I’m currently finishing a big book, which is on the demonic in Shakespeare and other writers. But it’s always more fun to look forward to the next one, and I’m planning a new book called Shakespearience. It’ll be about the way Shakespeare’s writing bears on and indeed constitutes life.
I want to get into the experience of Shakespeare, because that’s what it’s all about, don’t you think? Context can be so distracting.
I also want, if you’ll bear with me, to have a first bash at this in my regular blog, and I’ll be very interested in your responses.
One of the things I want to get inside is Shakespeare’s ‘myriadmindedness’ (Coleridge). It’s easy to invoke this lazily: because Shakespeare never thinks anything in particular, we don’t have to worry. Hurrah! Just float into his ether and enjoy….
But surely we should try to get down into at least some of the myriad minds? For me at least, really reading or watching Shakespeare isn’t an experience of delighted detachment at all. Instead, such is his power, it’s a condition of finding myself suddenly and absolutely not just in sympathy with but almost actually in one character, then another.
And there are minds elsewhere in Shakespeare, beyond character. Sometimes everything seems to be mind. You might tread on one.
‘Where the bee sucks there suck I
In the cowslip’s bell I lie’
You might scent one in ‘the filthy air’.
And it doesn’t seem misleading to say each play is itself a myriad mind, variously alive in all of its moments and phases, and often almost infinitely irreducible to the story of its plot, or any singleminded moral which may be drawn from it.
Which is not to say that there is no Shakespearian moral. It may be just this:
Everything is ALIVE!
In which case Shakespearian interpretation — in the academic sense of producing a single ‘reading’, or a strongly distinctive argument—is in trouble, in that it betrays the myriadmindedness and fails the moral.
But it’s not enough just to repeat the moral, like dogma. In Shakespeare, you can only get the moral by living it—living it in imagination—engaging as fully and as much as you can with the very varied life that is in the plays.
Well, does that strike a chord?
Find out more about The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham by clicking here.