It would be a mistake to think all geniuses are to be found in the sciences; or as engineers or inventors. That would straight away exclude all sorts of alternative and motley geniuses and limit our survey. My definition of genius, if you need reminding, is “an extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity”, and (goes without saying), “has captivated me”.
But – and here’s my dilemma for this specimen – this fortnight’s genius offering is a writer whom I can barely understand. Can that really count? This guy wrote 37 plays and 154 poems; invented thousands of his own words; has been translated into 180 languages; and is as oft-quoted as the Bible. Have you guessed who he is? Yes, it’s the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. And although I’ve tried, I can only half understand his stuff. Because not only is his intellect on another plain, but he was writing for a people whose English barely resembled ours. Even in his own time (late sixteenth century, early seventeenth) he was writing not for the contemporary sophisticates, but for the rank and file – the ordinary people.
Shakespeare was first forced on me in the fifth form, when we had to study Julius Caesar, and the teacher reckoned that all those clever speeches and couplets and phrasings were intentional, not just flukes, as I suggested. In the sixth form it was Henry IV Part Two. By the seventh, I’d had enough. But in later decades he lured me back. I’ve been to several of his plays, but, knowing how difficult it is for a Kiwi rank-and-file to follow his work, I’ve tried to read a play before viewing, presuming that would give a leg-up to better understanding. And it has helped – for Romeo and Juliet, Midsomer Night’s Dream (which is hilarious in places), King Lear, Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing (these two in Stratford-Upon-Avon itself), and Hamlet and Julius Caesar (again) (both of these at the seasonal Pop-Up Globe theatre in Auckland).
You see, I’ve tried, and his writing really is clever if you can break into it – genius level, perforce [another word he invented]. How could anyone write that stuff, even today, with all our learning and sophistication, let alone four and a half centuries ago?
But, given all the a-foregoing, and in just over five hundred words, how can one describe his genius, let alone explain or analyse it? Fortunately, dozens of other sophisticates have already. Some of the shorter ones are listed at the bottom of this blog – check ‘em out. The uncredited Daily News article says, “More than any other writer, he had the capacity to think himself into the minds of other human beings, and to summarise the great range of our emotions in words that are simple and supremely eloquent.” Harold Bloom, in a best-selling Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), says, “… supreme literary talent is the necessary precondition for the composition of [Shakespeare’s great works] that have shaped our language, embedded themselves in our individual and collective imaginations, and inspired so much work by other artists.”
Because I had to concentrate, and climb the mountain to even begin to enjoy the view, I’ve been captivated by the genius of William Shakespeare. If you’re tempted, Julius Caesar is as good a place as any to start climbing.
3. https:// www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3554782/What-Shakespeare-genius-grammar-school-boy-died-400-years-ago-today-snobs-sneer-humble-origins-completely-missing-point.html