This winter term, Shakespeare has taken its toll on me. In-class discussions about characters and their motives daily confirmed the vast and ultimately unfair blanket statement (in my head) that everyone is an asshole. (Mind you, my classmates haven’t been a-holes during these discussions. It’s the characters – rounded specimens of the human creature that they are.) Day after day, I have left the classroom with my psyche stagnating in a coal-black cloud, humorless and ruminating. I eventually stopped any effort of in-depth reading on my own, lest the blanket statements inflate beyond my capacity and smother any sliver of contentment left in me. Then I’d come home and sit at the dinner table with my parents, who would patiently endure my dry, repeated utterances of, “Assholes. Everyone is an asshole.”
I do know better than these relentless blanket statements. I catch and correct them in my head. It’s not true that everyone is an asshole – not by a long shot. In fact, in my mental index of acquaintances, gone and current, I can’t come up with any assholes to speak of. There are two or three who I have particularly intense, unresolved, negative feelings about, but at the end of the day, they aren’t assholes either.
Sometimes I figure that these discussions of assholes will prepare me for the next phase of life beyond this collegiate one, because everyone there will be an asshole.
…but, like I said, that’s simply not true.
My problem with the Shakespeare plays that I’ve been reading is not just that everyone is an asshole, but that when the play ends they are still assholes. That, or they’re dead and their earthly capacities for being an asshole have been smothered like those last few slivers of contentment in my coal-black, first-world brain.
Last Sunday, the associate pastor at my church asked me how school was going. I told him that I’m relieved that I only need to take Shakespeare once because, “Everyone’s an aaaa…jerk,” and it doesn’t get better.
“Sounds like Ecclesiastes,” the pastor said.
Which is preferable, it really is, I said, “Because the end of Ecclesiastes says to love God.”
“Oh, you finished it?” he said.
Which made me I wonder how many people give up on Ecclesiastes midway through because they get so tired of hearing about how everything is futile/meaningless/pointless that it’s not worth sticking it out until the end. Sort of like when my parents tried to watch King Lear to get a taste of what I’ve been complaining about, and they couldn’t even finish it. What would have been their reward for sticking it out? Nine dead bodies.
Nine dead assholes?
No. Nine dead humans.
Even if I really believed the broken-record rhetoric about how all people are assholes, what satisfaction would there be in the death of an asshole?
I need to know that it will get better. I guess I’m just human like that.
UPDATE (January 22): There is some redemption in Lear, it’s just easy to miss with all pronounced dreariness; like when food is too spicy, only with literature.