• Member Since 11th Apr, 2012
  • offline last seen Last Thursday

Bad Horse

You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. -- W. H. Auden

More Blog Posts689


Collateral damage in Hamlet and the Merchant of Venice · 7:46am Dec 3rd, 2014

Two and a half years ago I wrote a bad story called "The Real Reason". The central idea is that the whole Nightmare Moon episode was that Luna was really a BDSM sub, and coerced Celestia into dominating and punishing her. The Elements of Harmony were just flashy gems that did nothing; the only way for Luna to lose the aspect of the Nightmare was for Celestia to play the game through, accept Luna's submission, and accept her own role as Luna's dom. But to do so, she had to find it in herself to enjoy being a dom. This enjoyment soon spread to everything she did, so that we see her laying plans to tyrannize Equestria and teach Twilight Sparkle more complete submission. The theme was that evil could never be destroyed; the Nightmare can only be defeated by taking it on yourself.

Neat idea, but it never worked. I finally gave up on it this morning when I admitted the central problem: Celestia just wouldn't do all that. I couldn't bring circumstances to bear on her that would make her do the things the story needed her to do. The story always had a weird transition from talking heads in chapter 2 to BDSM trollfic in chapter 3, because I couldn't tell the "Celestia is now a dom" part with a straight face. I preserved the big idea, but I had to break the story's dramatic structure to do so.

This is how a lot of stories form: The writer wants one thing to happen, and slowly assembles the forces needed to make the characters do what they have to do for it to happen. And the writer sometimes twists the story nearly to the breaking point to do that.

Critics think that things that stick out oddly from stories are clues the author dropped as to what's going on. That's typically not the case. The one thing the writer wants to happen is gonna happen, and probably pretty smoothly. The weird stuff that sticks out is peripheral. It's the collateral story damage from the big idea.

I spent the last few hours in the bathtub reading The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a Jewish money-lender, loans 3000 ducats to Antonio, under the stipulation that if it is not repaid, Shylock may claim a pound of Antonio's flesh.

Lots of critics have argued over whether Shylock is supposed to be sympathetic or despicable. Everyone in the play hates him, and always has, because he's a Jew. He has been severely put upon all his life. The jokes the Christians make at his expense, unlike in the rest of Shakespeare, aren't even supposed to be funny. So he's sympathetic, and Shakespeare was a closet progressive.

But, wait. Shylock is cruel, and wants to kill Antonio, whom everybody else agrees is the best guy ever. Even when offered double his money back, he spurns the money and wants his pound of flesh. And nowhere in the text does anybody question the abuse that's been heaped on Shylock. The word "Jew" is an insult to the end. So he's despicable, and Shakespeare hated Jews.

I don't think Shakespeare cared one way or the other. I think he had one cool idea: "Imagine there's a guy who offers up a pound of his own flesh as surety for a loan, and then he can't pay back the loan. Everybody expects the guy who loaned him the money to say, "Oh, well, I was just kidding; a pound of flesh isn't going to do me any good." And then the guy says he really, in fact, wants his pound of flesh. And then, the first guy's friends get there just in the nick of time with twice the loan to pay it back. But then, whammo, the other guy says, No. He wants his pound of flesh.

How do you get a guy to do that?

Well, you want Shylock to really, really hate Antonio, right?

Not really. Then you'd have to show Antonio doing something horrible to Shylock. And Antonio is supposed to be the sympathetic character. And Antonio would know Shylock hated him, and wouldn't sign the loan condition, probably. And the whole story would get hijacked by the conflict setting up the Antonio-Shylock drama.

What Shakespeare did was very clever: Show that Shylock's life is intolerable--everyone hates him for what he is; he is forced into being a money-lender because the law allows him no "honest" profession, and yet the same people who force him into that role despise him for it. Never let the hatred up. And then, have his own daughter hate him, too, and steal his money and run away with a Christian.

See, Shylock doesn't hate Antonio. Shylock hates everybody. But especially his daughter. He wants to lash out, and Antonio is right there.

Shylock isn't a representative of an oppressed race, or of a sub-human race. He isn't a nuanced handling of issues of prejudice and race. The fact that viewers feel sympathy for Shylock is, dramatically, a colossal fuck-up. It makes no sense, coming as it does not as the climax of a drama, but as the warm-up to the funniest (well, only funny) scene of a comedy.

