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Literary Criticism & Bard > James Baldwin on the language & poetics of Shakespeare

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message 1: by B. P. (new)

B. P. Rinehart (ken_moten) | 72 comments I've been thiniking of an excerpt I read from the book The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings of James Baldwin. The essay I read is titled Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare and deals with Baldwin learning to appreciate Shakespeare and--by extension--the English language.

While there are a lot of great things to get out of the essay, the last two paragraphs hold the key insight: " The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love—by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it—no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer—to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not—I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people—all people!—who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.
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message 2: by Jo (last edited May 31, 2019 01:07PM) (new)

Jo (deronda) | 18 comments I'm aware that I'm more than one year late, but: thank you for sharing this with us.
The "Uncollected Writings" have been on my to-read list for quite a while now - it was a real treat to read Baldwin's essay on Shakespeare beforehand.

Once one has begun to suspect this much about the world—once one has begun to suspect, that is, that one is not, and never will be, innocent, for the reason that no one is—some of the self protective veils between oneself and reality begin to fall away.

That was one of the passages that stood out to me, also the parallel he draws between Shakespeare's bawdiness and the nature of jazz, its physicality.

I was lucky enough to have had a teacher who was a fervent Shakespeare fan; I don't think I ever disliked the Bard. But I, like Baldwin, "was a victim of that loveless education which causes so many schoolboys [schoolgirls] to detest [insert name of any author]". So in a way I can understand why Baldwin and Shakespeare got off on the wrong foot, so to speak.


message 3: by B. P. (new)

B. P. Rinehart (ken_moten) | 72 comments Jo wrote: "I'm aware that I'm more than one year late, but: thank you for sharing this with us.
The "Uncollected Writings" have been on my to-read list for quite a while now - it was a real treat to read Bal..."


Same here, Jo, same here. I first read that article on Shakespeare in another book--Collected Essays--but I felt, like Baldwin, a certain natural distrust of The Bard until I went to university and read Shakespeare on my own--without any teacher to filter him.


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