Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Shakespeare Unauthorized

When I am frantically writing an essay at three in the morning, I sometimes stop to ask myself why I am so incapable of writing coherent sentences. I have moments where I question whether or not I am literate because all I see around me are talented, articulate individuals. Every student at some point has felt the need to be better, the inadequacy that comes with peer editing and the process of learning. I, however, did not expect Shakespeare to have encountered the same problems. Over the years, he has been romanticized and idolized to the point of becoming superhuman. Imagine my surprise when I visited the Shakespeare Unauthorized exhibit at the BPL and realized that he was as flawed as any college freshman. 

Walking through the exhibit, I was equally stunned and gratified to learn that the first draft of Hamlet's soliloquy was, honestly, sophomoric. Multiple folios made clear the fact that the Bard was not a perfect genius, and if anything he was a very imperfect man with a remarkable talent. His propensity to steal plots, his multiple editions of his plays are evidence that the process of writing never becomes any easier. Perhaps by modern standards it is unacceptable to plagiarize storylines, but judging Renaissance individuals by 21st-century mores is absurd. I am reminded of a famous quote by T.S. Eliot, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different." To me, Shakespeare seems a blend of a mature poet and a good one. We can look back  on his early work with rose-tinted glasses all we want, but at the end of the day he remains the same person, and the breadth of his work is a testament to the man he was, not the false idol he has become. 

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