Monday, 25 June 2012

"Convenient ideas" about Shakespeare

The BBC's documentary on Falstaff last week was another example of  approximate views on the Bard being promulgated by over-simplifying BBC documentaries. 

I enjoyed Joely Richardson's programme on Shakespeare's women in the Shakespeare Uncovered series. However, I found her claim that "Shakespeare loved strong women" unacceptable.  Where is the evidence?

Clearly, strong women have more to say on stage than passive women. But Celia in "As You Like It" is a sweetie - a simple girl longing to be married.  I much prefer her to Rosalind. Angelic Desdemona is not "strong" in my book, but divinely loving, passive and mild. Cordelia has resolution and integrity but she is not a virago or "in your face". Agreed: Lady Macbeth, Regan and Goneril are really "strong" - but they are fiends.

Deep in the the heart of Shakespeare's writing is the opposition of "will" and "grace".  The fiends are driven by "will" which is carnal.  I am collating references to womenhood in Shakespeare at present. At a later date, this will prove that that Shakespeare disliked hard-hearted, tough, viragos

Equally, the BBC's or rather Simon Scharma's assumption that Falstaff is "loving and tender England" and that Henry V is "cold logic" totally misses the point.

Falstaff is a liar, scoundrel, criminal, a whoremonger (will) bent on destroying Hal and the State through his powerful wit, ego and manipulative power.  Henry V is an albeit wily, Christian man of few words (stiffly wooing French Catherine). He uses his friendship with Falstaff not only to test his powers of resistance, but to show himself "more glorious" when he reverts to pure nobility e.g. upholding the law (grace). The latter he states, early in Henry IV. Henry V fully knows Falstaff's anarchic, lawless "drives" and prevents him taking over the State - by totally rejecting him when he becomes King.  This is reminiscent of Prospero suppressing Caliban in "The Tempest" but mature Shakespeare makes Propero own him too, as "mine own".

Is the latest "convenient idea" that rationality, gravity and austerity of character  was not approved by Shakespeare who,was "dionysian" - all passion, rather like Falstaff. This is post-modern "convenient approximation" because the truth is that, in his images, Shakespeare connects austerity and gravity with true Christianity.

Has Scharma, a historian, lost all sight of right and wrong and of the secure sanity of Shakespeare? Would Scharma want a future King influenced by a lawless, decadent, if witty criminal? No: he would expect the Sovereign to sever such a relationship immediately. Previous intimate "friendship" would not come into it.

I also pointed out to the BBC other "misleading" facts in another documentary about the Poet by "Bard expert" Professor Stanley Wells. I strongly believe he claimed that Shakespeare "visited his grandparents at Mary Arden's farm".

Very odd! Will only had one living grandparent, Abigail Shakespeare (died 1595) and she lived at Snitterfield, not at Mary Arden's farm.

BBC just replied (what a miracle) denying that Stanley Wells said he visited his grandparents at the farm as a boy. Semantics may be the issue. However, Wells never mentioned that both Robert and Mary died before Will was born and that the farm was owned by Agnes Arden (nee Hill).

In my opinion, the "fact" as broadcast was that Will visited his grandparents while they were alive - at Mary Arden's farm.   One would need to listen to the programme again to hear exactly what Wells said but, at the least, it seemed misleading.

Mary Arden's Farm itself is not "clear" on the issue either.  I noted this on our visit in April - and in my blog.

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