Shylock is a plot device. Shakespeare needed somebody who could be put under enough pressure to want a pound of somebody's flesh, somebody who hadn't really done anything bad to him, so much that he wouldn't take any amount of money instead.

That's how stories get written. The critics focus on the strange things in a story, like Shylock, as if they were clues to hidden secrets. They aren't. The strange things are the things you don't notice you screwed up while you were paying attention to your one big thing.

Shakespeare wrote Shylock too well. He made him a real character we could sympathize with. That made the courtroom scene tragic instead of funny, and it doesn't fit the story that it's in.

On to Hamlet.

Lotsa theories about what Hamlet is about. It's about death. It's about disease. It's about mortality. It's meta-fiction. It's about indecision. It's about fate. It's about the moral depravity of a man who has lost his faith. It's about a woman who has no control over her life. It's about the inability of language to tell a coherent story.

There's this one part in Hamlet, it's kinda memorable. Goes like this:

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.


That's the one big idea. Hamlet is a question: Whether 'tis nobler to suffer insult and disgrace, or to end it with violence that will inevitably spin out of your control. It's the kind of question that has no answer. (See: American middle east policy.) That's what literature is for. Thinking about things that have no clear answer. The play is about revenge and its costs. It doesn't wind up with a simple message: "Revenge is bad, kids." Hamlet chooses to take arms against his troubles, and the viewer sees the result. The entire play can be explained as either (A) things showing how bad Hamlet's troubles are, or (B) things showing the cost everyone will pay for Hamlet's revenge. That's why Ophelia has to kill herself, and that's why Hamlet has to be cruel to her. That's why the play ends with the very boring scene of Fortinbras taking over Denmark (the very thing Hamlet's uncle opened the play worrying about): Without that scene, one might think Hamlet was noble because he saved his country from a usurper. No; in doing so he just gave it away to an invader. The weird stuff, like Hamlet killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and being cruel to Ophelia, and the Fortinbras business, are just where Shakespeare was trying too hard to show those two things, instead of letting Hamlet be true to his character. They're not themes; they're the collateral damage.

At least, that's my theory today.

Report Bad Horse · 1,212 views · #writing #Shakespeare
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Comments ( 50 )

Bad Horse tells it like it is.

Bad Horse is best Horse.

There's few things as depressing during writing as realizing you're trespassing logic and characterization in order to make the one thing you really want to happen, happen. Then begins the battle of the mind and heart.

Also, I've pretty much felt my whole life that you can easily over interpret a story, in respect to what the author intentioned. Well, most of the time, anyway. It wasn't until I wrote a story where the placement of a bottle in the center of a kitchen table had real significance that I learned that the oftentimes overly specific details literary analysts focus on as meaningful may actually be so, as opposed to over thinking it.

Either way, you should never forget the practical explanations to a question.

Well, I do agree with you on Hamlet's main theme, but that doesn't mean other themes aren't present. Similarly, Merchant of Venice can still say things about what Shakespeare feels about Jewish people, even if it's not his central point.

Take Frank Miller's work. Each of his works has it's own themes but there's a running theme "Women are whores". He's received a lot of flak over it and I'm pretty sure it's not an intentional theme, but it's there and it's not a coincidence so much as a view into Frank Miller's mind.

Hap #4 · Dec 3rd, 2014 · · 9 ·

So, what you're saying is...

You're a better author than Shakespeare, because you recognized a story pitfall to which he succumbed, and avoided it by not publishing a story that suffered it?

Cool story, bro. For your next blog post, I want to know what Charles Dickens did wrong. :trollestia:


really a BDSM sub, and coerced

So the only way to win the situation is by letting Luna top from the bottom? It sounds like the entire story was trolling, not just one accidental chapter in the middle.

Dang it I wish you could favorite blog posts.


These plays are over four hundred years old.

The idea that nobody could have learned the more subtle nuances and improve upon that level of knowledge in nearly four centuries is downright lunacy.

Shakespeare is the immortal bard. His works have a special place in history. Unfortunately, they're also incredibly dated. They're a good buildingstone, but you know what the thing about buildingstones are? Everything that comes after it ends up on top of it.

The bar is constantly raised each and every year as standards meet the new level of knowledge. The new level of knowledge is built on the predecessor's, what did and didn't work for them. Just as we can't have quantum physics without applied physics without mathematics without the concept of numerals.

