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William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English playwright and poet born in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare worked as an actor in London, where he began to compose sonnets.

With the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of players to become known as the King’s Men, Shakespeare leased the first Globe Theatre, erected in 1598. The first Globe burnt down in 1613 but Shakespeare and his troupe had already been performing at a new Globe Theatre.

The genius of his work, written mostly for the Globe, was recognized by Queen Elizabeth and her extensive court. So, unlike some ignored geniuses, Shakespeare enjoyed great success and considerable wealth in his lifetime.

Shakespeare's Globe, London (rebuilt 1997)

Shakespeare’s Globe, London (rebuilt 1997) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, many forget that his plays were written to be seen, not read.

If theatre going isn’t a practical choice, a good alternative is the BBC television series (VHS/DVD) of Shakespeare’s plays. This production boasts authentic costumes, on-location castles and the players’ ancestrally inherited accents to help bring the mystical bard’s works to life.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever, not only in the English language, but in any language. Some feminists contend this idea, suggesting that writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson are equal if not superior to Shakespeare’s wit and wisdom. And others maintain that, if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had not written in German, he might have rivaled Shakespeare’s literary throne.

Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of...

Sir John Gilbert’s 1849 painting: The Plays of William Shakespeare, containing scenes and characters from several of William Shakespeare’s plays. Since the artist died in 1897, this work is now in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I converted to Catholicism I visited an Anglican Church (the Church of my baptism). An Anglican minister preaching about the Biblical Book of Job said that it was “like Shakespeare.” The way he said it seemed to imply that Shakespeare was better literature than the Bible. Many might disagree, and popularity is not necessarily an indicator of absolute value, but from 1986 to 1993 Shakespeare ranked third in the Top 10 Authorities cited in academic journals of the Arts and Humanities, with the Bible at 5th place.¹

¹ Institute for Scientific Information as cited in The Globe and Mail, Toronto: Southam, February 11, 1993. I’m not sure if those stats include Religious Studies and Theology. And I would be willing to bet that worldwide readership of the Bible is far stronger than that of Shakespeare. So these stats might be a good indicator of how persuasive statistics can be, depending on the selection, interpretation and presentation of data.

Related » Arjuna, Atlantis, George Berkeley, Glamour, Hamlet, Homer, Iago, John Keats, Macbeth, Madness, Merchant of Venice, John Milton, Othello, Pericles, Psychosis, Radha, Reincarnation, Romeo and Juliet, Shylock, Unconscious



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Anthony Burgess

English: A production photo from Brad Mays' mu...

English: A production photo from Brad Mays’ multi-media stage production of “A Clockwork Orange,” by Anthony Burgess, performed in Los Angeles in 2003. The photograph was commissioned by photographer Peter Zuehlke, and depicts Vanessa Claire Smith in her award-winning, gender bending portrayal of Alex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anthony Burgess (1917-94) was a British author. His most famous work is A Clockwork Orange (1962), a tale he reportedly whipped up in a few weeks to make some money. It’s a grisly and at times horrific story of Alex, a gang leader of a group of depraved thugs in an equally (although more subtly) depraved society.

While the original version of the book contained a 21st chapter with an optimistic ending, Burgess’ publisher only wanted 20 chapters. So the unsettling, open-ended conclusion that many of us know wasn’t Burgess’ initial intention.

In Stanley Kubrick‘s film adaptation (1971), which follows the 20 chapter version of the book, Alex is eventually abandoned and arrested after his gang of buddies become corrupt Bobbies.

Reprogrammed through image-association techniques¹ to detest sex and violence, Alex’s favorite composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, is on the reprogramming soundtrack while he’s being “fixed.” After his treatment, not only antisocial images but also his favorite Beethoven music make him feel violently ill.

Alex ends up in the home of the bourgeois intellectual whom Alex and his mates had previously maimed while raping his wife (she later died from the violence).

The intellectual, now in a wheelchair, gets his revenge. He tortures Alex by playing nonstop Beethoven music. Alex then attempts suicide, is rescued by the authorities, all of which makes him a celebrity as local politicians see a photo op in appearing sympathetic to his plight.

Cover of "A Clockwork Orange"

Cover of A Clockwork Orange

Alex sees the opportunity too. He smiles and shakes everyone’s hand. He becomes a star and is duly rewarded for ‘playing the game.’

From a sociological perspective, the movie explores several themes. Perhaps, most obviously, A Clockwork Orange illustrates the idea that criminal justice systems often favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the struggling poor. Sadly, the rape scene in the novel and film was based on the real life rape of Burgess’ wife by four GI deserters during a blackout. Burgess was in the military himself at the time, stationed in Gibraltar. His wife possibly lost her unborn child as a result of the violence.

The plot of the book is similar but more complicated than the film and, as noted, originally had a 21st chapter. See for a summary.

Burgess wrote many less commercially successful novels, to include The End of the World News (1982). He apparently didn’t like to plan his stories too much, feeling that excessive outlines ruined the creative process. So he wrote a page at a time, pausing after each to think about the next.

Burgess was also an accomplished musician and composer. His works were broadcast on BBC and performed in America.