"I have tried, lately, to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull, that it nauseated me."
So said Charles Darwin regarding the Bard, a figure perched on the highest throne in the kingdom of literature. And if I may be so impudent as to insert my own opinion here, I think I completely agree with Darwin there.
William Shakespeare is thoroughly overrated.
Being an English literature junkie has its shortcomings, and being expected to love Shakespeare is one of them. By not being impressed by the utter wordiness, the flowery outrageousness, and the impenetrable depths of hidden meaning in his works; I wasn’t aware how big a sin I was committing.
If Bardolators (a big thank you to George Bernard Shaw for coining the word ‘Bardolatry’), catch sight of me, they’d probably lynch me for not pledging absolute fidelity to Shakespeare. But my inability to love him is not unfounded, and I would take an opportunity to explain why (in the name of heavens) I cannot tolerate to read this guy or watch his plays in action on stage.
Also read: US tour planned for Shakespeare First Folios
One of the very first things my teachers taught me about good writing were based on Aristotle’s Poetics and the rules he put down for tragedies:
- Do not be wordy
- Less is always more
- A good plot is really important
- Do not use complicated words that nobody understands
And right after that, I was shocked to see everyone worshipping a man who broke every one of these rules, not to mention bored us sore with his poetic rants.
Language: Seriously, what is going on with the language he deploys? It’s great to have a vast vocabulary, and even better to utilise it. But just like there are gourmands who do not like more sugar than is needed, I find Shakespeare’s use of flowery, outlandish phrases extremely annoying.
Bardolators argue how Shakespeare ‘coined’ most of our English idioms and phrases, ignoring the fact that most of those ‘coined’ phrases and words were already in full use by the common folk of that day; they were already part of the everyday lingo of the audience of that time.
If Shakespeare were to be translated in Urdu, you know where we would find him? Here:
It’s true: Shakespeare translated is nothing short of the masterpieces our rickshaw/truck painters present us with; because nowhere other than the back of these vehicles have I seen parallels of such mawkishly flowery and superfluously sentimental expressions.
Plot: When someone talks about the various ‘plots’ in Shakespeare’s plays, I can’t help cutting in mid-sentence to stop whatever’s coming next.
Truth is, Shakespeare has a few plots. He works off varieties of those same three or four main types in most of his writings. Every play is completely predictable and boring.
I knew Hamlet was going to die the moment he launched into his infamous monologue. I knew Romeo and Juliet would die because most of the characters were dead already, and because they’d both be hanged had they lived. I knew Othello would die because, well I knew Shakespeare by then. I also knew Macbeth was going towards a sticky end because yawn Shakespeare.
Dialogues: As for the dialogues, they are long and tiresome, and the plays go on and on, prolonging the torture till forever. When Tolstoy called the works “crude, immoral, vulgar and senseless”, he just about perfectly summed them up. It is really just three to four hours of a bunch of unneeded characters, redundant speeches and unnecessary scenes colliding off each other and wasting the audience’s time.
For crying out loud, we get it Bill, people fall in love (really hard), a cruel enemy butts in, everyone dies. Yes, that’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello. Something new please?
George Bernard Shaw aptly said about the playwright: “It would be positively a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.” On second thought, a little too harsh, perhaps, but I totally stand by the sentiment.
Other disturbing things: Then, there are those ‘elements’ which supposedly make his writings ‘romantic’ and ‘touching’. They just seem outright silly to me. Women dressing and passing as men, who finds that believable?
And the recurring instances of macabre love; I find it surprising that nobody thinks it bizarre that we teach these plays to kids in school.
When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine
Maybe Juliet should ease up on the front of cutting people up? And let’s not even discuss the bit about kissing dead bodies, which I’m sure all Bardolators find very lovely, romantic and hygienic.
Yet, the most irritating thing about reading Shakespeare is not Shakespeare himself; it is the critics. They will squeeze meanings out of meaningless things, and try to make Shakespeare into a god who hid pearls in every nook and cranny.
Shakespeare was popular alright, but he wrote for just that; popularity, and money.
He wasn’t constructing immortal gems of literature; he was only using the same plots over and over again to pull audiences and money. The bear scene in A Winter’s Tale had nothing to do with poetic justice as many Bardolators suggest; it was added because the theater held a tame bear at that time and it was good for business to use it.
But alas! Loving Shakespeare has always been in vogue and still is, today. In order to have class, you have to love Shakespeare, or at least pretend to. What Mark Twain said for classics, I would love to say for Shakespearean plays: “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read”.
I do hope the Bardolators forgive this horrible sacrilege of mine, and do not hack me down with the volumes of Shakespeare they own ... but haven’t yet read.
It should be fitting to end this piece with what King George III once said after watching one of Shakespeare’s plays: