Inventing the Human

When we become so embroiled in our our modern day affairs – politics, economy, family, life, love, etc. – it behooves us to take a moment to peruse the past and reflect on the lives in history so as to recognize our present. While many people shy away from Shakespeare, I think it is pertinent to turn the page and look deeper into one man’s life in relation to our own. And why not Shakespeare, after all, this was the intention of this blog to begin with and I want to push ever onward toward my goal.

Early on, I mentioned the most valuable book my grandmother gave me, The Complete Works of Shakespeare edited by Hardin Craig. I am going to use this book to continue to delve into our imagination and recreate the scene’s of his life. Craig does a remarkable job in breaking down each aspect, from global and local happenings, the state of the Kingdom, how they traveled, what commerce was like, the “Poor Laws,” how the Tudor age was an age of opportunity, plus the religious influence of extreme Protestantism in the form of Puritanism as opposed to the extreme Catholicism of former days, and the rise in the scale of living. He goes into a brief detail of London houses, the Queen, Tudor absolutism, her “virginity,” her amusements; as well as the general standing of religion, morals, education, politics AND how the theatre and play-acting had a role in influencing the popular opinions of the day.

Kind of sounds like today, huh? And so, with this knowledge, I again am moved to post a few paragraphs from this amazing book with hopes that you will look upon Shakespeare’s plays with fresh eyes. Here is the first post from Craig’s book:

“No generation can tell very clearly what features of its life are old and what are relatively new. For example, many of our institutions such as the church, the state, the municipality, the school, the university, and the law court go back to the Middle Ages. Others are as new as the twentieth century. At times of rapid social change, as in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the old and the new are not blended harmoniously. They jarred each other in Shakespeare’s time. He was a representative of the new age of the Renaissance, but the forms and ideals of the Middle Ages, which were close to him in time, stand in his works side by side with those of the Renaissance. His works show such medieval characteristics as a rigid demarcation of social classes, a reverence for authority and precedent, a firm adherence to marriage and family ties, and a reliance on formal studies, such as logic and rhetoric. The motives of crusaders, preaching friars, alchemists, burgesses, and highwaymen were easy for him to grasp.”

*Thus, as my husband once said to me – for Shakespeare to have written the history plays is paramount to Miranda writing about Hamilton since the proximity to the past is not that much of a stretch.

“And yet Shakespeare’s point of view was modern; he tended to face forward. (Hmmm, interesting) In his own great art, that of the drama, he was an innovator. He found it crude and chaotic, and he left it orderly and splendid. When we speak of the development of the Elizabethan drama, we are speaking, whether we realize it or not, about the development of Shakespeare. It is the fascinating story of his progress that we wish to tell in this book.”

So, while Shakespeare was “inventing the human,” he was in fact, inventing himself. Which is understandable because as writers we have a tendency to create and recreate ourselves with every stroke of the pen or with every tap upon our keyboard. We are developing creatures and characters within ourselves and by doing so we are discovering ourselves. This brings to mind the PBS show this week of “The Great American Read” and the subject of “Who Am I?” I mean, come on, the quotes and memes could go on and on at this point for we are constantly connecting to a passage in a great novel that tells us a little bit more about ourselves. In the show, and obviously what Shakespeare did for his modern day, the things writers write resonate deep in our hearts and reveal things to us and those around us. A quote I love, actually not from Shakespeare (unbelievably), is from a movie and is attributed to C. S. Lewis – “We read to know we are not alone.” Well, I am going to just leave that there. The words themselves stir many emotions in me, and I think they will to you, as well. The recreation of our daily self is not just for writers or artists, but for every person, and this is why Shakespeare’s plays still hold a place for all of us. We read to know we are not alone. We look to history to learn the future. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it… and on and on.

We are inventors of us – daily creating and recreating – influenced by the sure past and pushing onward to the unsure future. And each day, we learn or drown. And each day, the sun rises and sets. Compulsory.

Thank you for reading!

D. K. Marley

 

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