Published on January 17th, 2013 | by Thompson1
Shakin’ up Shakespeare in a Gonzo Cure-all Cocktail
For those of you who have visited this site already, I’m sure there’s plenty you’ve already learned regarding the focus and interests of the Go Gonzo staff, and keeping with our Gonzo ways, I see no reason why William Shakespeare cannot be subject to the same sort of Gonzo review.
In reading Dr. Sexson’s syllabus you’ll notice Samuel Taylor Colderidge listed as a canonical Shakespearean critic. He is also, conveniently, a major influence of Hunter S. Thompson’s, the father of Gonzo, making Coleridge the grandfather perhaps. He was an opium fiend and widely considered the best poet of his era. He was idolized by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Even Coleridge’s friend William Wordsworth, co-founder of the Romantic Movement, though he “regarded the final group [of Shakespeare’s sonnets], from number 127 onward, as ‘abominably harsh, obscure, worthless,’ and most of the rest as not much better,” had admitted his friend’s superiority, and perhaps because of Coleridge’s ability to write so eloquently despite his addiction (13). Let’s be glad Wordsworth isn’t alive to consider whether Coleridge’s eloquence was because of his addiction, as we consider with Hunter S. Thompson’s various addictions.
Much of my review of Shakespeare’s works (I intend to read every play this semester) will call on Coleridge, who in the later years of his life and the deepest into his addiction, found a revitalizing subject to write and lecture about in William Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have even saved this man’s life, which is why I think it’s important to investigate the Gonzo aspects of Shakespearean writ and wit.
Ted Hughes argues in his introduction to Essential Shakespeare that Shakespeare’s audience wanted, “from its highest to its lowest, with a kind of greed, was the language of more and more affecting and awesome emotions, more and more harrowing situations, more irresistible, stunning, hair-raising eloquence” (20). I would venture to say not much has changed. We’re still greedy for these “awesome emotions,” the only difference is now we want them to be real and not acted – fact not fiction (or at least delivered in a manner or mode that appears to be honest or objective).
“All true words labor under this patient shame – that the worst, most outrageous lies would make just as good a show, and could seize many immediate advantages. For their truth to become clear, true words have to wait for time, the world of action and trial, to supply a context and validate them, just as it will sweep away the lies” (55). We’ve realized that the “most outrageous lies” do make “just as good a show,” and do “seize many immediate advantages,” and we have become more accepting and expecting of those lies. Shiny computer graphics and plastic journalists with legs as long as the Mississippi and lips like those of the bass that swim it have become the norm when it comes to entertainment in this country. We accept the lies for fear of our lives. Reality television, sporting events, and journalism have become the Shakespeare of our times. It is the show that must go on, because we yearn for human interest stories and the Super Bowl, but most of all, we yearn for images.
Shakespeare’s success in wordplay is tied to the fact that “he fixed each new word not only with its general translation but with an image as well, a hieroglyphic ‘token'” (36). Many people no longer value the imagery provided via Shakespeare’s words because they expect a picture to accompany text – whether it be a chart or YouTube video. And through video, a much more persuading medium than text, the “unkillable demon of subjectivity, of what is inborn and primal” shows its sharp teeth, and is unrelenting in its grasp of our subconscious (45). We eat, drink, and sleep with a screen never too far away, not for fear of missing something, but because of an addiction. And though subjective journalism is gripping, it’s fiction that will free us. It’s fiction that will help us recover from this addiction. It’s fiction that will make us the people we’ve always wanted to be. “There can be good fictions, fictions which do not distort an existing system…but generate a new system” (68).