Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shakespeare: a Magical Realist

I just wrapped up my first season of the learned league. I finished 11 in Rundle R. My record was not great, but good enough to move up to Rundle B.

One quiz had the following Shakespeare related question: 'Ghosts appear onstage in four of the major works of William Shakespeare. Name two of the four.' HAMLET, JULIUS CAESAR, MACBETH, RICHARD III

My thought process for this was something like:

Macbeth. There are ghosts in Macbeth, right? Lady Macbeth sleep walks and goes through that whole, out out damn spot speech. Does she see a ghost? Ok well maybe she does not see a ghosts. There are those witches in Macbeth - they are kind of like ghosts....'

Hamlet. Hamlet sees his dead father, right. Is this a ghost or is Hamlet going insane - I don't remember. How about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? They die and are ghosts in that Tom Stoppard play.

Then my mind wanders the Tempest, I've never actually read that play, but I've heard enough to write a good High School English paper about it. Isn't Caliban a sorcerer? He is some sort of creepy creature? A ghost? I don't think so, but some sort of hybrid creature. Are there any ghosts in the histories? How can there be, they are historical right? (But they have ghosts on stage.) How about those nymphs in A Midsummers Night Dream, any ghosts?

In lots of Shakespeare plays, there may not be ghosts, but there are other magical elements.
Shakespeare was a magical realist!!!

I was surprised at this (obvious perhaps) revelation. The plays are so engrossing that I was did not register these bizarre magical elements (unlike in contemporary fiction where there is a self-conscious nod-nod wink-wink with respect to magical realism). Witches in Scotland, of course! Ghosts in Denmark, it's not really a ghost, just a hallucination - even if it appears on stage. Contemporary magical realism seems to be an escape from the mechanization and demystification of our world. Science has given us a label for everything, but that label is not enough, it has a one dimensional meaning. So, we reject the science and the label for a more layered/mythological magical realist story.

Shakespeare rides the line between the real world and the magical world or the irrational world and we are never quite sure which world we are in - the magical world seems real, and the real world seem magical.

Seek ye the Gnarl!, in the words of Rudy Rucker.

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