So the idea that Bad Horse could identify flaws that Shakespeare couldn't at the time isn't arrogance, it's just four hundred years of new understanding.

2631000 Shakespeare isn't perfect, mate.

Heh. It's fun to twist a character into new and interesting shapes, but sometimes the character goes 'sping!' and pieces go flying all over the room when you exceed their stress point. :pinkiegasp:


Well, I do agree with you on Hamlet's main theme, but that doesn't mean other themes aren't present. Similarly, Merchant of Venice can still say things about what Shakespeare feels about Jewish people, even if it's not his central point.

True dat.

a view into Frank Miller's mind

Sounds dangerous.

So you're not even going to bring up the fact that there's a whole bunch of nonsense with boats to England from a castle that sits next to a fjord so frozen solid that Fortinbras can march an army over it?

These blogs are why I follow you. The moral is, when writers want something to happen, sometimes weird stuff happens and characters are OOC

Reminds me of Estee's post a few weeks back complaining about this sort of thing going on in "Big Hero 6", and having seen the movie two days ago (and enjoying it, mind you), I can definitely see where she is coming from.

iisaw #12 · Dec 3rd, 2014 · · 1 ·


Unfortunately, they're also incredibly dated.

Yeah, it's fashionable to bash Shakespeare lately, but only his language really dates his work. There are still only a handful of modern dramatists that can craft a scene as well as he could, and the depth of his characters is something rarely seen today.

What Bad Horse points out as flaws are a result of depth-of-character and being true to that depth. Could he have "corrected" Shylock by making him shallower and act out of character? Sure, and I see that everyday with cardboard characters who suddenly hold the idiot ball when it's convenient for the author. Not something I enjoy.

Shakespeare had an incredible instinct for crafting realistic personalities, and he did it in a big hurry with almost no time for revisions. The fact that he's been the most produced playwright for the last 400 years, says something about his genius.

Are there flaws in his works? Absolutely. In fact, some of his early plays are almost unwatchable. But when all the current smart young English majors coming out of school are dead and gone to dust, along with their papers "fixing" Shakespeare, his plays will still be going up all over the world.

Well, the question isn't whether the story's logical or rational. The question is whether the audience will accept it emotionally.

It's a sales job, which means that the point isn't to make a logical, rational case for buying at Glen Garry or Glen Ross. The point is to make the mark feel an emotional attachment to you and your pitch so that he buys in.

If it so happens that you need to send in a McGuffin (on a mission of mercy)...well.

Bad Horse: But the story's weak--
Shakespeare: FUCK you, YOU'RE weak!


"1546--if you'll cast your minds back--was a very bad year for the theatre..."

...I really doubt what he's saying. Being able to spot a flaw in someone else's performance isn't the same as being able to give a better one. You don't see Olympic judges going out there and performing amazing acrobatics.

You'll note that what Bad Horse did wasn't "Fix the problem Shakespeare had" but "Give up on his story that suffered from that problem but worse".

Well, his language and all the topical references it's literally impossible for modern people to get. But that's not a flaw in the writing, simply an inevitability, especially when dealing with comedies.


Well, his language and all the topical references it's literally impossible for modern people to get.

Actually I've gotten quite a few of them through footnotes or supplemental reading. And I'm not even an English major.

So either I am not a modern person or, perhaps, you are not using "literally" quite right.

I didn't say Shylock was a bad character. Shylock is a deep character, for Shakespeare. But Shakespeare made him out of balance for his part. MoV is supposed to be a comedy, yet the end of Act IV feels like a tragedy. Jumping immediately into comic hijinks in Act V feels cruel to me.

There's a large reality-distortion field around Shakespeare, and his plays are very different from anything made today. That makes it hard for anyone to evaluate his work today. I can't take the opinions of critics seriously, except as data, because everyone has a horse in this race. I can only read or watch his plays and see how they affect me. Usually, they don't.

My personal take on Shakespeare is different from yours. His language is beautiful, and I think his reputation is based entirely on this. He does some other things well, sometimes, but the critics (and sometimes the audience) wouldn't care much if he flubbed them all, as witnessed by the fact that people still perform Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I've heard the claim that he wrote well-developed characters many times, but I just don't buy it. Let's put it this way: There's very little Shakespeare fanfiction. People don't write stories about Shylock's relationship with Antonio leading up to Merchant of Venice, because nobody cares.

