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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Orwell vs Tolstoy vs Shakespeare

By pure coincidence I happened upon George Orwell's critique of Leo Tolstoy's critique --- well, more like a hit job --- of Shakespeare.

Out of curiosity I dug up Tolstoy's essay on Shakespeare. As a blindly devoted fan of Shakespeare, I chuckle at Tolstoy's incredulity that sounds pretty familiar. I must have seen similar complaints elsewhere, or heard the wailing from high school students who are forced to read Shakespeare: "Why is this considered good? It's not even English! It doesn't even make sense! It's not realistic! Why do you all love him?!"

What is rather incredible is that such whining comes from Tolstoy in his seventies, after a lifetime of watching people and living life, not from a teenager who hasn't known what a mess family can be and how life is always full of shit that you can neither solve nor escape.

In his essay, Orwell ruthlessly pinned down Tolstoy's unconscious sore point with Shakespeare, namely Tolstoy's self-aggrandized pursuits late in his life is a parallel to Lear's idiotic choices. No wonder he was especially disturbed by "King Lear." This painfully accurate insight made me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts. Tolstoy complains that Lear's decision to give away his kingdom in exchange for guaranteed love and adoration from his daughters is ridiculous and unnatural. Well, one does not have to look too far for a real-life example of someone who gave away everything he owned in exchange for love and adoration from not only his family but the entire country, so obsessed he was with becoming Christ himself. Isn't it fucking hilarious? Oh the irony is killing me! With laughter! 

2 comments:

Mark said...

Ha! I loved this. Your Shakespeare observations are on target. Im not the student you are...but I fell in love (sort of) when I saw a production of Hamlet at Arena Stage when I was 17. Like you, I think S was way ahead of Freud....and way ahead of 20th century existentialist philosophers, and way ahead of a whole lot else.

Jun Yan said...

Hi Mark. Didn't know you are a Shakespeare fan too. Isn't he amazing? If it were easy to do what he did, why did no one else do the same in the past 400 years? I cannot think of anyone who achieved this kind of effect, even though there have been many brilliant writers and poets since 1600. Plenty of people can spin some words and whip up some metaphors, but I can't think of anyone in English literature that is so full of life and earthiness and love for humanity. Plus insight. Plus the universality. Uh, every time I try to explain why I LOVE Shakespeare madly I'm at a loss for words.

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