Look around you...for 500 years people have been quoting Shakespeare as if they are actors in his plays...someone is doing a Caesar here, some others trying to be Iago or Shylock, and then there are the Brutuses, Cleopatras, Capulets and Montagues.... while those who haven't read Shakespeare just go about happily living their own lives ...In fact , the Shakespeare-educated can't even understand life unless it follows a Shakespearian character pattern...is this healthy for society? People hiding their evil in the cliche "tragic flaw"?
AGREE ENTIRELY WITH BOTH ! There is no saying what, "doing justice to Shakespeare" really means and surely criminals do not go searching for a Shakespeare to justify their "motives", BUT WHAT IF WE TOOK SHAKESPEARE TO CRIMINALS? What if we stopped trying so hard to make him palatable to college and school going kids and ran him through audiences in jails and rehabs , even for those in death row for crimes of passion such as jealousy, ambition, covetousness, for being accomplices, WHAT WOULD BE THE OUTCOME ? Has this been tried ? Is it worth the try ? Would they find themselves ? Would they be repentant ? Would they justify their actions ? Would they....!?
I am very impressed by your questions, assertions, and obviously strong feelings. But what you say about Shakespeare could be said about a lot of other authors, going all the way back to Sophocles and the other Greek tragedians. It occurs to me that it could also be said about classical music. Operas have been written about Romeo and Juliet and Othello as well as about other literary characters who have committed all sorts of crimes, including Mozart's Don Giovanni who spent all his time seducing women. Tchaikovsky wrote a beautiful tone poem about Romeo and Juliet, and Prokofiev wrote another. You ask, "What if we took Shakespeare to criminals?" There are a lot of things we ought to take to criminals instead of leaving them to rot away in their cells, but I don't believe that Shakespeare would be a top priority. Are you really serious about that question? At least it's a novel notion. Literature has changed a lot since Shakespeare. Modern authors don't care to write about the problems of kings, princes, dukes, etc., who were mostly a bunch of bandits and thieves. The great Tolstoy disowned his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina because he said he could not longer write about the trials and tribulations of a class of people he had come to see as parasites.
What defines doing justice to Shakespeare? Certainly as time rolls foward and the culture changes, some of his metaphors and subtle wordplay are lost if not studied. But his works are still studied and performed; I've seen brilliant Hamlets and others....not so much. As media evolves, yet another version of his works are produced. We recognize he comprehended deeply human motives and wrote what he comprehended, and thankfully we can still appreciate that today.
Yours is an excellent and thought-provoking question. I don't know how to answer. However, I think you are making a pretty wild assumption when you say that "those who haven't read Shakespeare just go about happily living their own lives." That sounds like a very easy prescription for happiness. Just avoid reading Shakespeare. I can't believe that most people who read Shakespeare, and especially people who really love Shakespeare, read him because they are looking for excuses for being wicked. I doubt if you could find many really wicked people who knew anything about Shakespeare. But I like your question.
Witnessing how a character in a play copes with all-to-real life instances in no way compels the observer to act accordingly. The brilliance of Shakespeare's characters is that they are accessible to a modern audience even after a few centuries have elapsed. Comprehending Hamlet's wordiness and lack of worldliness, Lear's parenting, MacBeth's ambition, and Othello's jealousy as you exemplify, serves to challenge the observer to ask of him or herself how they would resolve those issues. Characters are case studies that provide guidance; "look what happens when this happens."
Watching a murder on stage or reading about it in a script is one thing; allowing oneself to be inspired and go commit a murder is quite something else.
"The fault lies not in our stars, but in our selves."
See the matter from the reverse point.Shakespeare's genius taught the world about the elemental passions of human life and their consequences. Hamlet, Othello,King Lear taught us not to commit mistakes like them.This has been proved correct time and again . So,how can we go without Shakespeare?
Real life is certainly different from the Dramatic world of Shakespeare,but the passions and emotions portrayed by this uneducated(!!!) man are so real that keeping them aside under any kind of biasness is simply foolishness.
I like the question, but not the context. I doubt his characters have effect on the criminal population. His language is very sophisticated, and the majority of petty thefts and such are commited by the lesser intelligent people, those who haven't had the education to think for themselves, that can't interpret his works.
Sometimes I also need to remind myself that Shakespeare also wrote the dialogue of the minor characters. Whether or not in doing so he intended to please the groundlings or the Queen or the Duke of Earl, we do sometimes find "instructions" as Samuel Johnson put it. One example is the first conversation in ROMEO AND JULIET. Gregory's "Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar," may be regarded, I think, as an interesting recommendation of good posture. The first and last lines of the conversation, "Gregory, on my word we'll not carry coals" and "'Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been Poor John," are together an allusion to the first line of the GOSPEL OF JOHN: "In the beginning was the Word." In the midst of their conversation is Samson's " 'Tis all one," which is at once an allusion to DEUTERONOMY 6:4 and GENESIS 1:27. I distinctly remember my 12th grade instructor suggesting that we should be on the lookout for this sort of thing.
