Tag: Shakespeare

Whose story is it anyway?

In a non-parody of a comedic television show, let’s take a moment to investigate the ownership of a published work. Recently, this author has been pondering this oft-debated issue, and I’ve come up with four possibilities.

One of the co-authors in the romance anthology Accidental Valentine posted on the topic July 16, 2015. Her points made me reconsider this whole notion that a story belongs to any one person.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Wendy Sparrow’s post on this topic, as well as the comments (there were only two at the time of this writing). I won’t attempt to paraphrase what she says because I don’t want to twist her original meaning.

And there is the crux of this issue for me. How can I know Shakespeare’s intended meaning a few hundred years after his death? 

If an author is still living, and of sound mind, I suppose we could interview them to find out what they meant. However, if we assume that words can take on a life of their own when formed into a story, is the original intention even the point?

Those questions are to give you a hint how my brain arrived at the four possible owners of a story. (And I’m not talking about copyright issues because we have laws that clearly govern those.) Once a story is penned, published and consumed, does the story belong to the author, the readers, the literary community at large or the characters?

Perhaps you have a fourth alternative. I hope you’ll share it in the comments.

Author

As an author, it’s no surprise that my first thought of ownership centers on the story’s creator. Surely, the one who created it should be able to say, “That’s my story.”

As Wendy Sparrow says in her post, ” authors pour a little bit of themselves into what they write, so taking the author’s opinion away from the work might strip it of some of its value.”

I would say authors pour heart and soul into whatever piece of fiction they’re working on. And creative non-fiction based on personal experiences takes an even bigger chunk. If the author holds back, the writing lacks authenticity.

Like Hemingway said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” (Read more on the debate of the true origination of this quote here.)

However, I can’t take full credit for any of the stories I’ve created. Something in the real world sparked the idea in my brain. It originated from that little seed. To grow it, I just kept expanding on the idea, asking “what if” until I had a solid story line.

Readers

I agree with Sparrow in that I am a reader first. I love to write. I live to write (or is that I write for a living?), but my first love is reading.

Once an author releases a story into the world through publishing, it settles into the hearts and minds of readers. Some stories are in the mind only as long as it takes to read them. Others embed themselves deep in the heart, offering up reminders of characters whose attitudes and experiences shaped my own worldview.

Do I write for readers? Yes. My stories are as much for them as it is for me. If I didn’t want to share it with someone, I wouldn’t.

Does that mean I’ve relinquished ownership to them?

What does that mean? Ownership, according to dictionary.com is “the state or fact of being a person who has or holds” some object. Ownership implies possession. If I possess it, it is mine.

Once I publish the story, I have consented to share its ownership. By making it available for public consumption, I’m sharing my creation. It’s like baking a cake. Everyone who consumes a part of the cake becomes owner of its deliciousness. I can’t take it back. It’s in them.

The same with written words. Once they are consumed, they become part of the consumer. That story is now part of the reader. It might go out as quickly as the cake. Or it might stay around for awhile (like the fat on my waistline from all the cake I’ve consumed over the years).

Sparrow says it well: “Authors want readers to invest in their stories…to become so involved that they care what happens to the characters. In some ways, we want to pass on ownership of our vision to the reader so that they immerse themselves in reading. It’s the only way a book becomes more than just text and becomes a journey.”

Literary Community

Once a book is published, it’s fodder for the public. One major voice in this realm is the literary community. You know who I mean, the professors at universities and English teachers at every level.

We’ve all suffered through a lecture on symbolism in some classic story or another. We were told the blue walls represented the author’s depression. The sword was a euphemism for death or power or kingship. (How can it be all three at once?)

In her post, Sparrow cited some literary figure and his theory on “The Death of an Author” (read more here if you’re interested). He’s one of many who believes if an author didn’t infer or state something in the text, it shouldn’t be later implied to be there.

Can we hear professors of literature everywhere sobbing?

Let’s face it, stories – especially fiction – are subjective. Each of us interpret the text through the stained glass of our own experiences. And the author did the same while they wrote it.

