After the very first class at the beginning of the semester I commented to MG that I was nervous and hesitant about studying Shakespeare. Deep down, I was scared that the language would be a hurdle to my understanding his work. MG reassured me that I would be fine and that he too, at one time, struggled to understand Shakespeare and that I would come to appreciate his work. I have come to realise as we near the end of our class, that through Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, along with works by his contemporaries, studying the literature and culture of the Renaissance has amplified my understanding of what it is to be human.
The Renaissance is defined as a period of time when human expression was reaching its full potential, and Shakespeare’s body of work was and still remains, one of the most important movements towards of freedom of thought that came from this pivotal period in human history. Shakespeare influenced the age in which he lived, as much as it influenced him. Shakespeare explored the complexity of human emotions in his plays. Issues such as loyalty, ambition, love, honour and the conflict that humans feel inside are explored in his work. From our study, I have come understand that Shakespeare had an ability to understand humans from the inside out. He understood that we humans base our decisions on emotions and intuition more so that than logic or reason. It is through his storytelling that Shakespeare allows us to understand a characters motivation and thought process, which then enables us to understand our own.
Through the course of the semester, I have grown to appreciate Shakespeare more than I did before. I have come to view him as a compassionate writer, allowing us an insight to his moral compass. Shakespeare recognises what it means to be downtrodden, what it means to suffer and the importance of mercy, especially in people with power. In his last play, The Tempest, Shakespeare writes “the rarer the action is/In virtue than in vengeance”. I would like to think these are his parting words to his audience. It is better to forgive than to hate your enemy. Forgiveness is for our own growth and happiness. Perhaps one of the most important reasons why we still study Shakespeare is that he shows us that we need to stand for what is right. More than 400 years after his death, it would be interesting to see how Shakespeare would react to the current state of the world.
Once last thing. I read somewhere that in his will, Shakespeare bequeathed his “second-best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway. Who got the best bed then?!
This week we continue our exploration of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, widely considered as not only as his last play, but also the finest of his romantic comedies.
The play blends elements of romance, using the characters of Miranda and Ferdinand and tragedy in Prospero’s revenge. The Tempest poses deeper questions that are not entirely resolved at the end of the play.
In Act 5 Prospero states “the rarer the action is/In virtue than in vengeance”. In Prospero, Shakespeare creates a character who decides to forgive his enemies even though they have betrayed him in the worst way. Shakespeare suggests that it is better to forgive than to hate your enemy. Forgiveness is for our own growth and happiness. When we hold on to hurt, pain, anger and resentment, it brings us down. Ultimately it harms us far more than it harms the `wrongdoer’. I have learnt over the years that while it can comforting or powerfully freeing to be forgiven, we do not forgive for the other person; we forgive for ourselves! Prospero knows then that forgiveness is an answer to injustice and is in itself a remedy for the potentially devastating effects of injustice. As this was Shakespeare’s final goodbye, I wonder if he was trying to pass this lesson onto his audience.
Prior to the start of the semester, I was going through my housemates book collection and stumbled on an old edition of `The Illustrated Book of Shakespeare’s Sonnet’. I casually flipped through, stopping occasionally to read a line or two. Later in class when we were discussing some of sonnets written by Shakespeare, I started to think about Sonnet 116;
The last two lines of the sonnet, If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved, serve as a declaration to the theme of the sonnet; the nature of true love.
Shakespeare states that true love cannot be altered and will not change over time- love can transform us in such a way that it becomes permanent. Even in death, love will remain. Shakespeare also uses the star as a metaphor, It is the star to every wandering bark, providing light to those who may have lost their way (in love). The star can also present the ways that love cannot be measured- we cannot guess the distance of the star, therefore love is unmeasurable.
Last week I saw a performance of the musical West Side Story, which is essentially the re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950s New York City. During the song One Hand, One Heart, the characters of Tony and Maria declare their love so strong that `Even death won’t part us now’. This lyric reflects Sonnet 116 perfectly. The love in this sonnet will not diminish over time, it is not based on beauty or looks, it is deep in the soul and the bones. Shakespeare declares true love is forever constant and will continue and survive until the end of time, and if he is wrong, then love never existed in the first place.