Tag Archives: George Whetstone

Shakespeare and Whetstone in Inter-textual Society

A (hypothetical) portrait of Shakespeare at his desk. It's very possible that he would have worked with multiple popular texts to compose his own

A (hypothetical) portrait of Shakespeare at his desk. It’s very possible that he would have worked with multiple popular texts to compose his own

To the reverent eyes of modernity, Shakespeare’s fame is infallible. His very name has almost been chiseled into a byword for literary genius, and accords a respect approximately proportionate to say, Einstein in terms of the sciences. Yet, simple investigation often shocks readers when they discover that Shakespeare’s plays are often, on the schematic surface, markedly derivative of prior cultural productions. Often lifting or borrowing entire plots and characters, Shakespeare’s plays skirt towards imitation, superficially at least, to a degree that would furrow the brows of modern-day anti-plagiarism culture. The instinctive reaction can be disillusionment. Entire visions of romantic inspiration shatter when any adequate glossary explains that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a rehashing of a popular tale, and a contemporary poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (the companion edition of G.B. Harrison, in my case). Measure for Measure is no exception to this practice. Yet dissecting the inspirations, influences and derivations is not necessarily to abolish Shakespeare’s genius, or dramatically rip the mask from literature’s idol. Instead, as critical analysis has long accepted, detecting Shakespeare’s sources only contextualizes his plays, not as spontaneous innovations, but as deeply imbedded in a society chafed by rapidly modernizing views of injustice, yet festering with crime proportionate to unprecedented urbanization.

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