It's only recently, maybe as late as 1930, that English-language novels became respectable. France and even Russia were a century or two ahead of us in producing good novels. There was some good 19th-century stuff from Jane Austen on, but poetry was still more respectable. I don't know what happened to plays in the years between Shakespeare and the 10th century. I suppose somebody wrote and performed some, but I've never seen one from that time period. I doubt that they were all so bad that Shakespeare merits having his plays alone performed perhaps a thousand times more often than all English plays from 1620 through 1900 combined.

So for hundreds of years, English literature was judged as poetry. The early critics who made Shakespeare famous were poets and actors. And poets and actors both saw plays as characters and events designed to string great soliloquies together. Their opinions, and the elevated opinion people held of Shakespeare up through the 19th century, say approximately nothing about Shakespeare's ability as a storyteller.

The pattern I've seen over and over in writings about Shakespeare is that he is praised to heaven when he does something that is merely competent by today's standards. What little I know of his contemporaries suggests he did most things better than other Elizabethan authors. But IMHO, calling his characters deep by today's standards is a stretch. A really well-developed character is someone like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, or Gandalf or Bilbo from Lord of the Rings, or Schmendrick from the Last Unicorn. Someone we feel we know. A play is much shorter than a novel, so this isn't a fair comparison. But we see deep characters in modern plays--Biff and Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman, Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire, Mama in A Raisin in the Sun. Shakespeare ain't got nothin' like that in the plays I've read. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has deeper characters than anything Shakespeare wrote. Though I hear the Henries are pretty good in that respect, so I'll keep an open mind.

Shakespeare's style makes creating deep characters impossible. Shakespeare is all about the language, and the language of every character, excepting fools and yeomen, is that of William Shakespeare. It's beautiful language, and distinctive (in being William Shakespeare), but it makes all his non-comic-relief characters sound the same. He cannot distinguish characters by their speech. If Shakespeare had written My Little Pony fanfiction, you'd be hard-pressed to tell Rarity from Applejack.

And then, to make the speech beautiful and forceful, his characters go on and on expounding on everything they say, taking 100 words to say what could be said in 10. This is on every page of every play. There simply aren't enough words in a play to define a character using Shakespeare's manner of speaking.

Add to that that Shakespeare was entirely a verbal thinker, possibly owing to the conditions of his performances. You couldn't show much on an Elizabethan stage. His plays have simple sets and very few props. Subtle actions would be invisible in the cheap seats. It is all talking. But even given those restrictions, Shakespeare didn't know how to show things; he could only have people tell things. His romances don't show lovers being tender to each other or doing loving things; they merely proclaim their love loudly, over and over. This is why his romances don't work as romance.

Portia is the only other interesting character in Merchant of Venice, but how realistic is she? She's probably 16 years old, and by her own admission uneducated, yet she dresses up as a lawyer, gives a learned and poetic speech before a courtroom, and astounds them all. She's a fiercely independent thinker, yet submits gladly to her father's bizarre marriage requirements, and to her new husband, except when she doesn't. She isn't realistic; she just has a lot of cool lines. Just this sort of bundle of contradictions demanded by plot is what people often praise as "realistic" in Shakespeare.

I agree that Shakespeare did some things very well, but writing realistic characters IMHO wasn't one of them. I think he didn't want deep characters; he wanted spectacle. King Lear and Lady MacBeth are dramatic, but shallow. Brutus is memorable, but simple. Hamlet is interesting because his character is hazy and unknowable, not because it's well-developed.

Many readers and viewers prefer simple characters, because those characters are more distinctive, dramatic, colorful, and memorable. Ebeneezer Scrooge. Early John Wayne. James T. Kirk. Zaphod Beeblebrox. Rainbow Dash. (Sorry, Dashites.) Shakespeare, I think, created memorable and dramatic characters more than deep or realistic characters.


"...literally impossible..."

I hope you are just misusing the word "literally" as do many people nowadays, otherwise you're dead wrong. Shakespeare is still the most produced playwright in the world, and there are thousands upon thousands of people who have no problem at all with his language.

Tossing out a random thought on the blog post: This implies that the inverse mistake is also possible; i.e. botching the One Big Thing by being true to your characters. (For example, if "The Real Reason" had derailed at the end of Chapter 2, and not become a BDSM trollfic, and instead become … whatever it would have become if Celestia had "acted like Celestia". Would the story still have had anywhere to go at that point? I don't know, I haven't read it.)

