Tuesday, March 1, 2011

From Shakespeare to Fantasy Literature

I don't think it's a stretch to call Shakespeare's The Tempest a work of fantasy. In it we have a wizard (Prospero), a monster (Caliban), magic spells, an invisible spirit (Ariel), and a dead witch (Sycorax). Combine all this with some of the most beautiful language ever, it's a perfect book for fantasy lovers.

As well, including The Tempest in a curriculum of fantasy works would have a dual function. It would raise the status of any course of that name, making it easier to sell to a perhaps unwilling administration. After all, how bad could a course be if Shakespeare is in it, right? As well, The Tempest is a great gateway play to get fantasy lovers interested in Shakespeare. If a fantasy lover enjoys the play, then the rest of Shakespeare's are an easy sell.

A great play to go to after The Tempest is Macbeth. Here you have the rise of a king foretold by three strange, magical witches and this same king's death predicted by a confusing prophecy. In the middle are murders galore, madness, and revenge. What's not to like?

What fantasy lover can resist Macbeth's meditation on a dagger in his hand, contemplating the murder of his king in act 2, scene 1?

Is this a dagger which I see before me, 
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. 
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. 
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible 
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but 
A dagger of the mind, a false creation, 
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? 
I see thee yet, in form as palpable 
As this which now I draw. 
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going; 
And such an instrument I was to use. 
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses, 
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still, 
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, 
Which was not so before. There's no such thing: 
It is the bloody business which informs 
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld 
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse 
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates 
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder, 
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf, 
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace. 
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design 
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth, 
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear 
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout, 
And take the present horror from the time, 
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives: 
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

Come on, this is great stuff! The man is half-way already to madness, raving about witchcraft and dreams. The language too shouldn't present too much problem for the average fantasy lover, already used to somewhat archaic language from the like of Tolkien and Howard Pyle.

Macbeth is an especially great choice of a play for someone who likes George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books. These are mostly non-magical fantasy novels (so far, at book 4), focussing on the murder and succession of kings. All the elements of Macbeth are in these novels, except that Macbeth has the advantage of being about 1,500 pages shorter. That's not an exaggeration, by the way; these books are long! And there are still three more coming!

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