Jane Austen

Everyone Is A Critic

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope everyone’s weekend was good–I went on a writing retreat with a few friends, where we all sat down and worked on our WIPs during the day and went out to eat and gossip in the evening, which was wonderful fun and very productive besides. Sometimes at home it can be hard to concentrate, but when I’m accountable to people for my progress I tend to get more done. Plus spending time with friends–a bonus!

One aspect of writing that can be not-so-fun sometimes is reviews. Good, bad, wrong, right, whatever, if you’re a writer (even unpublished) you will get them. I’ve been reading a funny new book called How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche. It claims that “…Shakespeare permeates our everyday lives: from the words we speak to the teenage heartthrobs we worship to the political rhetoric spewed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle.” For instance–Shakespeare coined over 1700 words, including abstemious, accused, addiction, amazement, anchovy, assassination (and that’s just a few of the A words!). One chapter I found interesting talks about how Tolstoy hated Shakespeare, loathed him, and in fact wrote a whole book (Tolstoy on Shakespeare) about why Shakespeare was so horrible. See–everyone gets bad press sometimes….

It seems Tolstoy, when he met Chekhov (whose characters are rather Shakespearean in their complexity) “Shakespeare wrote badly, but you’re worse still!”. In his book, he had these main complaints about Shakespeare’s plays:

1) “Shakespeare’s bad technique. He finds the characters weak and spoiled. He finds the language overblown and exaggerated.”

2) “Shakespeare’s amorality.

3) “Shakespeare’s lack of religion.”

In other words, according to Marche: “Shakespeare is a messy writer in which virtue and vice are fluid and no definite conclusions about God emerge. And he is absolutely correct.” Just one of the reasons Shakespeare appeals in every time period and to all sorts of people, I suppose. “The reason we love such a messy writer, with a contingent sense of right and wrong and a vague attitude toward the ultimate meaning of the universe, is that we are messy, and the ultimate meaning of right and wrong is contingent…’It depends’ is the accurate answer to most questions…Tolstoy objected to the messiness of Shakespeare’s means and purposes.” Tolstoy also objected to the complicated endings of the plays and Shakespeare’s loose sense of time and place.

So even Shakespeare has people (even people as important as Tolstoy!) who don’t like their work. 🙂 But I definitely recommend Marche’s book, which is a lot of fun. (And I like to read both Shakespeare and Tolstoy…)

What have you been reading this week?? What are some of your favorite “messy” Shakespeare plays?

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Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Amanda, I like to think of Romeo and Juliet as an early template for Romance….except for the unhappy ending, of course. It has it all. Instant attraction. Lots of external conflict and some internal ones, too (Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin). And a really black black moment.

I always hated the unhappy ending, but I’ve come to think that is partly why the play endures in all its various adaptations.

11 years ago

I haven’t had a chance to get much reading done so far this week. I do like Shakespears plays and my favorite messy ones are Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream…

Cara King
11 years ago

My two favorite Shakespeare comedies both have really strong, determined women — Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. These women are anything but subservient, and the romances are great. (In my opinion, they’re better romances than Romeo & Juliet, because I never was much interested in love at first sight…though of course I still love R&J!)

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

I just finished Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton and I LOVED it!! This is SUCH a fun read – sexy, funny, clever beyond words, and heartfelt. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Favorite messy Shakespeare? The Taming of the Shrew and Othello. Sort of a broad spectrum of the pains of love and the madness it can bring.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

I also love “R&J”! There is a very interesting chapter in this book about how the play influences our youth culture to this day…

Louisa, I need to look for that book! I could really, really use a fun read now 🙂

11 years ago

I just finished SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS by Lecia Cormwall and am working on THE BARON by Julianna Garnett.

I like the chaos of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.

Jo's Daughter
11 years ago

I just finished Diane’s story: Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady. The passionate painter who doesn’t seem to express himself & the actress who has high standarts = a winning combination. I loved it!

As for Shakespeare I like Twelfth night & A Midsomer Night’s dream. Just because of the wrong person that is so right for you in the end.

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