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TOPIC: Is understanding Shakespeare a matter of intelligence?

Is understanding Shakespeare a matter of intelligence? 4 years 9 months ago #6438

  • terenk leon
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A lot of people complain that the works of Shakespeare are incomprehensible to them. They frequently make the excuse that Elizabethan English is unfamiliar to them, or that "shakespeare cant speak english lol!"

I've personally never found a significant problem in understanding Shakespeare. Some phrases and references he uses I'm sure are lost in time, but the bulk of his work is easy for me to understand.

Are those who can't understand Shakespeare just stupid?
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Re: Is understanding Shakespeare a matter of intelligence? 4 years 9 months ago #6443

  • Liz
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I don't think they're stupid. Maybe the language just isn't something they're used to.
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The following user(s) said Thank You: James Nichols

Re: Is understanding Shakespeare a matter of intelligence? 4 years 9 months ago #6450

  • James Nichols
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After a lifetime devoted to other things I read most of the plays a couple of years ago. I certainly got the gist of them and was content to gloss over passages that proved obscure. On re-reading now, I want to dig deeper and keep notes in a file I call "The Bard's Knotty Bits." The knottiest of these can be passages that use relatively plain language on its surface, but whose syntax and logic prove difficult to follow.

In King John, for example, a knotty bit for me is the speech in which King John finds in favor of Philip (the Bastard), putative elder son of Sir Robert Faulconbridge, in the dispute over inherited land with what proves to be his half-brother Robert Faulconbridge.

KING JOHN. ... Tell me, how if my brother,
Who, as you say, took pains to get this son,
Had of your father claim'd this son for his?
In sooth, good friend, your father might have kept
This calf, bred from his cow, from all the world;
In sooth, he might; then, if he were my brother's,
My brother might not claim him; nor your father,
Being none of his, refuse him. This concludes:
My mother's son did get your father's heir;
Your father's heir must have your father's land.

The part of the speech preceding this passage is clear, as is the conclusion, but I find it hard to paraphrase John's reasoning in reaching that conclusion. Here is an attempt (the speech is addressed to Robert Faulconbridge, the plaintiff in the dispute):

"What if my father (King Richard the Lionheart) had claimed this son (Philip the Bastard) for his own? Your father (Sir Robert) might still have kept that son, fruit of his own wife's womb, not only from King Richard but from anyone else that might claim him (all the world). That was his right. In which case my brother King Richard would have had no recourse, but neither could your father (Sir Robert) in such case, having followed that course of action, then deny that Philip was his son. Therefore, Philip is your father's heir."

Is this a good interpretation? I'm not sure, but for me it makes sense of a rough patch.
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Re: Is understanding Shakespeare a matter of intelligence? 4 years 9 months ago #6452

  • James Nichols
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Following up on my previous comment about King John, I realize that in my paraphrase I omitted reference to a key phrase: "Being none of his...." It adds to the obscurity in my view. I would account for it in paraphrase as follows:

"...But neither could your father (Sir Robert) in such case, having followed that course of action, then deny that Philip was his son EVEN THOUGH HE WAS NOT (being none of his)."
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