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Laurence Inman’s Blog

WHERE THERE’S A WILL

05-03-2009

will

Shakespeare. He was quite good you know. That’s what Laurence Inman thinks anyway.

An interesting reading week.

I consume a bit of Shakespeare every day. Even in the plays I know best something always jumps out and surprises me. In Antony and Cleopatra, when Antony is telling everyone he has to go back to Rome, he mentions the internal tension there and the urgent need to sort it out. Bill could have been quite brisk and prosaic here, but instead he has Antony say:

Our Italy
Shines o’er with civil swords.

So rather than being told something, we are presented with a clear picture of the trouble. And it sounds so precise as well. ‘Shines’ – the whoosh of the sword through the sir. ‘Civil’ – the noise a sword makes as it is unsheathed, or clashes with an enemy weapon.

Reading Shakespeare, rather than going to see a performance, is rather like what going to an art gallery is for most of us.

You know the feeling.

I really should know more about pictures and stuff. That’s culture isn’t it? Proper pictures in frames. The occasional installation, as long as it doesn’t go too far.

So we go to the gallery, and instead of standing in front of just one picture, slowly taking in all the details of what it can offer, we rush through the different rooms and register a blur of country-scenes, portraits of rich people who lived in big houses, crucifixions, bowls of fruit, a streetscape, a naked woman.....

Going to foreign cities is even worse. We do the historic buildings, the galleries, the sights, then come away more blank-minded than we started, because we now know about loads more of which we are totally ignorant.

The most sensible thing is to stand in front of only one picture for an hour and absorb everything in it.

It’s the same with Shakespeare. Get to know one play inside out, then muse on individual lines, or characters, or exchanges.

If we all did this every day, we’d be much healthier as a nation.

First we have to get rid of the idea that he should be revered.

He never sat down and thought: I’m a great artist. In 400 years I’ll be in the £20 notes. No, it was: What can I come up with that’ll fill the place a week next Friday? And how much money will we get ?

Reverence, as much as morality, are the enemies of art.

John Crace does a great column in The Guardian every Saturday: Digested Classics. He takes a novel everybody is supposed to think is great and reduces it to 500 words, revealing (often) what a pile of pretentious poo it really is. Last week he did The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, a book I’ve read twice, both times convincing myself that it is in some tradition of....of....oh, I couldn’t care less.

This week I also read Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson. It was wonderful.

And my regular dose of William Hazlitt came with Liber Amoris, his excruciating account of unrequited love.

That man is in my top ten writers of all time anywhere. I’m starting a campaign to have him on the notes, of every denomination. If anyone wants to make a donation....

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