Can you think of any literature which did that? Pooped out an anticlimax, or ended on an incoherent theme, while keeping faithful to the small stuff? Or any of your own stories which got taken over by the characters and ended up breaking the idea you wrote it for?


"But we see deep characters in modern plays--Biff and Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman..."

Okay... I can see we have wildly different opinions on what constitutes "deep." Those you mention above are tired caricatures, as far as I'm concerned.

As far as Shakspeare being elevated by critics of his time goes... he wasn't. Most of his contemporaries thought he was a hack because he let plot and character get in the way of all the pretty poetry. So when you say, "Shakespeare is all about the language," you're coming out with the same dogma preached by all those damn English teachers I ever had who made me read Shakespeare.

His plays aren't meant to be read! Analyzing his plays like you'd analyze a novel is like criticizing the blueprint of a house for being too drafty!

Well... sorry for the rant. My original response was to MrNumbers, anyway. I didn't have all that much to criticize about you original post except for the thematic conclusion. I know I don't have a hope in Hell of changing your attitude, but try one thing, will you?

You said you might take a look at the Henrys some time in the future, right? Instead of reading them, Netflix a good production. Try Branaugh's Henry V or maybe Joss Wheedon's Much Ado. The plays were meant to be seen, not read.


I have to disagree with you about Scrooge. Scrooge's character is about as complex as one can get in a story as short as "A Christmas Carol." We see contradictions in his personality, we see the twists and turns in his life that took him from lonely exile to merry apprentice to bitter old man, and we see him learning, comprehending, repenting and reforming. His character, throughout the story, is indeed "distinctive, dramatic, colorful, and memorable," but I do not see it as uncomplex.

Or do you perhaps mean that a truly complex character never improves, or reforms, or wins through to happiness? If so then we are simply arguing definitions.


Gee whiz, guys. I'm familiar with Bad Horse's opinion of Shakespeare; I was just poking him in the ribs. He clearly wasn't trying to say that he's a better writer than The Bard, and I didn't expect anyone to think that I was serious about that comment.

Though, I would like to hear your opinion on the depth of the character of Scrooge as portrayed in The Muppets Christmas Carol compared to what you think Shakespeare would have written if he had made an adaptation of the original Dickens novel to the stage.

I remember having to read The Merchant of Venice a very long time ago at, the behest of an English teacher, of course. I remember my opinion of it was something like "well, it's better than Twelfth Night", which, due to some very either bad or questionable coordination between my English teachers repeatedly over and over again. [1]

Seriously. It's that time to study Shakespear again. Which play? Oh, Twilight Night. Again.

Sigh. Funny thing is we never even bothered with the final act we just stopped once Shylock was out of the picture. I seem to remember thinking that Shylock was more a tragic character than a sympathetic one. Maybe a little of both. As with many villains with a little depth, Shylock's environment explains his actions, but they do not excuse them.

I like your interpretation that Shakespear just had this idea one day about a pound of flesh and had to make it work somehow. It seems as likely as anything else and fits with what I remember, but it's such a long time since I read the play that honestly the only the memories of the impressions and emotions I felt remain, rather than the specifics of what actually happens, that I don't think I could contribute any logical arguments for or against here.

[1] I suspect the thinking was that they just repeatedly taught us the same play year after year, by the end something would sink in and we're be more likely to pass the test at the end.

or to kill everybody and die.

In death, there is peace and tranquility we will never achieve in life because we are human. Death is therefore gift, one that I believe should be earned through ambition, legacy, hope, and life. It is through that we achieve any sense of lingering after we die. Life after death. Our mark on the world.

But to have everybody drop dead all at once? That would end all human suffering abruptly. There would be peace in a sense. And some people do deserve to die to end their cruelty upon our world. It would be equal and indiscriminate to do away with everybody.

Which is the real evil? Which view is evil? Is there a right or wrong here, really?

Which post is this? Kinda interested to see it. I watched Big Hero Six recently.

Just had another thought about this. Even if writers didn't start with a theme that was high and noble (like "so there's the gross idea I just had about a pound of flesh) when they set out to ask questions and write something, that doesn't mean what they produce won't end up with some. In fact, I think being a skilled writer is all about that development process.

The make an analogy with science, Einstein wrote his paper on relativity. He surely didn't set out on that investigation knowing everything. He probably started with "why didn't the Michelson Morley experiment work" or perhaps "the Eather is a really contrived idea, what else could explain the anomalous properties of electromagnetism". His conclusions were brilliant, however.