Can a story mean more than one thing? Certainly. It can live a thousand lives in the heart or mind of anyone who reads it and gleans meaning from it.

As an author, I want people to find themselves in my stories. I want them to relate to characters who are like them and find compassion for those who are completely contrary. Some of my writing is purely for entertainment, but even a short romance story I wrote had a deeper message: “breaking free from expectations takes determination.”

Characters

This is where my mind went after I read Sparrow’s post.

I might have birthed the story. In fact, I know I labored hard to perfect it on the page. It’s my baby. Or, I should say, it’s about a bunch of my babies. I’ve given them life by writing their story down and sharing it with others.

“Dream Architect” is whose story? Ashlin’s and Dylan’s. I told their story and submitted it to a publisher. The publisher liked it and bought the first American publishing rights to it. (So maybe the publisher is the owner of the story-for three years anyway.) Readers consumed the story.

But the story is about Ashlin and Dylan. It belongs to them. They lived it (as much as a fictional character can). They experienced the accidental encounter and the turmoil that followed. I wrote their experiences down and readers learned about them through reading, but the story is Ashlin’s and Dylan’s.

What do you think? Does a story have a single owner (possessor)? Do all of these people share in ownership of a story?

Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

This is the post of mine that netted the second most views ever on my blog. I think it was the title; Hamlet was a hero, right?

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. That being the case, we don’t see what motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne; his conquest accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?

The Power of Guilt

Tragedy upon tragedy, that’s been the consensus drawn from this Shakespeare class. My final paper addresses whether or not Macbeth is a moral play.

According to this website http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/macbeth/papers/ksteiner.htm, a morality play, or moral play, is when a hero is tempted, falls from grace and must be brought to justice for order to be restored.

Compared with the other happy and uplifting (sarcasm drips from my fingertips) plays we’ve read this term, Macbeth seems to fall into this form more than the form of a simple tragedy. In fact, Macbeth doesn’t seem to have the ambition to promote himself in the beginning of the play and haply serves Duncan.

I’ve always felt that Lady Macbeth resembled Pilate’s wife. The greatest difference is that Lady Macbeth cajoled and belittled her husband until he finally became a murderer – thrice over in one night. Afterward, guilt ate at her, driving her to walk in her sleep while trying to wash the blood from her hands.

Pilate’s wife had a dream and warned Pilate not to condemn Jesus Christ. This was a wife who pushed her husband in the moral direction. Unfortunately, Pilate tied his hands by offering the mob a choice.

Guilt seems to affect Macbeth at first, too. He sees the ghost of Banquo at a dinner party he’s hosting and all the guests think him mad. Once he becomes king, he hires his evil deeds out and assassinates the family of one of his peers, after being warned to “beware Macduff.” This seemed to be the point when he carried things too far and began losing the support of his own men.

Guilt wields cutting power to rival a sharpened scimitar. Of course, guilt can be silenced and disarmed if a person has no moral compass. Guilt’s power comes directly from the assumption that there are absolute truths and standards. Once these standards are disregarded, guilt salutes the offender with a resounding “en garde.”

Macbeth shares characteristics with moral plays, but Shakespeare broke away from being “preachy” and gave the audience the freedom to determine the guilt of Macbeth.

Talk about a Dysfunctional Family

Working in a middle school in a town that is the county seat in a state with an unemployment rate that exceeds the national average, I see plenty of dysfunctional families. Who would have thought I would have been amazed by the crazy family dynamics of a play written in 1605.

Things I see in my everyday student interactions include:

  1. Students with four sets of parents
  2. Students whose parents are in jail
  3. Students who live with their grandparents or aunt and uncle
  4. Students with hyphenated last names because of their parental marriage situation
  5. Students who don’t have enough food, clean clothes or their own bed to sleep in
  6. Homelessness

I could continue, but just writing this down is depressing me.

In King Lear, we have a crazy king with three daughters (no one knows what happened to Mrs. Lear) and a lord who has two sons. None of these people live happily ever after.

