own day he will at the same time, the editor believes, develop a richer appreciation of the qualities of Shakespeare’s genius that have given his work meaning in all ages.”

I wholeheartedly agree. In this world of technology, let none of us take for granted or lose the beauty of his words. Young people today, well not only young ones but all, are inundated with screens – cell phones, computers, movies and TV – but there is something grounding when they are encouraged not to forget the smell of a classic book, the eloquence of a phrase, or the heart-moving verse in a sonnet or poem. This is a legacy, Shakespeare’s legacy, needing to be sounded from the corners of the world.

This is my sounding from this blog and I pray someone hears. If you are out there, listening, I heartily thank you. Now, pick up your own pen and carry on….