A supremely unwise man once said, "Shakespeare's okay once you get past the language." Shakespeare is the language; or, rather, the whole reason to read the works of William Shakespeare is for his mastery of the English language. True, he was a masterful student and observer of human nature, but his genius lay in his ability to express common emotions and ideas uncommonly well.
It is the authors able to identify the universal elements of human experience whom we most love. Anyone can spout esoteric nonsense, going on about things of which we can have no knowledge, but it takes a master to limit himself to the mundane and the ordinary, and thus to transcend those things with genuine insight and the powers of faithful representation.
That Shakespeare was able to do this in his plays (in some more capably than in others, certainly) is uncontested. What makes Billy even better than others with similar talents (like Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson) is his capacity for expressing ordinary things extraordinarily well, adapting his language as necessary to fit the situation, roving between complex poetry and common vernacular with incredible ease.
But why read the Bard of Avon? Lines like Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and Alas, poor Yorrick have embedded themselves in the English language, and so many phrases we use are direct from plays like Hamlet, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night that many feel they have a grasp of Shakespeare without ever having read him.
Naive opinions aren't all that rare, but this one is particularly ludicrous. First of all, there are hundreds of lines in Shakespeare's plays and poems you'll never discover if you don't read the original works, many of them more striking, more bold, and more lovely than their more famous counterparts. But more than that, no line of poetry or prose is as powerful or effective alone as in its original context.
Consider the human organs: by themselves they may be interesting to study, but only put together the way they're supposed to be are they living and functional. To dissect Shakespeare's words with the intent of finding "the important ones" only results in a mess and the ultimate death of the plays from which they're taken as well as the lines themselves.
William Shakespeare is justifiably called the greatest writer of the English language, both for his brilliance of expression and the quality of his thought, and reading him (though it takes some work, especially initially) is a true pleasure. This handsome collection of the complete works is unfettered by commentaries or extensive notes, simply offering one of literature's greatest catalogues to present and succeeding generations.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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