Fiction is truth as is no other art

Although I did The Tempest for my English Literature School Leaving Certificate examination at age 14, I failed to fall in love with the works of Wm Shakespeare. In fact I consigned him to the back burner of my life for the following forty years.
 Then, at age 54 I came across a slim and dusty volume in an antiquarian bookshop in Winchester. It was called 'On Reading Shakespeare' and was written by one Professor (American I think) Logan Pearsall-Smith, published in 1928. The professor posited, in some of the most perfect prose, that you should read the plays rather than see them acted out on the modern stage. Why? Because the man's genius was / is not his stories - nearly all filched from previous, mainly Roman storytellers - it was his use of language to drill down into the very core of our human existence, as has no other before or since.
You can understand this much better, the professor considered, if you read the plays in the order in which most of the scholarship believes them to have been written, and peferably in the Arden edition with copious explanatory footnotes. You need to 'learn the language'. So that's what I did. For more than a year and a half  I read all the plays to the exclusion of all else, re-read several of the the tragedies and re-read many times certain passages that resonated and moved me - occasionally, even, it has to be said, to actual tears.

And now Mr James Joyce has, for me, reinforced Pearsall-Smith's dictum. You see, I'm reading Ulysses and have reached the extensive passage in which Stephen Daedelus is debating the great playright's life, sources, merits and demerits with his Dubliner friends Mulligan, Eglinton, Best etc. They demonstrate not simply a great knowledge of the works and the characters, but a huge if controversial understanding of the man himself and the life of the man. And all this in a few years after 1914, so without benefit of the massive Shakespearean academia of the last one hundred years.

Hemingway remarked that fiction can be truer than the truth. Shakespeare and Joyce would have agreed with that. And with my belief that fiction written well and truly enriches human life as can no other art.



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