“Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar.” Sigmund Freud once said that. Or did he?
There is much doubt in what we think we know and what we do know. Take this article as an example.
It was going to touch on how many Shakespearean experts over analyze Shakespeare’s work.
My argument was going to be based solely as a fellow writer and my experience as a writer. Sometimes (most times, really) people think that we, the writer, are smarter than we actually are.
What is the secret theme the writer meant?
How did the subplot influence the main story?
How did you figure out the character’s story arch?
And the list goes on. Yes, I study the craft of writing and I’m very serious about learning all the different aspects of the craft. I read books on the craft of writing nearly every day and my collection of ebooks on my Kindle might hit 100 books on the subject sooner than later. Having said all that, knowing full well all the intricacies of writing, sometimes we just write from the gut and what feels well, and that was my argument as to why all this peeling and prodding of Shakespeare can, at times, be a little too much.
I owe a lot of my skill of writing to Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith’s fantastic online workshops, an absolute goldmine and better than any writing curriculum taught in any English class in the world.
In one of Smith’s courses and in his fantastic book, Writing into the Dark*, Smith talks about going to a graduate-level English class to talk to university students. They had all read two of his short stories and this is what ensued.
“So I arrived, talked some about what it was like to be a freelance fiction writer, and then the professor turned the discussion to my two stories they had read. And I started to get questions about how did I know to put in the second hidden meaning of the story, or the foreshadowing of an upcoming event, or… or… or… They all knew far, far more about those two stories than I did. Honestly, I could barely remember the stories, and I had no idea I had even put in all that extra stuff they were all so impressed by. And the reason I couldn’t remember is that my subconscious, my creative brain, put all that in. My critical, conscious brain had nothing at all to do with it. I had just let my creative brain tell a story. Nothing more.”
As you can see, he had no idea what all these underlying things meant. He just wrote because that’s what he does. He writes. It all comes out and that’s it. And that’s the truth of all writers. Not wannabe writers, but people who actually put pixelated ink to screen.
We don’t sit back and mull over how we’re going to make this impact on the world or how we want to tackle and address this thing or that. We just write.
Do I have themes and certain topics that I want to touch on in my books? Sure, of course. But that isn’t the end all and be all. It’s more of a mental sticky note than anything, helping me guide the story and make sure that I stay on track.
But there is no hidden brilliance in writers as to our craft. We just write and Shakespeare, last time I checked, was a writer.
The books and lectures that have been written on the man and his work would take lifetimes to digest so by that logic, did Shakespeare spend years on each play, going over the minutia of what every little thing meant? No, of course not. He was a business man who wrote to a crowd. He was a modern day movie studio putting out sequels and trying to get as much money from whatever interested the people at that time.
Currently, I am reading Marjorie Garber’s seminal work, “Shakespeare After All †.” This thing is freaking brilliant. If you’re looking for an in-depth guide into each of his plays look no further than this. This is soon to become a go-to guide into learning, understanding, and dissecting, each of his plays.
Having said that, I am currently on my mission to learn Shakespeare and the work I am absorbing at the moment is The Tempest. So I went over to that chapter and started reading.
I reached the part where Prospero is talking to his daughter Miranda towards the beginning of the play. When I first saw the play on my iPad app by Heuristic Media‡ created in part with the amazing Sir Ian Mckellen, I was blown away at the play as an audience member. On my second viewing I was able to understand more (that is what being a fan of Shakespeare is after all? Trying to understand new things on every new viewing or reading) and when I see entertainment productions, I also now see them from the side of the creative. So when Prospero was talking to his daughter and catching her up on things, it was a way for the writer, William Shakespeare, to catch up the audience viewer.
Since his plays aren’t books, he had no way of breaking up the speech, no “he said” or “she said”, just Prospero talking. Knowing full well that him rambling on would not hold the audience, William Shakespeare just added a few breaks in the speech by having Prospero make sure that his daughter was listening, time and again. In a way, the audience was Miranda and Prospero Shakespeare, making sure that everyone was paying attention. But more so, it was just a clever way of Shakespeare to break up the monotony of Prospero’s speech. Nothing more, nothing less.
But when I started reading Garber’s take on the scene, she surmised and went into an in-depth reasoning as to why he kept asking his daughter if she was listening.
“Yet we may notice that there is something odd in the way Prospero tells his tale. Over and over again he asks her whether she is paying attention to his story. ‘I pray thee mark me.’ ‘Dost thou attend me?’ ‘Thou attend’st not!’ ‘Dost thou hear?’ Why does he do this, when, as she protests, ‘Your tale, sir, would cure deafness,’ and when the audience in the theater, too, listens almost as if spellbound? Perhaps for that very reason. Prospero’s repetition itself is a kind of charm or spell, hypnotizing his wondering daughter, so that finally, as he says, ‘Thou art inclined to sleep; ’tis a good dullness, / And give it way. I know thou canst not choose’ (1.2.186–187).
As you can see, I personally reject her hypothesis on these lines. She, like many experts are seeing more than what is there. She, and other experts, found something that wasn’t there. And that’s what this article was going to be about.
But then I read on.
Garber went on to do another in-depth view into another scene, where Sebastian and Antonio have a talk. Ariel, the magic spirit, puts everyone but those two men to sleep. Garber goes on to explain that sleep is for the good and that being awake is for the bad.
“But if sleep is a sign of innocence, wakefulness is—as often in Shakespearean tragedy—a sign of guilt. In act 2, scene 1, when one by one the courtiers fall asleep to the music of Ariel’s pipe, the King, Alonso, remains awake, and wonders why: ‘What, all so soon asleep?’ Although Alonso is guilty of complicity in the exile of Prospero, he is now also a figure of sympathy and pathos, since he is mourning the supposed death of his own son, Ferdinand, and he, too, soon falls asleep, leaving awake upon the stage only two men: Antonio, Prospero’s brother, and Sebastian, the brother of Alonso—that is, the already usurping Duke of Milan and the potentially usurping King of Naples.”
I again lost it. I wanted to point out to her that, no, the reason those guys went to sleep was just an easy out for Shakespeare to move the plot along without having to take characters off of the stage. There was no sign of guilt or anything like that. It was just a man trying to move a story along as believable as possible.
But then I read on.
Garber correctly, and quite brilliantly, hit it on the nose as Sebastian spoke to Antonio. Sebastian says,
“What, art thou waking?
It is a sleepy language, and thou speak’st
Out of thy sleep.”
Wow. I was wrong. Sometimes there is more than meets the eye. Sometimes there is a lot more to Shakespeare and his words.
William Shakespeare was a genius who had immense depth in his his writing. But we must also never forget, he was sometimes, most times, just a writer as well.
As far as that quote at the beginning of this piece? Sigmund Freud never said it, § we just want him to say it. And I know firsthand how wrong it is to just assume something about someone as this writing has shown.
* * *
* Wesley Smith, Dean (May 10, 2015) WMG Publishing, Inc.
† Garber, Marjorie (November 19, 2008) Random House LLC / Anchor; Reprint edition
‡ Heuristic Media (2010) http://www.heuristicmedia.tv/Heuristic-Shakespeare.php
§ Quote Investigator, Exploring the Origins of Quotations http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/08/12/just-a-cigar/