Midweek Shakespearean Post – 10 February 2016

Station Eleven

The pair of novels I’m writing spawned this website: literary fiction mashed up with a bit of science fiction and a bit of mystery: Edgar A. Poe and William Shakespeare. So when a new novel comes along that mashes up genres and starts getting attention, it gets my attention. I just read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and if my novels can be only half as good as Ms. Mandel’s, I can die happy.

Shakespeare, post-apocalyptic science fiction, a graphic novel, troubled but inspiring female protagonists, religious fanaticism, an intricate web of interconnecting characters, twists of time and even a Star Trek meme, populate this adventure. That makes it seem like a jumble: it’s not. Station Eleven is an elegiac and carefully constructed rumination on the meaning of Art.

Unlike the too-often utilized post-apocalyptic subgenre, this is book confounds your expectations. It doesn’t hustle along like a Hollywood blockbuster, it takes its time. Page one opens on stage with a production of King Lear. From that point the novel takes you through time and space, before and after a swine-flu mutation obliterates humanity, and all around the globe, into the hearts, hopes and fears of a tableau of characters.

Not to give anything away, but the novel ends where it begins. On the way, if you’re patient with the careful unraveling of events, Mandel rewards you with a series of illuminating connections. Now that I’ve turned the last page, some of these connections seem almost too fantastic to believe: but when you’re in the weave of her fictional dream, these couplings seem amazing, enlightening and uplifting.

Uplifting. A post-apocalyptic novel that’s uplifting! That’s one of the main miracles of this book. And as it’s happening, you completely believe it and buy it.

Take a chance and read this novel. What a wonderful mash up of genres, what a wonderful and poetic journey.

 

Sunday Sonnet – 18 January 2015

Chang

‘You’ or ‘Thou’? Elizabethan language, for all its poetic beauty and metaphoric phrasing, can be a bit of a drag for us modern readers. One strangeness you may have noticed is the seeming interchangeability of ‘You’ and ‘Thou’. Sonnet 13 is an excellent example of one difference between them: You was often reserved for intimacy. 

13

O, that you were yourself! but, love, you are
No longer yours than you yourself here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give.
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination: then you were
Yourself again after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so. 

Here, Shakespeare uses ‘You’ almost as much as he uses the name ‘Will’ much, much later in the Dark Lady sonnets: repeated use, multiple meanings and as integral part of the rhythm of the verse.

The Elizabethan subtleties of ‘You’ and ‘Thou’ are difficult to grasp (I have trouble with it all the time). English was transitioning into true Modern English, and Thou would soon be making its way out. There were instances when ‘Thou’ was appropriate (certainly it was more formal–but there were instances in very intimate settings where Thou might be used–it could encompass an accusatory or sarcastic complexion). But ‘You’ was definitely more intimate, and certainly appropriate here: The Poet urges his Young Man to procreate so that his beauty might be preserved. The Poet reminds the Young Man of how much he enjoyed his father’s guidance–would not the Young Man enjoy giving that to his son?

Unfortunately, the Earl of Southampton (or–insert your historical Young Man of choice) was too vain and selfish a creature to really be convinced by this pretty lame argument.   However, despite its inability to close the sale, Sonnet 13’s imagery of ‘so fair a house fall to decay’ or ‘stormy gusts of winter’s day’ certainly convinces readers four centuries later of one thing: Shakespeare wrote beautiful verse.   And he knew the difference between ‘You’ and ‘Thou’–even if some of that nuance is now lost to us.

The image is of Admiral Chang, the only person from the future who still uses the word ‘Thou.’ He was a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon from Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. As a side note, the Klingons claimed that Shakespeare was…a Klingon.