The grandeur of strangling the woman one loves

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Uit Herman Charles Bosman se Uncollected Essays

I sometimes feel sorry that I was not alive in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare’s art would have been different if he had come under my influence. With his effective command of the English language, his ability to get down to business and turn out a neat job, his dexterity at signing his name to other people’s ideas on the impudent pretext that he improved them – all these things would have made a wonderful dramatist of William Shakespeare, if only he had known as much about the theory of art as a Bechuana wood-carver knows, or as much as a Fordsburg procuress knows.

If Shakespeare was more of an artist he would not be so great a figure in the world’s literature. But he would be a finer Bard of Avon.

Shakespeare could never have written what Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote, that poem about “Love me for naught”. He would not have known what it meant. In every syllable of Shakespeare’s majestic pentameters there breathes the market-place spirit of barter. Shakespeare could not understand the idea of doing anything for nothing. And that is what all art is and what all religion is and what all love is – doing things “for naught.”

You can’t compose a line like
“The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
for nothing.

There is Othello. He loves Desdemona. He ends up by strangling her. That is all right. There is an eternal grandeur and magnificence in the thought of strangling the woman whom he loves. We can feel that there is an intense beauty in the act. But the thing remains lovely only as long as we don’t know why he does it. But Shakespeare ruins the dreadful sweetness and nobility of Othello’s fatal midnight antics with the handkerchief by making the Moor shamble about the stage in the ludicrous guise of a jealous husband. This is a devastating commentary on the pettiness of William Shakespeare’s soul. He had all the material for creating a beautiful story. He had the energy to sit down and write it all up, scene after scene. Then, at the end, when he could have pulled of a shattering climax born of the splendid madness of poetry and of wine, he confessed that he was not a poet, after all.

So Shakespeare made Othello murder Desdemona because he thought she was carrying on with another man. Oh, Shakespeare. You had hold of something beautiful. You degraded it into a sordid squabble in a bedroom in Stratford-on-Avon. I can see the soiled counterpane on your second-best bed. I can hear Anne Hathaway’s strident voice declaring that the butcher didn’t have his arm round her. And there is that flat hideousness in her tone of a woman rendered irritable by continual child-bearing.

I even know what kind of underwear she has got on.

How much finer it would have been had Othello strangled Desdemona for no reason in particular – merely because he loved her, or simply because he wanted to, or just for fun. Othello is the tragedy of a man who is bigger than his creator. I feel that Othello could have murdered Desdemona for nothing. Shakespeare couldn’t even have bought Anne Hathaway a new pair of shoes for nothing.


Written by George Maru

9 Februarie 2007 at 16:46

Posted in sommer net

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  1. […] sommer maar net geskryf is, vir niks, vir pret. Dit het my laat dink aan Herman Charles Bosman se essay: And that is what all art is and what all religion is and what all love is – doing things […]

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