You know, when it has been a span of time since I have read or seen a Shakespeare play I begin to wonder why he is considered the pinnacle of English literature. I mean surely there have been other writers who are his equal? And I think and think and no names pop into my head, but I still believe there should be at least one writer, but who? Eventually I get distracted and am left with only a vague sense of I’m not sure what — disbelief perhaps — that there is no one else? Or is it unease? Because really, in 400 years for there never to have been a writer in English as good, as inventive, as influential seems impossible and rather sad for literature as though we’ve been in a state of slow decline ever since. And while I am sure there are plenty of people who would say English literature has gone downhill from Shakespeare, I am not among them. I hope I never find myself in old age, sitting in a rocking chair with my teeth in a glass on the table next to me telling some young whipper-snapper that literature just ain’t what it used to be, and when I was your age blah blah blah. Please, if this happens to me, someone hit my over the head with The Luminaries or other equally large tome.
Where was I? Oh yes, I forget, after being away from Shakespeare for awhile, how marvelous he is. I began reading King Lear the other day and have been reminded — My God! This man is brilliant! In the first two scenes he effortlessly sets everything in motion, Cordelia, her sisters, Lear, Edmund. Yes, yes, France takes Cordelia for his wife even without a dowry — so romantic! — but you know, even if you have never read/seen the play before, you know that things are going to go wrong, that Lear has thrown away everything he holds most dear and there will be no happy ending. And it is delicious, this knowing, this dread, this watching and not being able to look away, and always hoping that maybe something will happen and disaster will be narrowly averted.
It’s good stuff.
Is there any other English writer the equal of Shakespeare? I don’t know. Does it really matter?