Shakespeare. The Writer. The Historical Figure. The Institution.

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From Francis Barker's and Peter Hulme's "Nyphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Disursive Con-texts of The Tempest" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"This may seem a strange thing to say about the most notoriously bloated of all critical enterprises, but in fact "Shakespeare" has been force-fed behind a high wall called Literature, built out of the dismantled pieces of other seventeenth-century discourses" (444).

I really liked this quote because I think that it is painfully honest.  As an English major, I love Shakespeare.  I think he's a swell kind of guy.  However, he is forced upon us.  No matter where you go it seems that you cannot escape the spector of Shakespeare.  He's everywhere!  He's, of course, in the plays and poems that he writes.  He's referenced countless times in other works of literature.  He's in criticism.  He even is an action figure (that I contemplated buying).  "Shakespeare" (as Barker and Hulme put in in quotes) is not merely a person, he is an institution that everyone has worked so hard to build up. 

Because he is larger than life, I can not possibly fathom a day when Shakespeare is thrown away and people no longer read him.  We have discussed since the beginning of this semester what makes something literary.  In the case of Shakespeare, there are a number of things that goes into the answer.  Of course, he made himself literary by writing such good material (especially in writing it for people in power who would see that it is read).  Others made him literary by promoting him.  This would be all the people that have ever even so much as made a passing reference to something Shakespeare has done.  Yes, that means even Taylor Swift and Keith Urban play a role in his promotion with just a brief mentioning of Romeo and/or Juliet. (Listen to how Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet influenced "Love Story" and "Sweet Thing" by listening to the songs.)  The media keeps Shakespeare on the scene, even today.  This means that any time a future generation looks back on us and our works they will hear the references to Shakespeare and become curious.  Although I know that it is possible that one day Shakespeare will be forgotten, I don't think it is likely as it hasn't happened yet and he's probably more of a big deal today than he ever was.  I can, though, see a day when Nathaniel Hawthorne is lost in the sea of other books.  He is still popular today, however, I can see a shifting in respect of books like The Scarlet Letter.  It seems a generational respect for the story for I do not know too many people that like or would want to teach that book out of my peers.  My opinion may change with age though.  

Is "Shakespeare" an institution as well as a person?  Do you think that it is likely that Shakespeare will be forgotten one day?

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2 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, I definitely agree with your comment that "’Shakespeare’ (as Barker and Hulme put it in quotes) is not merely a person, he is an institution that everyone has worked so hard to build up.” And I cannot imagine a time when Shakespeare is not longer read either. However, I think part of what Barker and Hulme are trying to emphasis to us is that we should not believe everything we read about “Shakespeare.” Some things we read are not going to be really the author, but instead the “institution” that we have turned him into. We need to be cautious when we read his works and when we read articles on him, how much of what we read about him after all is true and how much of it is conflated?

james lohr said:

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU BARKER AND HULME...I used this quote as well due to the fact that I am incredibly tired of Shakespeare. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Emersons "The American Scholar" where he states that (obviously this is a paraphrase) "European writers have been Shakespeareizing for over two hundred years". Now i understand the man was a great writer, but i am tired of feeling as though there is something wrong with me for not agreeing that he is the best of the best.
I notice that you seem to be giving Shakespeare credit for the "love story", i would hope that he was not the first to tell a story of this sort. That might be a good idea for an intertextual reading of "Romeo and Juliet", all ideas come from somewhere.

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