In Criticism Of: Shakespeare

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Georgie Holmes gives us reasons as to why Shakespeare isn’t all that he’s cracked up to be. 

Hear me out: I appreciate why people like William Shakespeare. Studying English Literature at A-Level and university, it is hard to escape the die-hard fans of his work. But, it’s just not for me.

Before I get attacked, let me quote the words of Tolstoy: “I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best […] not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium, and doubted as to whether I was senseless in feeling works regarded as the summit of perfection by the whole of the civilized world to be trivial and positively bad”.

Maybe it’s my lack of familiarity with the plays, but I just don’t find any pleasure in reading or watching plays of his (although, Gnomeo and Juliet is 10/10). Admittedly, I have only ever studied Othello and Richard III (but, to be honest, the two become jumbled in my mind because most of the characters are as replaceable as each other), but if the first two can’t grab me, I’m not confident that any of his other plays will.

Out of these two plays, it is hard to find a character likeable. One that has stuck with me is Iago, but that’s probably only because his character was taught to me at A-Level as showcasing some of the most famous literary techniques (eg. the soliloquy). I know that the plays were written in a vastly different society than we live in now, but even so, it wouldn’t hurt to give one of your female characters some personality…

What happens in the plays is not as exciting as they are hyped up to be, too. The dull personalities are substituted with plenty of gore (which, to be honest, is bearable), but that leads to nothing interesting. I had to read Othello and Richard III numerous times, and I cannot tell you a significant plot point that has stuck with me (other than the obvious murder here and there).

Shakespeare’s sonnets are definitely much more bearable than his plays, and there are a few that are memorable enough. Sonnet CXXX is perhaps most entertaining because of its ridiculousness. Known better as ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’, this sonnet is attempting to ridicule conventions of love poetry. But, reading it with no context whatsoever, it reads like any other rakish piece. Nothing special, but (admittedly) somewhat memorable.

My main criticism with Shakespeare is not himself or his work. It’s that it feels like something compulsory, and something that everyone should appreciate. When, in reality, there are far more authors and works that are worth paying attention to. His contemporaries are more entertaining (Ben Johnson and Walter Raleigh, to name a couple), and there have been so many more interesting playwrights/poets since (ever heard of Aphra Behn, or the Earl of Rochester?!).

Sincerely,

A fed-up English lit student x

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Live Editor 2019/20 & second year English student. Can usually be found procrastinating my degree at a gig, or trying (and failing) to complete my Goodreads challenge

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