THE DEVELOPMENT OF SHAKESPEARE’S IMAGERY

Wolfgang Clemens

It does not take long to consider and review this criticism. What is meant by imagery? Settings, characters’ expressions, characters’ psychology, story, etc. Imagery means an analysis of all the plays and the capabilities and capacities that the playwright inserted by use of the words. 

The next question is what would Bill Shakespeare think? Shakespeare would read and wonder:

“I did that? Huh?”  “The analysis on this point sounds pretty good, but I don’t remember writing it that way.” “I like what he says about Hamlet. I must be the smartest guy in the world.” “Too bad about Love Labor’s Lost. It sounds so prosaic, although I inserted many good one-liners about love. That chapter says more about the author than it does about the play or my abilities.” 

NO KNOWLEDGE

This morning’s report about Osama Bin Ladin visiting William Shakespeare’s birth place in and around Stratford on Avon seems typical: A 13 year old boy sees the village and makes notes in his diary. (I do not remember the birth house. I remember Anne Hathaway’s house where Shakespeare lived after he returned from London in 1607 and died in 1616.)

By sixteenth century standards the house is nice but not big; it is not a palace. It was likely not much changed from the time Shakespeare left Stratford and went to London. (Artists, writers and musicians did not make much money at that time, but each could use their talent.) Hathaway was older and the more prosperous of the two. I do not know how much Shakespeare, himself, contributed to the estate in Stratford. However, William Shakespeare was like many other men, marrying a richer older woman and living in her house. Men have married well like that for millennia – equally so women.

Could Bin Laden’s disgust and turning away form Shakespeare and the Western World for surfacey reasons be true? For a 13 year-old boy they could. Shakespeare had gained nothing from his work. He was living in a shack; he was the same peon as he was when he left Stratford; he died poor. But Bin Laden was simply ignorant and unknowledgeable. Arabs like Russians praise their languages for their poetic aspects. Shakespeare wrote poetry. Do Arabs dislike stories about human beings and issues each character has and must overcome or handle, as is seen in plays? (I would suspect that after 700 A.D. the Arabs were familiar with Greek plays and liked them.)

Bin Laden’s youthful rejection was directed to the mountain range of learning, the foundations and foothills supplied and supported by Islam, its rulers and societies from 700 to 1258, the fall of Baghdad – later in Spain. Islamic culture was destroyed by invaders from Central and East Asia. The Mamluk Turks of Egypt who stopped the Mongol invasion were foreign to Arabic culture. The Crusaders from Western Europe beginning in the Twelfth Century were mostly unsuccessful militarily, but greatly enhanced communication East and West and increased learning.

Bin Laden rejected this learning about men, societies and religion. Almost every Muslim today will say, Islam is a religion of peace, or Islam means peace. The Holy Koran is not a militant manifesto. Bin Ladin did not take this road, but one alluring to the righteousness of youth. For him Islam became a propaganda tool to use on his way to establish dominance and political power and material wealth over all human beings on earth.

Shakespeare Author

We know Bill, Will, William Shakespeare wrote the plays, sonnets and other things. History favors this conclusion.

Shakespeare was a real person. We know on or about the day he was born and died. We know he was born and died in Stratford upon Avon, but he did most of his work in London. While working in London, we do not know how often he traveled between London and Stratford.

We know Shakespeare was an actor in and around the London Theater scene for 30 years. We do now know what else he was doing in London, but it is likely he was writing. We do not know where Shakespeare lived in London. We do not know his religion – Catholic, Angelican or Puritan. It is likely Shakespeare tended toward Puritanism. Puritan teaching – lectures and preaching – was common and well-attended in London during Shakespeare’s time. Elizabeth I did not support or like them, but her Privy Council favored the new teaching and its reforms.

Puritan lecturers were educated, well-schooled men, who wanted to reach the hearts of the crowd. By in large they succeeded. So widespread were lecturers in London, they greatly outdrew all other forms of worship, entertainment and diversion. The accomplishments of the lecturers was to drive and expand the English language, making expression direct and simple to convey the message to the audience. A scene in “Shakespeare in Love” is entirely credible: The playwright is walking on the street and hears a term from a Puritan lecturer – “A plague on both their houses.”

It is entirely likely in London that Shakespeare routinely heard favorite and excellent lecturers, listening to the words and watching the reactions of the audience. The input into the development and advancement of English by Puritan lecturers is little researched and not well told. The primary reason: The establishment of England still smarts from the order of Puritan Oliver Cromwell, separating the head from the body of King Charles II (1649). 

With a high degree of confidence we know that one person writing under the names of William, Will, Bill Shakespeare wrote all the plays, sonnets and other works. Shakespeare wasn’t a pseudonym used by two or more persons who wished to remain anonymous. If one person wrote the plays, what can be said of him? He took to the language like a duke to water. He had an ear for sounds in and around the language. He had a memory for almost everything he heard. He had the facility and versatility in mind to play with various words. He knew the language was best used with the greatest impact while expressing with the fewest number of words.

Is it impossible for someone of Shakespeare’s upbringing, background and abilities to be born and do what he did? NO, it is more likely someone of that background would do it. He knew what life was like for the common man; he listened to the Puritan lecturers; he knew the language his audience would like. If the upper classes were amazed by his stories, ideas and language, his examples swept them from using French and Latin and made England linguistically a nation. [There were dialects and languages in England which did not fade fast.] Having one understandable language was significant advantage for England.

Note from the Eighteenth Century is an example of an Englishman with little education producing far beyond his English and European contemporaries. Benjamin Franklin mastered almost every endeavor he undertook; he was a very capable writer. Although Shakespeare stuck to drama, it was the only and primary outlet for his abilities expressing his art.

While Shakespeare was in London, his plays were performed. We know mostly when and where; we know of the actors. We know there probably wasn’t the rumor that Shakespeare was not the author of the plays.

Coming upon the seventeenth century was a time when authors, composers and sometimes painters [Rembrandt did not sign many of his paintings] did not claim credit for work or they did not receive credit for their originality. Anonymous or unknown is more common an identification than “By _____.” Shakespeare had plays published during his lifetime, whether he authorized it or not,  and whether he was paid or not. The theater was the primary means for a writer to get paid. Authors then, somewhat like today, were not hugely famous. The public reaction is similar though – you’re just writing words that everyone already knows. It’s the actors who make it real.

To keep a secret – the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets – in Elizabethan and Jacobian London is an impossibility. We must rely on Benjamin Franklin’s axiom – The only way three people can keep a secret is for two of them to die. Non-believers of Shakespeare’s authorship claim so-and-so, or what’s-his-name wrote the plays. There were loads of secrets to keep in a society that thrived on gossip. The secret also assumes that the unknown author was very well-off. He needed no money while living in a society where generosity plus greed equalled grace.

With Shakespeare dead in 1616, theater people, actors, producers, owners and others realized, We don’t have copies of the plays. They searched and remembered, and for seven years everyone associated with Shakespeare recalled and worked. As far as we know there are no hand written manuscripts. The First Folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623. The compilers of the Folio, who should know, did not say, “William didn’t write them. Pete did. [Pete was dead too and didn’t have handwritten manuscripts either.] But let’s keep the secret.” Compilers of the Folio knew Shakespeare had written the plays. He deserved credit.