Doggone Shakespeare!

Proving the value of Twitter once again, yesterday I had an interesting exchange with @ProfShakespeare. It began when I saw her tweet:

The link quotes the quarterback Cam Newton as the tweet has it: “’That’s Dr. Suess [sic] compared to doggone Shakespeare,’ Newton said when asked about the playbook he studied during the lockout.” Since I’ve written at some length about Shakespeare’s most famous (only?) canine character, I couldn’t resist replying:

To which a reply came in turn:

Since I was not in a position to carry on the exchange, which was growing beyond tweet scope anyway, I simply said:

Have a look at the Delmore Schwartz poem linked to. I’m afraid I have almost no feeling for mid-twentieth-century American poetry. Schwartz, Roethke, O’Hara, even Ginsberg and Stevens simply don’t speak to me (“The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream”? Sure, whatever.), by contrast with Auden, say, or above all Eliot. Although it’s always nice to see an attack on Freud, I don’t particularly like this poem; it strikes me as all over the map, but I suppose that in the end “we” are all Shakespearean in that “we are incomplete and know no future/And we are howling or dancing out our souls/In beating syllables before the curtain.” Not exactly “All the world’s a stage,” but it does convey that there is more to each of us “strangers” than is dreamt of in Freud’s or Wordsworth’s philosophies, and that it is “incompleteness,” or as the Great Gasbag of New Haven might put it, “infinitude to reflection,” that makes us Shakespearean, that is, human. Though that doesn’t explain why dogs are Shakespearean, especially the one in this poem, since it pauses, barks, wails, inquires humbly, but doesn’t fart.

But I was struck by an unrelated thought while I was trying to understand Schwartz’s children. For Schwartz, children are strangers because they are Others neither Freud nor Wordsworth can explain. But Shakespeare’s children are strangers too—because almost all of them die before reaching adulthood. The Princes in the Tower, Prince Arthur in King John, Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale . . . . Apart from the children of Clarence in King Richard III, the only children in Shakespeare who survive, at least as far as I can think offhand, are the tween love interests Perdita and Miranda (both fifteen or sixteen). Juliet, of course, is thirteen. And we’ll be getting back to her at last in our next post. But since we started with a football observation, let me conclude with one. You could be excused for thinking that Shakespeare was taking over the world of the pigskin. Note, however, that the line Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is supposed to have read—“For want of a horseshoe nail”—is, of course, not a line of Shakespeare’s, although it is associated with Richard III. This makes Dooley’s observation about his literary intervention—

They were very engaged in it. I asked if they had read Shakespeare and they tried to recite some of the Old English language, which none of them understood. I told them I didn’t understand their language of today. It’s really no different. Them trying to read Old English and then me trying to understand what they’re saying, it’s about the same.

all the more hilarious, if you can keep yourself from crying at the thought that in the United States of America of 2011, even people who are trying to show off how smart they are can’t keep their clichés straight, and think that Shakespeare wrote in Old English.

Basta! Let’s get back to the real thing, shall we? Let’s look—at long, long last—at the balcony scene.

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