W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (Penguin: London, 1992)
Today’s post is all about one simple fact: the world-wide-web existed centuries before the Internet. Before electricity, in fact. And I want you to plug into it.
I find it apposite, and slightly ironic that writing about Shakespeare, and without any deliberate choice on my part – I promise you – I’m listening to the Tron Legacy soundtrack as I type this. My other literary love is Science Fiction, and again, the point I’m making relates to that intoxicating cocktail of the 16th and 26th centuries, with a dash of the present thrown in.
So, the pre-internet web …
It was a web of information, no more or less democratic than today’s in many ways. There were – sure – gatekeepers, but they often delighted in trickling down the information they held. There was a thirst for that information, which I sometimes find missing in today’s classrooms.
It was the web of literature, written, spoken and acted.
The only electricity was the firing of neurons as people were moved and inspired by the things they read, heard and saw played out in front of them. The hyperlinks were there, too: intertexual references, overt or oblique, to other works which had inspired an author. It’s those intertextual references that I was taught to love at University, as I have discussed in another post. The more I read, the more I live, the bigger my personal web and the larger the number of hyperlinks within it.
To today’s quotation, from a book first published in 1938. I don’t own it, and I haven’t read any Maugham, but it was a hyperlink embedded in another book, itself first published in 1949. Here we are in 2017, and I’m offering it to you (with my emphasis) as an explanation, sure, but more as a call to arms.
‘Reverence is often no more than the conventional homage we pay to things in which we are not willing to take an active interest. The best homage we can pay to the great figures of the past, Dante, Titian, Shakespeare, Spinoza, is to treat them not with reverence, but with the familiarity we should exercise if they were our contemporaries. Thus we pay them the highest compliment we can; our familiarity acknowledges that they are alive for us.’
Christ, this is IT. It sums up so many things: my can’t-sit-still excitement and manic-overacting in class; my willingness and determination to find links to current moral and emotional dilemmas at every point; my tendency to over-share when discussing Shakespeare; the various seemingly tenuous and random comparisons to pop-culture in this blog, which I know turn some people off in their irreverence. THIS is why I do it. All of it.
Because Shakespeare is alive.
Shakespeare is as alive for me as Daft Punk; as my students going out on ill-advised Thursday night benders; as The Simpsons; as the fact that Donald Trump is capering towards global disaster without a care in the world.
At my age I have laughed (a lot, thankfully), I have played practical jokes (and some of them have seriously misfired), I have cried, I have lied, I have felt the injustice of being overlooked professionally, I have failed, I have made a multitude of mistakes, I have felt jealousy transform me and howled for revenge like an animal, I have loved deeply, I have been rejected, I have faced unlikely odds and decided to fight anyway, I have felt the whole gamut of emotions that parenthood brings, I have also seriously wondered what the point of life was, and whether it was better to simply end it all. Shakespeare speaks of all these things. They existed 400 years ago, too. We simply can’t ignore what he has to say because he is old …
Stop revering Shakespeare and start making him a part of your everyday life. Just because he is not physically our contemporary doesn’t prevent you making him one through his works.