‘Please Please Me’ or ‘Abbey Road’?
‘Surfin’ Safari’ or ‘Pet Sounds’?
‘Hangin’ Tough’ or ‘The Block’?
[please note – I’ve only ever listened to just four of those albums. Promise. I hope you can infer which they are!]
As I approach the first monthly instalment of my Arden Amble, what are my expectations from a work I know relatively little about? Why start the journey of a thousand steps with a month reading and blogging about Henry VI Part 1?
This is where the idea of chronology, which exercised me so much a while back, becomes important. Have you ever spent a day listening to a favourite musical artist’s work in chronological order? No? You should!
Every artist needs to adapt and change over the course of their career – adapt or die, in fact – and Shakespeare was – is – no exception. And yet, you can’t have an Abbey Road without Please Please Me, can you? There are only 6 years between these two Beatles albums: less than, say, between Richard III and Macbeth, but the difference is incredible. I’ve increasingly become convinced that Shakespeare would have hated the Masques so favoured by James I (and sycophantically delivered by Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson) Each time I teach The Tempest I picture Shakespeare writing the Wedding Masque through gritted teeth – as I tend to watch or read it; I will probably talk more, later in the project, about how I think this contributed to his retirement! Adapt or die, as I said …
Anyway, that’s practically at the end of this journey – a destination only knowable by the road-signs, and even then they are unspecific, like those simply saying ‘The South’ when you are hundreds of miles from London.
Back to the beginning …
With a few exceptions, I know the mature works far better than the early ones: their preoccupations, their styles, their ebb and flow. At the beginning of the Arden Amble, I’ll be looking for signs, glimmers of the greatness to come in plays like Hamlet and Lear, for experimentations with style, and for pointers to the personal and societal factors that occupied Shakespeare’s life and time.
I can’t wait.