The king disowns his youngest daughter for no apparent reason and bequeaths his worldly goods to the other two (and their spouses) with the stipulation that he will reside a month at a time at either of their estates. He will arrive to the oldest daughter’s home with his retinue of 100 knights shortly.

These loving daughters turn him away. He can’t stay unless he gives up his knights. How could they possibly support such a hoard of hungry men? Oh, I wonder. Using the money you just inherited from the very father you’re denying perhaps?

From USAToday

Our other model family is Lord Gloucester and his sons. His oldest son seems somewhat dense but fiercely loyal. His youngest son is illegitimate and weary of being overlooked. Big brother gets all the strokes and carries around dad’s name. He decides to betray them both.

First, he manufactures a plot against his father and says his brother planned it. He sends the brother away, claiming he will take up his cause with their father. Not a chance. Later, he allows the father’s eyes to be gouged out and the brother to wander aimlessly.

In the end, they all die. After all, this is Shakespeare. The two older sisters fight over the illegitimate son and poison each other. The older brother kills the younger brother in a duel. The disowned daughter is murdered and the king dies of a broken heart.

It’s worse than any soap opera aired today. Exponentially worse.

Do you feel that Shakespeare needed to kill so many of his major characters to get his point across? Do people have to die for a story to be considered tragic? I’d love to hear from you.

Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. What motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne, the conquest for it accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?

Romance or Tragedy?

With difficulty, I managed to keep myself from gagging, choking and puking over the gushing responses of some of the women in my Shakespeare class. They seriously consider Romeo and Juliet an accurate depiction of true, deep, abiding love.

These are probably some of the same people that put Titanic at the top of the box office in 1997. Meeting someone and having sex with them a few days later isn’t true love.

When Titanic came out, one of the girls in the church Bible study group I directed repeatedly went to the theater and extolled the virtues of this as a true love story. I finally asked her what made it seem that way to her.

“He stopped her from killing herself.” That was her answer. Doesn’t general Christian charity compel us to keep another human being from physical harm?

In fact, it was Cameron’s masterful direction of the movie that stirred the heart strings. I found it incredibly depressing. Thousands of people died. Nice for the main character to use the tragedy as a start to a new life, but why was she so deserving?

Shakespeare introduces us to Romeo as he pines for Rosalind. A few scenes later, he’s wondering who the lovely girl at the ball is. They exchange brief lines and suddenly they’re smitten. What idiotic blather!

How many of you met someone and were immediately attracted to them? Dozens of hands go up, I see. How many of you got to know that person and within a month or less realized it was all physical attraction? Pretty much the same hands are raised here.

Who knows why we feel initial sparks of attraction to people? Some scientist, I’m sure, believes they have the answer. The point is: most of the time the initial attraction wanes. In a few rare instances, it might lead to abiding love.

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, not a romance. Here are two teenagers (Juliet was 13) that get married after talking to each other for less than an hour and then kill themselves in a fit of tragic loss a few weeks later.

I see melodrama. I see middle school fickleness. I see suicide being touted as a viable route to escape life’s seemingly insurmountable problems and losses. I don’t see true love that is united by death.

What do you see? If there are some Shakespeare aficionados out there, I want to hear from you. Make me believe this is romance.

 

Elements of an Essay

Exhibit A - Death by Shakespeare
Exhibit A – Death by Shakespeare

My first essay for the Shakespeare class is due this weekend. Ho, hum. Couldn’t they come up with something more original?

If you’ve been in college for any length of time, you know that professors adore essays. Perhaps they’ve run out of reading material, so they assign an essay to while away their evening and weekend hours. Don’t they have a life? They sure know how to keep me from having one.

As much as professors love essays, students loathe them. I’m loath to admit it, but most of the time, I don’t mind writing an essay. I love to write. I’m pretty good at discerning facts and then synthesizing them and expounding on paper.

Sadly, writing about the first three plays I’ve read for my class this term ranks right up with going to the dentist for a filling. (I’m doing that today, by the way.) I have nothing positive to say about these plays.

