Thursday, December 21, 2017

Shakespeare's Alternate Reality

title page, 1609 quarto edition
In Shakespeare’s Pericles, the title character wakes up to find out that his worst fears haven’t come true and that he hasn’t lost everything. Like The Tempest and Winter’s Tale, this late play is an exercise in wish fulfillment. Redemption is the lingua franca of these works the extent that they point to the artist’s capacity to reimagine and reinvent reality. Reincarnation may not be an option for those who don’t entertain the notion of divinity, but it’s something that lies within the writer’s job description, at least in so far as his own characters are concerned. At the end of another great work of theater Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, the criminal Macheath is saved from the gallows by a last minute royal edict. Of course, the irony is what the play’s social commentary hinges on. For a dialectical materialist there are no deux ex machinas. Fate is determined by class struggle. Few criminals are spared the hangman. Still in all, at one time or other, everyone wishes to they were dealt a different a hand. There are few people who don’t experience instances in which they, depending on the degree of volition that’s been accorded any endeavor, wish to rewrite their own history and wake up to find out that life could have been different.

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