16 February 2013

Weekend Viewing: Shakespeare, For All Time

In Search of Shakespeare by Michael Wood is a wonderfully entertaining overview of the life and career of William Shakespeare, of whom we know quite a bit. And Wood gives us a deeper insight into Shakespeare, the man.

I enjoy Michael Wood's popular investigations into history and geography.  He brings an intellectual excitement and wonder to his documentaries that never seems to lose its edge, or to become cloying.  I do not know if this is his persona, or his genuine character.  But he is remarkable in his ability to share his knowledge and joy of learning with ordinary people, which is the hallmark of a teacher.  

Below is Part Four of the series, dealing with the last part of his life.  I recommend the entire series to you, as well as some of his other works. 

I spent quite a bit of time reading and studying Shakespeare at school. I was lucky to have two Harvard educated teachers, one in high school and one at University, who were very knowledgeable literary men, who had a deep learning of Shakespeare, his sonnets and his plays. 

And I read widely about him and his works on my own.  Reading was a solace, an entertainment, and at certain times a refuge.  I suppose as a  working class young man, Shakespeare provided a view of life that lifted me above what I saw each day, and gave me a broader, renovated vision.  This is the power of art, to uplift and transform, to speak to others across the vast gulf of place and time.

Literature, music and the visual arts are often denigrated in 'hard societies,' and abased to the pedestrian use of the State as diversion and propaganda. But even in the most heavily laden social environments, beauty in the arts can bloom. And they do so much more with the encouragement, rather than repression, of the culture.

What is remarkable about the wealthy class in America is that they have such narrowly limited educations, in the manner of clerks and technicians and professional conmen, and thereby have so little appreciation of art. 

Their expectations of themselves are exhausted in material acquisition.  They are given to banal and garish displays, imposing but lifeless edifices of power.  They have deadened their sentiments in pursuit of the material. It reminds one of the monumentally lifeless art of National Socialism, a cultural 'dead end' without any higher prospects.

And cut off from the organic fertility of its culture, the artistic impulse becomes increasingly introspective and eccentric, formless, fruitlessly growing inward, howling its shock and isolation from within deep wells of subjectivity.

Creativity is a sign of life. If a society has no arts, it has no creative life.  Look at the manner in which a people put their creativity to use, and one will see what they hold in high regard, what they love, and serve.