Today I want to chat a little bit about the creative literary genius known as William Shakespeare – one of the finest poets to ever walk the earth. One of the things I love most about him was his ability to weave hidden commentary in just about everything he wrote. The comedy The Taming of Shrew for example has some sinister underlying themes about control and conforming to society. Everyone is laughing, but underneath the silly, lighthearted overtones is a wild independent girl who is being conspired against and dragged down into the cookie cutter mold of society. A simple switch in tone, and this play would be quite alarming!
In the comedy A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, the disturbing conclusion is that Helena only ends up with the man of her dreams because Demetrius was put under a spell that made him love her back. The entire gaggle of acquaintances were all pawns that the forest folk were messing with for sport. She gets a “happily ever after” but can it really be happy if the man she’s with never truly loves her back? I know right! So sad.
Once you know this about Shakespeare, you start seeing it in everything he wrote. Even the tragedies are darker and more tragic than they appear on the surface. Romeo & Juliet is sometimes touted as being one of the greatest tragic love stories ever written. But it’s not a love story. It’s about two stupid, dramatic teenagers with communication issues. Behind their angsty, flashy, lovey-dovey display, their parents hatred of each, a feud without a known start, leads to the deaths of nearly all of the young people in their family. The younger generation hated each other because the older generation hated each other and so forth. It’s commentary on the prejudice that gets passed down to your children disguised as a love story to make it more entertaining and palatable, because, as I’ve stated, Shakespeare was a genius.
There’s passage in Romeo & Juliet that always makes me cry. It’s near the end when Romeo thinks Juliet is dead is about to drink his poison. “Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace.” I swear it’s the most beautiful passage of poetry in the entire world. I read this, and no only is it dripping with insanity, it’s juxaposes the final scene when the family reason the true price of their feud with one another. Eyes, take one last look at your children. And also at your hatred for each other. Arms, embrace your children for the last time. Embrace your hate one last time before you let it go forever.
There was an episode of Futurama of all things, where the famous robot actor killed himself on stage after doing this monologue. And I cried real actual tears because it was articulated THAT well. That was a good show, folks, stupid Bender jokes aside.
When I first started reading sonnets, I thought they were just the love sick musings of men who needed a good psychotherapist and a slap to the face. But just as fantasy parallels non-fantastical life, a sonnet can look like gooey love on the surface, but be filled with an entirely unrelated topic underneath. I myself have written many song lyrics about pain and depression that might look like brokenhearted love songs from a different angle. There have been entire sonnets about the sunset and how gorgeous it is that are really about death or aspects of life that we take for granted.
Below is Sonnet 13 from my Shakespeare book and is, without a doubt, one of my favorite sonnets bar none.
O that you were yourself! But, love, you are
No longer yours than you your self here live.
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give,
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Your self again, after your self’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so.