“A-holes, a-holes,” the student says, “everyone is an a-hole.”

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.


  1. What Shakespeare stuff are you reading? I didn't know that all his stuff was that depressing!

    1. We read Merchant of Venice, Othello, and King Lear. King Lear was an epic bummer - EPIC, but Merchant of Venice was a surprisingly close second.

    2. Oh gosh, yeah, I don't really know the other two, but Othello is like the be-all and end-all ... I guess all of them have some depressing elements to some degree.

    3. If I've learned anything from this class is that:
      1. If it seems like Shakespeare isn't saying something depressing, you're not looking hard enough.
      2. If you can find no grace and redemption in something, you're also not looking hard enough.

      That's my thought for the morning.

  2. Ecclesiastes is fascinating -- I went to a church that did a four-month sermon series through Ecclesiastes, and it was really releasing. Because it goes through and says, can *this* make me happy? Nope. Can *that* make me happy? Nope. Can loving God make me happy? Yes. It says "everything is vanity" because we all think we have to run around like recently decapitated chickens pursuing this or that, and all we have to do is do our work and love God.

    Also, I felt a lot of the same about Shakespeare (especailly reading it). I still do. Even in some of the comedies. Which is why I like watching good performances. But not all of them are good.

    Next summer, you should come with me and see Shakespeare's Stepchild in SF, which is an improv Shakespeare group. They're good. :-)

    1. If I were a recently decapitated chicken, I might have an existentialist crisis, too. Like if "Metamorphosis" was actually about a guy who woke up as a chicken. Only cockroaches don't die when they get their heads cut off...oui?

      -That- was a digression.

      In that four-month sermon series, did they talk about how meaningless/futility in the original Hebrew is "vapor"? Have you heard the series on Ecclesiastes Mars Hill did a few years ago?

      Shakespeare's Stepchild sounds great! I'll definitely take you up on that!

  3. DON'T get me started on Ecclesiastes. I used to love it, since I was a cynical type back when I was a Christian. But then I read 7:28, and that was the moment I was done with the Bible. hat And Judges 11. I'm sure there were more passages, but those two stand out. Grr...

    1. "Cynical Christian" should be a trope! [Scriptural] love's labors lost.