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Monday, August 01, 2016

Lazing in Calcutta

I read out Othello to Pupu and Shilpi two days ago. They enjoy that sort of thing. I can now smile to myself at the thought that I have handled Shakespearean plays over a whole year and also at a single sitting.

Othello I last read a very long time ago: must have been thirty five years at least, if not more. It didn’t strike me as a great play then, and this time it sounded, frankly, melodramatic enough to be called silly. Seriously, much that I admire Shakespeare for (he has fed me for a long time  now), and however blasphemous this might sound, many of his plays are so far below par that I sometimes wonder what gave him the kind of reputation he enjoys, four centuries after his death. Maybe the succession of events that could have seemed plausible if drawn out carefully over a novel that spans several years (some people do change considerably over years) seems absurd because enacted over a play that is supposed to last only a few days! I mean, look at this man – widely regarded as not only a great military leader and pillar of society (though much reviled in some quarters for the colour of his skin), who supposedly won a young, innocent, sweet (ugh… I found it saccharine sweet) girl over with his noble-minded love, who thought the world of her – he could be seduced into mindless, murderous jealousy within a couple of days into throttling her dead! and then, convinced within minutes that he has done a great wrong out of stupidity and haste, kill himself? I don’t know about others, but I refuse to call it a great and tragic love story: at best I shall call it a most disturbing study in psychopathology, a remarkable instance of how some people, otherwise successful, can stumble for a while through life with dangerously immature emotions and unstable minds. On top of that the plot is obsessed with sex as virtually the only real meaning of love: it’s so adolescent it takes one’s breath away. Filled as the play is with standalone memorable lines, I was repeatedly reminded of Coleridge’s famous putdown that ‘Shake was a dramatist of note/ who lived by writing things to quote’. The lines I found most piquantly ironical come at the very end, when the Moor describes himself as ‘one that loved not wisely but too well’ (that’s true, if by too well you mean an obsessive possessiveness which can instantly turn to hate)… one not easily jealous (hahaha!)’. It’s like Hitler lamenting in his last minutes that all his labour and sacrifice for his country had gone in vain.

Talking of immature minds, I have been reading about this boy who died at a friend’s birthday party in Kolkata recently. The local media, obsessed with sensation, is predictably agog over it, given the drought in real news. I link here something that the mayor wrote on his Facebook page in this connection, and a rejoinder from a certain ‘adolescent psychiatrist’ which I found both pretentious and foolish. Can you figure out why? I’d have written at length about it, but given the lack of interest among my readers in writing comments, I was suddenly seized with ennui. But here’s one more reason for my refusal to use Facebook. What I think about adolescents and parenting today, I shall restrict to my classroom and my blog.


Nishant said...

Dear Sir,

Now that you mention it, I do see the flaws, so to speak, in the play. I do recall thinking to myself that this particular play had a lot of 'sex-jokes'. I enjoy reading (and watching performances of) his plays when I can because I get to learn a bit about the backdrop, some mythology and I rather enjoy the wordplay. I think Coleridge was spot on about Shakespeare's quotability. Thanks to Shakespeare, I am sometimes a bathroom-monologist! They even had an article on the BBC a while back on 'How to insult like the Elizabethan British'. They also claim that he's now more popular than he's ever been.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Nishant,

Thanks for commenting. If it's indeed true that Shakespeare is more popular than ever before, I take heart from that, because in that case he might continue to feed me for a few more years! And happy bathroom-monologuing!

Best wishes,