But when we look at a piece of thoughtful literature there seems to be a presumption sometimes that the writer started out wanting to communicate those thoughts. But sometimes, those thoughts are the conclusions. Perhaps started out with a much simpler idea and was sufficiently thoughtful as they went along, expanding and philosophising on the ideas that writing the story lead them to.

It would certainly match with my limited experience. Even A Muddy Hole, which I had a pretty explicit friendship lesson in mind for started out with the much simpler question "how did Rarity end up in that mud pit". The lesson was thought number two, directly following after I realised what the basic sequence of events would be. In contrast, Height was literally just me going "I'm going to write Dash in first person present and see what happens" mixed with "reetries in Kerbal Space Program are cool to watch." And other themes, lessons, or other things that literature people concern themselves with were entirely coincidental and unplanned.

No, I am using it correctly. It is literally, not figuratively, impossible for you to get all the topical references in Shakespeare's work because too much of the culture of the times has been lost. Some of them? Sure. Maybe even most of them. All of them? No. There are no surviving intact copies of many of the popular plays and stories of the era, as just one barrier to such understanding. This means that a modern audience can enjoy Shakespeare, but some of it will always go over their heads because it simply wasn't written for them. This is in no way a flaw in Shakespeare's work, simply an inevitability of time that will occur to almost all fiction, especially comedies.

I'm not talking about main themes or character development here, I'm talking about small jokes that are only funny to people immersed in the culture of the time, references that add a little extra emotional punch to scenes by evoking similar scenes the audience is familiar with, and so on.

You will never appreciate one of Shakespeare's plays the way the people it was written for would and to think otherwise is kidding yourself.

Sigh, I've read some (mercifully) unpublished stuff that went down that path. In the end I think the real problem was the author didn't have their characters well known enough to properly build a reputable plot around them.

2631650 Oh God, I think you just said that Aaron Sorkin is the Shakespeare of our time.

2632307 This is why English teachers should never be allowed anywhere near Shakespeare. Plays are meant to be watched, not read. Reading a play is like trying to cook a nice meal in the blueprint of a kitchen.

2631924 You have a good point. The characters I mentioned are more stereotyped. The ones from the plays, that is. I'll have to think about that.

Why do you think Shakespeare's contemporaries didn't like his work? Shakespeare was the only one from his time whose work they kept in print, AFAIK. John Milton, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, & Samuel Johnson all praised him highly.


Or do you perhaps mean that a truly complex character never improves, or reforms, or wins through to happiness?

Of course I didn't mean that. Why would I mean that?

ACC is pretty short. You may be right. It's hard for me to keep the story and the movies separate.

2632562 Yes, that's how it works. Keeping all the different parts in harmony as they grow is the trick. But, yes, you end up with more than the original idea, and sometimes you throw the original idea away.

Though Ben Jonson said,

I REMEMBER the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand,” which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own candor, for I loved the man, and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stopped.

(I included the full quote to be fair to Ben, and to Bill.)

That says Shakespeare didn't rewrite once he set a thing to paper. I don't know how true it is, but it might mean he wrote things very differently. Perhaps he practised the whole thing in his head because paper was expensive.

2632447 The killing everybody was, I think, to show that high cost that must be paid for Hamlet's vengeance. The play is about Hamlet imagining he can take revenge precisely, without other casualties, and then things begin to spin out of control, and he follows through knowing that things will spin farther out of control, and they do. Then the viewers are left to wonder whether it was worth the cost.

Think of it as a play about US intervention in the middle east.


Can you think of any literature which did that? Pooped out an anticlimax, or ended on an incoherent theme, while keeping faithful to the small stuff? Or any of your own stories which got taken over by the characters and ended up breaking the idea you wrote it for?

There are broadly 2 kinds of writers, outliners and seat-of-the-pantsers (often called "pantsers"). The outliners, of whom Tim Powers is an extreme case, outline everything and work out how every scene relates to every other scene before they write. The pantsers, of whom Ray Bradbury and probably Proust are extreme cases, just sit down and start writing and see what happens. The outliners tend to push their puppets around and stunt their realism. The pantsers write more realistic characters, but (if they aren't Ray Bradbury) tend to write too long, wander, and not know what the theme is. I'm an outliner, so I break my characters more often than my story.

