Fat News: Not really fat news

I need to quit obsessing over the diet thing because it's slowly but surely driving me crazy.

So! Here's some news for fat people, because it's obviously only fat people who enjoy Shakespeare, because reading Shakespeare and understanding it means sitting on your ass and positively poring over it...

Ok, that's a severe stretch. It's more just an homage to my obsession with British literature. In reality, I like Old English and Medieval literature better than the Early Modern period, but I won't bore you with that because it's, well... boring.

But anyway, the New York Times' Lede Blog posted an article today about the unveiling of a portrait believed to be of William Shakespeare that was painted from life, and not posthumously like the famous etching that you see on the front of every single Folger edition play. This is kind of cool in and of itself, but what I REALLY like are the comments to the post, with people quoting Shakespeare all over the place and generally making themselves out to be weirdo nutjobs. That's funny.

But what I really REALLY like in the comments is the argument taking place regarding authorship of Shakespeare's plays. I find it so fascinating - why are so many people so keen on proving that William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon did not write the 30-some odd plays that are attributed to him? I mean, people get positively vicious about it! I'm like, rar... it was 400 years ago... authorship wasn't such a big deal then. Copyright laws as they existed back then made it so that the theater for which Shakespeare (or any other playwright wrote) owned the plays, not the author. They didn't think it was such a big deal, so why do we? (By the way - there is very little evidence to support any other person as author of Shakespeare's plays, and very little evidence to disprove that Shakespeare wrote them, while there is a wealth of information pointing to the fact that he did write them.)

I personally am a "Stratfordist." I think he wrote 'em. Analysis of his plays shows that it's the same style throughout. They can even tell that he did collaborate a few times (which was common then... you have to spit out like, a couple plays every few months - who wouldn't want some help?), but I just don't care enough, really. I like Marlowe better. Edward II, which I like to call "the gay play," is amazing. And I think Ben Jonson's comedies are funnier than Shakespeare's. The Alchemist is pure gold.

A lot of people focus on the "genius" of Shakespeare, so that we often forget that he had contemporaries. It really kind of humanizes him once you read other stuff from the period, because you realize that the individual things he wrote weren't so miraculous in comparison to a Marlowe play, for instance (and a lot of speculation says that Marlowe would have been the playwright of the period instead of Shakespeare if he hadn't been murdered). What's interesting about Shakespeare is that he wrote so in so many genres. Marlowe, for instance, sticks to tragedy. Jonson, to city comedies (a genre that Shakespeare, by the way, never touched).

But it's really fascinating if you've spent years studying this kind of stuff, only to see it argued over by third- and fourth-rate scholars on the internets (I'm not claiming I'm first- or even second-rate, but I know my facts and my limitations).

So if you're a wee-bit bookish, like I am, you might enjoy the article, and you'll enjoy the comments following it even more. And if you aren't bookish, you've probably seen that etching around on something, so this "new" image of Shakespeare is kind of thrilling, in that he appears so awake, so alert, and with so much humanity instead of the pomp and double-chinnedness of other representations. Also, check out this slideshow of other images of Shakespeare, all of them, at some point, either debunked or dismissed as accurate representations of William Shakespeare.

One more note... A lot of people were bitching about how Shakespeare looks bald in the etching, but doesn't in this "new" portrait. I have an explanation for that. In Early Modern England, people were stupid enough to believe that big forehead = big brain. Queen Elizabeth I actually plucked her hair out to about halfway to the back of her skull to present the illusion that she had this big ol' forehead, and was therefore smarter than everybody else. This perhaps could explain the baldness vs. full hairline phenomenon that we see between the Cobbe painting and the widely accepted Folger etching.

Everyone make fun of me for being a dork now, ok? I don't even LIKE Shakespeare that much, but anything related to early British literature makes me sit up and go, "Wha???"

Check out the full article, and the lovely, lovely painting, here.


Dina said...

I wish people still thought a big forehead meant a big brain.

I'd be the brainiest person around!

HopeFool said...

Love Shakes. Also, I agree that he wrote his stuff for the most part and am beyond bored with the argument. The scholars who chase that myth for a living really need to take a semester off and work at Walmart or something just for some perspective on life.

I just read a few of the comments. I so love being called "quaint" by pompous ass-faces.

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