My reasoning in recommending the comedies follows. "Soft you; a word or two before you go," says Othello(5.2), which might recall Mercutio's "And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something"(ROM3.1). Therefore, when studying a tragedy, also study a comedy and then try to follow the happier example. Another thought that might occur is that I think that I am not the only one who has found that trying to construct answers to posted questions here can be difficult. I do confess that on occasion I have become grumpy. In a multi-volume collection titled SHAKESPEAREAN CRITICISM, I came across a theatre review by one Joseph Wood Krutch. He began by noting the question of whether the author wrote only for performance or also for readers. His answer was that Shakespeare wrote for both. Therefore, have you heard people speak Shakespeare's work lately? I mean not electronically reproduced speech but people near you speaking words.
Memesis should be spelled mimesis in #16. Also, perhaps the play Twelth or Twealth or TWELFTH NIGHT is a good play to compare with HAMLET.
The original question also reminds one of Samuel Johnson's work and G. K. Chesterton. As I am a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, after reading a piece of criticism I ALWAYS must return to a Shakespeare text or texts to try to discern what the critic may be trying to convey. Therefore, "Mad let us grant him[Hamlet], then, and now remains / That we find out the cause of this effect, / Or rather say, the cause of this defect, / For this effect defective comes by cause. / Thus it remains, and the remainder thus. / Perpend"(HAM2.2). Hamlet's speech to the players, where he tells us that the purpose of playing is "to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature" apparently comes from that ancient Greek fellow Aristotle and the term memesis. We may then have a problem reconciling Johnson's purpose "to instruct" and Hamlet's. It seems that some instructors today introduce Shakespeare to students with THE TEMPEST, perhaps because it is the first play in the FIRST FOLIO. Another reason may be the epilogue where the author asks us to help him. Shakespeare needs your help. Another issue is, as Professor Garber noted, that the author wrote during a time of religious controversy in England and Europe. There are many Biblical allusions in the plays. Perhaps we need to try Benvolio's advice, "Take thou some new infection to thy eye, / and the rank poison of the old will die"(ROM1.2), that is, read other authors or AS YOU LIKE IT.
I find the discussion amazing and useful for the students. As in India, plays of shakespeare are yet prescribed in the universities and colleges, we are bound to study them and find out innovetive explanation. But what surprises me the other day is that I went inside a mobile theatre which exists in Assam and found that play they were staging was an Assamese version of Shakeapeare's King Lear. They have named it "Bali gharar alahi" means "guests of houses of made of sands. I was surprised to see that thousands of audiences enjoyed it and praised the actors. They also found themselves in the characters. I think that the important thing. His plots and characters are still contemporary to us. I don't have much knowledge about him and his writings like you all but I could not help but to write a few lines out of my ignorence.
By George , i think you got it ... Skaespeare's "...imaginary scenes and people...become more real to us than our actual life." i knew Bernard Shaw would soon appear to rave and rant against his own inability to surpass the genius that is William Shakespeare...and by that process place himself next to Shakespeare, ready to accept that the difference was a large one between one and two in the history of English literature, as long as one was Shakespeare and two, well, Shaw! Truth is while Shaw may be a great student of Shakespeare , his plays are mentored more by Henrik ibsen..and no one in English Literature can keep up a drawing room conversation as long and delightful on stage as G.B. So, thank you for the diversion...that appears to answer the original q in the affirmative : Shakespeare's genius does so compel us to identify with his dramatis personae that it turns us into murderous Macbeths, suicidal Hamlets and brutal Othellos! Can we, then, dismiss these guys as "idiosyncratic" ?
May I quote G. B. Shaw as found in the book GREAT TREASURY Of WESTERN THOUGHT, edited by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren? "With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity...............But I am bound to add that I pity the man who cannot enjoy Shakespeare. He has outlasted thousands of abler thinkers, and will outlast a thousand more. His gift of telling a story(provided someone else told it to him first); his enormous power over language, as conspicuous in his senseless and silly abuse of it as in his miracles of expression; his humor; his sense of idiosyncratic character; and his prodigious fund of that vital energy which is, it seems, the true differentiating property behind the faculties, good, bad, or indifferent, of the man of genius, enable him to entertain us so effectively that the imaginary scenes and people he has created become more real to us than our actual life." (From Shaw, Dramatic opinions and essays ll).
Absolutely! Shakespeare's characters are "complex, round, dynamic", but aren't Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet thus because of their criminality, brutality, their suicidal tendencies?Though i must make a distinction here between Hamlet who is dragged into a hell, Macbeth who creates his own hell and Othello who has a hell contained within himself ~ ot-hell-o ! ~, is it not true that we are drawn to them because of these very hellish reasons.."They appeal to our humanity" you say, and i agree...which is why i ask agan: "why is society so fascinated with its criminals....?" and does this fascination, this appeal, lead to greater criminalisation? Which is my original question !
Allow me to rephrase that...Hamlet is violently dragged into a hell created for him by others; Macbeth violently drags others into a hell created by none other than himself;Othello has a hell contained within himself ~ ot - hell - o ~ that others simply help to trigger a violent release ! And we are fascinated by all this hellish violence! Someone must ask why ?