2633080 There was certainly some classism involved. (Shakespeare was a a low-born nobody from the country. Robert Greene called him an "upstart crow.") But the main reason is that his (mature) plays were game-changing, and their huge success made his contemporaries look bad by comparison. The praise you mention above didn't come until well after his death.

Shakespeare wrote works on three intellectual levels, so that they could be enjoyed by nobility, middle-class, and illiterate peasants, and he broke away (mostly) from archetypes and wrote more complex, realistic characters (hence causing the problem with Shylock you mentioned above). He wasn't the first playwright to do those things, but he was the first to do those things well, consistently, and all together. You can even say he wrote fan-fiction! He often took old stories and histories that had been told in stiff, formal ways until that time, and re-told them, fleshing them out and making their characters human and believable.

Plays then were the rough equivalent of mid-twentieth century TV programs; meant to be watched once or twice and then forgotten. Even given the huge success of Shakespeare's company, his contemporaries were very resistant to change, so his new style didn't immediately take hold. After Shakespeare's death, there was a lot of grumbling about the poor quality of the current shows of the "why don't they write them like they used to?" sort. So, Shakespeare's friends got together and paid to publish the first folio, collecting all (or most... there is some debate) of his plays. This was very unusual; nobody published plays! Shakespeare's contemporaries never were in print (until much, much later), except for copies of their working scrips.

Shakespeare's plays became the go-to for a lot of theaters because of a very pragmatic reason: They made money. New plays are an unknown quantity, and they conform closely to Sturgeon's Law. Theaters are first and foremost a business, so they didn't produce Shakespeare's work purely out of intellectual snobbery. Very often when a theater had a bad season, they'd produce a series of the Shakespeare favorites to replenish the coffers.

Now, on the entertainment scene, things are different in many fundamental ways, and Shakespeare is loosing much of his clout and reputation, but that doesn't mean he wasn't an amazing playwright who changed the course of storytelling forever. There are still things to be learned and re-learned from his work, if one goes at it from a theater professional's perspective. Modern English teachers (IMHO) have a warped and dead-wrong view of Shakespeare's work, and most of them know nothing about the history or workings of theater and play-production. If it were up to me, Shakespeare would be taken out of English departments everywhere and only be taught in Theater and Drama, along with the material that would enable a more complete understanding of his works.

Anyway... I seem to have strayed from the point. I tend to do that when riding one of my hobby-horses. Sorry.


Of course I didn't mean that. Why would I mean that?

Well, you did say that the purpose of deep and complex writing, i.e. literature, was to discuss questions that had no answers.

So I thought it might be possible that you would extend this appreciation of ambiguity - in - amber to characters as well, valuing most those who do not resolve their internal contradictions. The search for solutions being bourgeois, the concern of mechanical and clerical classes, and not of intellectual elites.

I am not being snarky (much): there seems to be a good case for this view in the history of Western social and intellectual classes, and their prejudices.

I might have had fun arguing it with you, but I am more pleased to see that it is not, in fact, your opinion. And I do feel I should apologize for attributing it to you, even speculatively, as I don't like it very much myself. :-)


You will never appreciate one of Shakespeare's plays the way the people it was written for would and to think otherwise is kidding yourself.

True, but this applies to you as well unless you are

a) a Shakespeare scholar or
b) a Time Lord.

So your assertion, while reasonable, is still speculation. Like our appreciation of Shakespeare.


Well, you did say that the purpose of deep and complex writing, i.e. literature, was to discuss questions that had no answers.

Ooh, no. I said, "That's what literature is for. Thinking about things that have no clear answer." Adding the one word "clear" makes a big difference. I think questions have answers, by definition; otherwise, they aren't well-posed questions at all, but words strung together on a set of false assumptions. But the answers may not be clear, and may not be shareable (sharable?) between people because they're unable to communicate to each other how they interpret the question. Usually you have to construct a compromise question that you can both agree on the meaning of, and that you can find an answer to, and guess at the implications for the question you wanted to ask.


Think'st thou, I do but make to foin at thee?
Sirrah, I do not make to foin at thee.
My errand, sirs, is one of mercy. So
From Mitch and th'Earl of Murray came I here...

"...What is thy name?"
"Thy dam's a strumpet--that, sir, is my name!"

These are the names of all Glen Garry's lords
And to you, they are as things writ in gold.
But you shall not receive them, for to give
Them to the likes of you would be to cast
And scatter them upon the wastrel wind.

