This blog is about writing, and this is the fifty-third post. I think. There have been more false starts for this one than any previous post, and I was beginning to think that writer’s block had descended with a gigantic crash on my poor head, scattering my wits in a shower of inconsequence.
What’s been happening since the last one that I’ve managed to get up on the net is that I have been been reading a lot of background stuff and doing a lot of thinking for my new book, which is slowly coming together in my mind. At the same time I’ve been trying to finish a post on Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida I promised you, dear reader, and myself, after finishing my previous book, Kaos.
The two are related. Kaos prompted me to look further into one of the key themes of that book, carrying over from earlier ones. But rather than opening terrific vistas for my serene gaze, I’ve kept tying myself into knots. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means thinking something difficult through to the point that it is no longer difficult, even if the solution is Alexandrian, perhaps especially!
It feels quite strange to have Troilus and Cressida exercising such a profound influence on me as a writer and as a person. Many people do not even know this play exists, but for me it’s right up there with Shakespeare’s other major works, and if I’d like to do some sort of homage to the bard by dealing with it in a non-fiction format, every re-reading* sends me reeling. Ha.
The play first really grabbed me when I was testing a book on Shakespeare by poet Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the goddess of complete being. This is a wild book, lauded to the skies and dismissed in equal measure. Since there are so many unknowables about Shakespeare down to the sequence of writing of the plays** I decided to read them in the order Hughes reckoned, and hit on Troilus.
Hughes’ idea was that in a sequence of his plays Shakespeare explored a “tragic equation” about men specifically, who adopted or rejected the feminine in their natures with explosive results, finally to resolve this dilemma in The Tempest.
Well, I’m not sure about any of that, but this idea is definitely provocative, and if Hughes nor anyone else could really prove the authorship sequence, he made a plausible case, and reading them in his order buttressed many of the points in his larger argument.
Hughes was careful to say that whatever the merits of his vision of Shakespeare’s exploration of this tragic equation, it did not and could not exhaust the merits of Shakespeare’s work. Just so with Troilus and Cressida. Every time I have seen it, and read it, there has been more and different in it than I’d previously realised. Nothing I or anyone else can say will explain all that matters of this “amazing” play.*** That’s part of what greatness means – the wells of genius never run dry.
What spurred me to write of the play in Kaos, then, has been given more fuel for an even bigger bonfire of this particular vanity. As I have been frustrated and irritated by my failings in working up this post new material throws itself across the path of my imagination. A lot of this is new/old material, reaching back to the ancients, but there is plenty of the modern too.^ The new book is going to be a new book in a range of ways, and if it takes time to digest all that I need to do to make it work, well, fine.
Meanwhile that post on the play still glows incandescent in more than one draft on this site. It needs to come out. It will.
Thanks for reading.
*I’ve also seen it three times: once in Stratford in the mid-1980s, when I did not understand it, and twice in Scotland in the early years of this century.
**And more – the sonnets were published in 1609 but there are many views about when they were each written, and rewritten to come into the corpus as they were published. Meanwhile there is a great deal in Hughes’ book not even glanced at in this post. Anyone interested should give it a go.
***As judged not just by me but by the editor of by far the best edition, David Bevington.
^To me modern is post-1900 or thereabouts. You choose your own date; I don’t mind.