As essays go, this one only has to be 800 to 1000 words. That’s a mere three pages. Since we’re required to cite two outside sources in the essay, it should be a simple matter to find enough to satisfy the requirements.

What Makes an Essay?

An essay needs four things: a thesis statement, supporting evidence, convincing argument and a satisfactory conclusion.

Wrapping all the important details into a neat package, the thesis statement is a thorough summation of the entire content of the essay. In a nutshell, my essay says…and that’s the thesis for the paper.

All the supporting evidence ties back to the thesis. Every example from the text being analyzed should support the stated thesis. It’s easy to pull things out of context, but if your professor knows the source, you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. Keep it in context.

Argue concisely and with clarity. Supporting statements from secondary sources written by experts are convincing arguments. Formulate your own analysis. Don’t just parrot what has already been published.

The best conclusions are those that tie up all the loose ends neatly. They never introduce new information. They refer back to any analogy used in the introduction. A satisfactory conclusion flows like water and reveals the strength of the thesis, like a beautiful bow on a professionally wrapped package.

Now, I guess I should get back to that essay on Cleopatra. Does anyone like this woman? She acts like a rich, spoiled queen and appears to have loyalty only to herself.

What’s up for Winter Term?

Exhibit A - Murder by Shakespeare
Exhibit A – Murder by Shakespeare

Are you looking for a weapon? Perhaps you have a hard-headed relative that could use a good whack on the noggin. In that case, let me recommend The Complete Pelican Works of William Shakespeare.

Who knew several hundred sonnets and 38 plays could create such a monstrous tome? Bound with hard, red covers, my copy can certainly double as a weapon or a mallet for “Whac-A-Mole.

My other textbook caused the man who gave me a pedicure on Saturday to grin like a devil. Naked Playwriting: The Art, the Craft, and the Life Laid Bare is the textbook required for my other class this term. Any guesses on the names of these two courses?

Shakespeare

The dread course descends. As an English/literature major, I shouldn’t have such an aversion to The Bard. Actually, I have enjoyed every Shakespeare play I’ve watched. Reading it is a different thumbscrew altogether.

The professor delights in his Elizabethan Era torture devices. We’ll read eight plays before the term subsides. I’m looking forward to Hamlet because of the allusions to it in Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, which I read aloud to student a few years back. In that novel, Schmidt also alluded to the only chance for laughter we’ll get this term – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nothing will compare to the yellow tights with flowers on the butt that Schmidt’s protagonist wore, I’m sure.

In addition to all this reading and the discussion boards that accompany it (we have three different forums for this first week), we are required to write two essays. Do I even know what they are about? No. The first one is due on January 27. We will get the specifics on it one week in advance of that.

Is there any doubt that my blood pressure has sky-rocketed? I need time to write and think and write some more and rewrite. A week is hardly enough time to muster a C paper.

The last week, while reading our lone comedy, we will be expected to answer several essay questions for our final examination.

I’m happy there won’t be a huge research paper this term. Do I actually know there won’t be? Having so few details inspires me to imagine the worst.

Play Writing Workshop

“You might be SNHU’s own Shakespeare,” my academic advisor told me when I registered for these two courses together in September.

That is a scary thought. As in “laugh out loud” absurd. I have no desire, or aspiration, to resemble Shakespeare in any aspect of my writing. Okay, it might be nice to be quoted 400 years from now, but I don’t want to write with such verbose complexity to earn that distinction.

Dawn rises on my final writing workshop. I haven’t been looking forward to it.

Surprisingly, I think that has changed after reading the introduction and the first chapter of the textbook. (No, I won’t be doing any naked play writing.)

The professor is extremely engaging, so that’s a positive sign. Of course, the fact that I have very short writing assignments each week adds delight. My major project is a 10-minute one-act play and all the other assignments build toward that.

The next two months might be looking up. I should be able to stay on top of writing this blog. I might even compel my creative muse to sprinkle some magic over my fantasy novel.

I couldn’t answer this question: what’s your favorite Shakespeare play? I’d love to be convinced to make your favorite – mine.