2631924 Er, no, I'm retracting my statement re. Willy Loman. I don't see him as being any kind of stereotype. What would the stereotype be?

Not sure about Blanche DuBois. She isn't a femme fatale. She's a drama queen, a Rarity chick of some type, but her mix of desperation and optimism, pragmatism and idealism, is no stereotype.

Of course it applies to me. "You" is an all encompassing plural in my statements. There's nothing there saying I can perfectly understand Shakespeare.

It'd be pretty damn silly of me to claim otherwise. But you don't always have to know what you're missing to tell you're missing a piece.

2634563 :twilightoops:?

I'm gonna have some port. :eeyup:


From Ye Tragickal Historie of Glen Garry and Glen Ross, or, Aleck Baldwin is Mad Againe.

2634581 Now, Blanche, I agree is a complex and fascinating character. Did I say otherwise?
Willy is a shallow sketch of a personality (IMHO, of course) who is a template for a type that isn't much used as a stock character any longer. Probably because the stereotype is too damned depressing.

Well this is awkward. I'm not really sure how to say this, so I'll try and hope the message gets through.

Good job. I agree. For now...

2634857 Do you mean his emotional regulation is a stereotype? Or maybe his situation? I don't think his beliefs correspond to any stereotype. He's supposed to represent people who believe in a materialistic American dream, but the way he thinks about it is very specific.

Huh, I didn't pick up on that BDSM subtext at all. At least, I highly doubt I noticed it and then forgot.

Did you try the inverse? Making Celestia the character you had in mind while creating the circumstances that make her act like the Celestia Equestria knows we see in the show? It is possible to make that kind of fanfiction work, even if usually it fails spectacularly.


I've learned more about Shakespeare here on Fimfiction than I did from all of my English classes, but I don't think that's in any way surprising. Thank you!

The central idea is that the whole Nightmare Moon episode was that Luna was really a BDSM sub, and coerced Celestia into dominating and punishing her.

From what I can remember, you also cribbed from Nietzsche on the whole Lion, Camel, Child bit with a mixture of Master-Slave morality. This is proof to me that you should stop reading Nietzsche -- he only helps in writing depressive stories and pone is for happy.

What do you make of Shakespeare's poetry?

Eheh... I wasn't talking about Hamlet at all. Just about the first thing to come to mind.

Oh! Another thing that came up in Hamlet was that he was acting so insane that he didn't know if he was just acting or if he had actually gone crazy. This is how revenge works. Kinda maybe. He was spending a shitton of time thinking about it.

There are time's when I've questioned if I'm just acting crazy or I'm actually crazy... I can't really remember how it was before. I don't think I'd want to know the answer. It's troubling :applejackconfused: It's prolly best to just assume it's just social awkwardness.

One point stated WELL after the fact, no Shakespeare fanfiction? You must be joking my dear malign equine.

It is nigh unto impossible to avoid Shakespeare fanfic. Why Romeo & Juliet alone has been rehashed, referenced, rewritten & re-derived from elementary principles an uncountable(1) number of times. Of course to be fair Bill did the same thing, J's fling with R not originating with him.

Ditto for much of the rest of his catalogue. Go to your local library pick any shelf of fiction(2) you will find Shakespeare with the serial numbers rubbed off. You would perhaps be amazed by the number of Romance novels alone that crib their plots straight from the bard.

(1) Literally uncountable; most such forays have not survived the test of time(3).
(2) It is slightly rarer in the non-fiction section... slightly.
(3) I.e. been reprinted or otherwise preserved, kept as rare books or uploaded to Project Gutenburg or something similar.

3082333 I didn't say there's no Shakespeare fanfic. I said there's very little. fanfiction.net has 650,000 Harry Potter stories, and 2,300 Shakespeare fan-fictions. Shakespeare's characters seldom inspire people to write new stories about them, because most of them aren't interesting or distinctive. That isn't opinion anymore; it's science. As to copying plots and filing off serial numbers, Shakespeare stole all his plots, except for the very bad ones.

Shakespeare was a great writer for his time. He was one of the top writers in Europe, possibly the third best behind Cervantes and Lope de Vega. But that was at a time when there were less than 100 writers in Europe, so it's really not saying much. It's time to stop mindlessly praising Shakespeare, and performing bad plays like "Twelfth Night", which was so bad Shakespeare only put it on once.

Login or register to comment
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!