My Ponytail Shakespeare read-through project is behind schedule.
Not drowning, necessarily – still waving, to paraphrase Stevie Smith, but wishing I wasn’t quite so far away from the shore, paddling blithely in the warm shallows of Romeo and Juliet, as I should be by the end of January; having splashy fun with the rest of the blog and my new excursions on Twitter. But fifty-plus posts and nine plays in? Not dead.
That said, despite plenty of opportunity, I’ve ‘not got round to‘ reading Act III of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I’m still reading: Iain M Banks, Paolo Bacigalupi, and chunks of George Wilson Knight on Julius Caesar, but, when all’s said and done, no Shakespeare or LLL.
We might say I’ve lost any love of my labour in this play … (sorry about that)
Not that I need to justify my reading choices to anyone, or beat myself up too much about my own arbitrarily-set deadlines, but I was curious about my motivational dearth. Curiosity goes with the ‘job’, after all. And ‘not got round to‘ is an excuse I seldom accept from students, so why allow myself it?
Ursula K Le Guin‘s saddening death was announced yesterday; unexpectedly, it’s helped me both articulate my unease and simply get on with the job at hand.
During my heady university days, I wrote an essay arguing that whilst Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is a great piece of fiction, insightful and moving, it isn’t actually Science Fiction by several objective definitions, and shouldn’t really be on the reading list. A masterpiece of Fantasy, yes – but Science Fiction? No. All the time acknowledging that Le Guin couldn’t care less what I (or anyone) thought on the issue. In fact, by 2004, she’d had enough:
‘this business is really getting my goat’1
A LOT of fun, that essay. One of the quotations I used was by Edward James:
‘SF is what is marketed as SF’2
Which leads me to Shakespeare, and the marketing of Love’s Labour’s Lost. This is what Paul Rogers has to say about the play:
‘Love’s Labour’s Lost has everything; high, low, and fantastic comedy; a troupe of young lovers, a king, a princess, witty ladies and light-hearted gentlemen’3
LLL is generally marketed as a comedy, but I’m two acts in, and I’m far more in HR Woudhuysen‘s camp, that whilst:
it can be a great success in the theatre, […] it remains a distinctly odd and difficult play.4
Shakespeare’s ‘Comedies’ often start with a short, unexpectedly serious setpiece (such as the death sentence given to Egeon in The Comedy of Errors), but invariably it serves as contrast to amplify the levity of the rest of Acts 1 and 2. So far, this feels different – skilful, but not funny. I’m approaching Act 3 with some disquiet, then, but only because I was being told to expect laughter, blithely accepted that I should laugh (and I think THAT is the key point), and I wasn’t laughing yet. Reflecting on Le Guin and my university adventures prompted me to reclassify the play as I damn well pleased, and with that in mind (and the Pet Shop Boys’ Left To My Own Devices) pounding in my headphones:
‘in the back of my head I heard distant feet
Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat’5
I decided to rebel. Suddenly, as far as I was concerned, this was a ‘Problem Play’ and, if this isn’t a contradition in terms, whatever I made of it. ‘Back in the day‘ I would have revelled in the notion of challenging accepted wisdom about a work.
It feels like I’ve stopped listening to the voices in my own head, and forgotten the most important rule of all – the one I say at least once a week in class:
‘In English, there are no right or wrong answers. You can pretty much say what you like: you validate your answer – and get your marks – by arguing authoritatively and plausibly. People are hungry for fresh, new perspectives. Be original, but be plausible.’
I turned back to my Arden Third and opened it …
1: Ursual K Le Guin: A Rant About Technology – www.ursulakleguin.com/Note-Technology.html
2: Edward James, in Adam Roberts, Science Fiction (Routledge: Abingdon, 2006)
3: Paul Rogers, in Introductions to Shakespeare (ed. Charles Ede), (Folio Society: London, 1977)
4: HR Woudhuysen (ed.), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Arden Third Edition), (Methuen Drama: London, 1998)
5: Christopher Lowe / Neil Tennant, Left To My Own Devices, www.petshopboys.co.uk
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