“Is This Shakespeare?”

Here I am again, perhaps a little slaphappy from the pastiches Jeff quoted above, because you’re in for an anecdotal post if you keep reading. “Is this Shakespeare?” For whatever reason, I thought back some fifteen years? more? to a Candid Camera episode (I said this would be random) that asked the same thing. Briefly, Candid Camera was a 90s/early 2000s television program that taped people’s unscripted responses (or so they advertised) to circumstances staged for humorous effect. So the clip in question, as I recall, featured a mock-interviewer polling random passers-by on whether some passage of verse “was Shakespeare.” I was a few years into school at the time, and “Shakespeare” was a new word for me. So I ingenuously turned to my parents asked just what “Shakespeare” was: a very famous writer. I retorted! How could they presume upon my ignorance by mistaking an adjectival category for a noun phrase? I had sense enough to know (after all!) that a text could only “be” a certain way – long, difficult, poetic – or, it might be something – a book, a poem – but not someone.

It would mean something quite different to ask, “Is this Shakespearean?” since any number of extra-linguistic categories – dramatic/theatrical, characterological, Elizabethan – might apply. When one invokes “the Kafkaesque,” for instance, Kafka’s prose style doesn’t immediately come to mind. To what extent does the force of the substantive channel bardolatry, then? And if that’s a leading question, does it refer to a healthy, a constructive move? If “the Shakespearian” sounds very baggy until it’s made specific to, say, character, since we’re discussing that next week, does “Shakespeare,” on the other hand, indicate something so distilled or quintessential – or perhaps just personal – that the descriptive exercise falls through?


P.S. I wish I could have touched on any of the other valuable threads we’ve pursued so far, from figural procedures to counting operations, but I’m afraid this is all I have for now. Hopefully it drew a laugh. Anyway.

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