Maybe it’s ironic to quote an author I haven’t read – apart from a single short story in a SF anthology (‘The Way of the Cross and the Dragon’ (1978), if anyone’s interested) – but this is the second time I’ve used GRR Martin‘s quotation (and indeed this image):
‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’
‘Everyone‘ says I would love Martin’s work if I could find the time to read it, by the way. It’s not even close to reaching the slopes of Mount Tsundoku at the moment.
If Marxist literary criticism were renamed, say Contextual Critical Theory, I wonder if it would be taken more seriously by the uninitiated … like rebranding Labour as ‘New Labour’ in the UK helped Tony Bliar (intentional misspelling) come to power in 1997 … How can we possibly dissociate a text from the society in which it was created, or indeed from the intertextual cauldron that formed the author’s views?
To today’s main quotation. It’s too easy to forget that when Marlowe and Shakespeare were writing it was an exciting era, where drama as we know it evolved from the old morality plays in a step-change for the form. Nothing has ever been the same again. As he always did so deftly, Will in particular seems to have been able to ride that wave, taking what was existing and synthesising something new and exhilarating.
Maybe that exhilaration is what I crave, and find so easily in Richard III. I like to think of it as ‘vicarious living’ – and it’s not just limited to Shakespeare, which is why so many of my favourite novels – Perfume (Patrick Süskind) is a decent example – feature morally ‘dodgy’ characters, whose exploits I would never dream of replicating.
Where, intertextually, did Marlowe and Will draw inspiration from? Here’s Stephen Greenblatt …
‘Shakespeare learned something else essential to his art from the morality plays; he learned that the boundary between comedy and tragedy is surprisingly porous. In figures such as Aaron the Moor (the black villain in Titus Andronicus), Richard III, and the bastard Edmund in King Lear, Shakespeare conjures up a particular kind of thrill he must have first had as a child watching the Vice in plays like The Cradle of Security and The Interlude of Youth: the thrill of fear braided with transgressive pleasure. The Vice, wickedness personified, is appropriately punished at the end of the play, but for much of the performance he manages to captivate the audience, and the imagination takes a perverse holiday.’ [a]
It’s worth giving a shout-out to Jonathan Bate too, as he explores that ‘porous boundary’ to which Greenblatt alludes …
[a] Stephen Greenblatt, Will in in the World, (Jonathan Cape: London, 2004)