"With the single exception of Homer there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare, when I measure my mind against his"- George Bernard Shaw.
One wonders whether Shaw was being appreciative of Shakespeare or otherwise when he made this statement, but either way, I could have said the same thing several times. I first met Shakespeare as a pimply lad of fourteen in school. Julius Caesar, that famous political drama/thriller was the topic of study. Shakespeare had formally entered my life. Of course, I had brief and fleeting interactions with the Bard before, but they were too small and insignificant to deserve much mention.
Much has changed from that time and now and one significant change has been that I actually like Shakespeare these days. Back in school, Shakespeare appeared to be a douche nugget from whose pen words fell like shit from a diarrhoeic ass. May be it was the fact that he wrote in verse which did not have that allure of well written prose.
Julius Caesar came upon me at an impressionable age. Unfortunately, it was not Old Bill who got to do the impressioning. Rather, it was a strange anti-Shakespeare feeling, a notion that what the fellow had written was jackshit. We were told that Shakespeare was a master dramatist, someone who understood the human nature intimately and portrayed society wonderfully in his plays. To me, Shakespeare was just a sycophant on an ass-kissing mission to the royal palace. In those times, if you did not know something, then it was art and if art was shoved down your throat, you hated it. At that time our Shakespeare teacher seemed to grab me by the throat and bark sternly into my face: “You are coming with me. No arguments. Now sit down, and do exactly what I tell you.”
The whole Shakespeare affair was supposed to be informative, refurbishing and ultimately giving your soul a gung ho! I don’t say I’ve got much of a soul, but, such as it is, I’m perfectly satisfied with the little chap. I don’t want people fooling about with it. ‘Leave it alone,’ I say. ‘Don’t touch it. I like it the way it is.
Three years later came Macbeth and the treatment meted out was pretty much the same, if only less harsh. Shakespeare remained that incredible scourge that blots the English literary landscape. Add to that it was taught by someone who was once described as a manipulative svengali and you get the general picture. May be some psychoanalysts would like to read into those uninformed days of hate as Freudian slips of emotion. After all, I was, and still continue to be, a flamboyant and irrepressible pen wielder who was denied international honours only by the misfortune of my own genetic makeup, selectorial prejudice against rubbish writers, and my inability to wield a pen in a flamboyant and/or irrepressible manner.
Shakespeare’s works seemed to border on the ridiculous, an almost implausible rendering of affairs, if you will. Back in those days if I got an opportunity to meet Shakespeare, I would have sat him down, mopped his brow, given him a sharp talking to, told him to get a proper job, and poured a cup of iced tea over his head.
Some may like to call it anti-Establishment bias or a need to revolt against the prescribed norms, but back in those days, Old Bill seemed to be just plain stupid. His stories seemed more undercooked than a roast chicken that arrives at your table on the phone to its personal injury lawyer complaining of mild heat rash. Julius Caesar appeared to be a silly story of how eight men kill one chap and then three men, who thought the deceased chap had been hard done by, went and bopped one each on those eight chaps. It was historical, classical and widely praised by grey hairs all around the globe. Or in other words, it was something not to be touched with a ten foot bean pole.
But as time passed, I believe I have come to appreciate the man in a better sense and perspective, becoming much more receptive to the taste and feel of a Shakespeare. Today, I recognize him as the foremost among the great British playwrights and authors, not that my recognition matters to anyone else but me. Interestingly, it is the very facts about the Bard I hated all those years ago that endears him to me now. I love his old prose. They have a certain ring to them and they just rolls off one's tongue. He certainly has to be one of the best scriptwriters ever. One wonders what Guy Ritchie would have done with an original of Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare is no longer a stubbly man with the gold-hooped earring leering at the girl in the candy floss hut on a shady London street. Back in those days, I swore by Francis Bacon and was convinced without any evidence whatsoever that Shakespeare was a thieving little rat who had pilfered the works of an unsung great. However, today I do not care whether it was Shakespeare of Bacon who was responsible for Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing. After all, what is in a name? The very idea of Shakespeare, a literary genius whose plots and stories are still rip roaring material today, a man with exquisite art and grace and capable of putting it down in the written word.
I will no longer win the great delusion award for unshakable self belief. But I can keep googling for quotes by Shakespeare for almost anything under the sun and get cracking results. May be, that is what has put Shakespeare in a better light for me. The very fact that you can copy a couplet with stupendous results puts him in a league of his own.