Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Beyond Shakespeare’s System

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Does Shakespeare, in his plays, represent reality, or does he create his own reality?  One thinks of Infinite Jest, and the world created in that, with somewhat impossible (or very improbable) characters, technology that doesn’t entirely represent what we have today, and so on, and so on.  (I say ‘and so on’ because I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are other things.)  Infinite Jest’s world is not reality, but a combination of ideals and grotesqueries, with exaggerations and silhouettes of humans…  The point being – is Shakespeare any different?  Shakespeare’s world/s often work through rules which have no bearing on our own world – the magic of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the disguises in all the comedies (and tragedies too).  The soliloquy is itself is rather unreal (though as a way of representing internal states of a character it has its use).

Does reality matter in art? is what I mean to say.  Hamlet talking about holding the mirror up to nature is not Shakespeare talking from his heart, I suspect, even if he does agree.  (I’ve come to the conclusion lately that Hamlet was as self-contained and controlled a character as any in Shakespeare’s works, and thus should not be taken as an unconscious spillover of the author’s.  He may be his best character, but Shakespeare always had him under control.  Previously I was of the opinion that Hamlet’s greatness came from some sort of creative miracle whereby Shakespeare was a conduit without control.)  For instance, could Shakespeare merely have been indicating Hamlet’s desire to hold the play up to Claudius, rather than espousing theatrical universals?

Any art that we constantly value throughout the eons is art that has, in its own way, systematised nature.  Even a photograph creates an artificial viewpoint.  Shakespeare seems like too canny a person to not have known that holding a mirror up to nature, without any sort of dramatic/characteristic system, in front of the Globe’s audience would have been a complete disaster.  His entire work is a contradiction of Hamlet’s statement.  Hamlet’s statement, even, is a contradiction of itself, meta-theatrically.

(Such thoughts as these have been brought on by my reading of Gravity’s Rainbow, as you may imagine, with its distinct world, much like Infinite Jest.)

I think Shakespeare’s power – or at least part of his power – comes from reminding us of our own world.  Which is not the same as representing (truly, identically) our own world, it should be noted.  He starts from the world, but in the act of putting pen to paper he diverges from it, idealises and grotesques it.

Something like that, anyway.

If someone wanted to usurp Shakespeare’s prime position in the canon, they’d have to find and create – and I say this without having thought it through – an even more complex system. Yes, that seems like a good path to go down.  Bloom talks about Shakespeare being the first to have characters overhearing themselves (soliloquies and whatnot) and changing as a result, which, except for Chaucer/Ovid in small amounts, presumably is true.  If we compare a system where a character can change itself to a system used by Homer/etc where they don’t, we see that we have a more complex system.  (It’s interesting to me that the characters in Homer never change themselves, but are changed by the persuasion/overwhelmings of the gods.  They’re not even changed, really, but merely provoked.  The gods themselves are as unchangeable as the humans, too.  And so the entire system is one based on fate and a timeline that forces every character down their own paths.)  The question then, is, is there a more complex system to be found after Shakespeare?  I don’t think anyone’s found it yet, not even Tolstoy.  Ibsen and Chekhov feel, as I write this (and again I haven’t thought this through), like variations on Shakespeare’s original design.  No one’s managed to come up with a new design that’s greater than Shakespeare.  (The implication here, being, I suppose, that I hope I will at some point, though not with the play I’m working on now, I’m guessing.)  (Insert egotistical trumpet fanfare here.)

I suspect that only someone who thinks like the above – of creating a more complex system – will surpass Shakespeare, whoever that may be.

Of course, the main problem is, what exactly can be more complex than Shakespeare?  How can you be more complex than someone overhearing themselves and changing?  (But art was never meant to be easy, I suppose.)  And how do you do all that and still keep a play entertaining?  (Because otherwise what’s the point?)  Whatever it is, it has to involve words, surely.  Which sounds facetious to say because a playwright has nothing else to work with…

More ambiguity into the system, perhaps?  Who knows.  There is a point where ambiguity becomes mere lack-of-meaning, too.  Perhaps it’s not character’s system that needs to be updated, but the world’s system.  Or not.  I have no idea, to be perfectly honest.

Work subconscious, work on a solution for me.  I give you a year.

567/whatever on Gravity’s Rainbow.  I was going to read Forster’s A Passage to India next, but now I think I’m going to read the next Kafka novel.


Written by epistemysics

December 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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