Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cappy Cahtah Kohenum: Shakespeare as Poet for the 'Brain Police'

Tally-Ho, Cornelius!
Carter Kaplan
(Image from Highbrow)

You think that you like Shakespeare, but your eyes have yet to be opened by the devilishly clever Cappy Cahtah Kohenum, antihero of Carter Kaplan's novel Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, who tells us -- in the guise of a precocious little boy calling himself "Capricorn" -- precisely why "Shakespeare stinks":
Well, in Shakespeare's universe people are supposed to play their role. And when people don't play their roles the social equilibrium is upset. Then the people who don't play their roles all die -- maybe it's tragedy, but somehow they deserve it -- and then the people who sheepishly play their roles take over and the social equilibrium is restored. End of story. Every one of his stupid plays follows the same formula.

. . .

Look at poor Cordelia. She tells her stupid old dad that he's playing the fool -- and he is -- but in Shakespeare's universe she is in the wrong because telling the silly old goat he's a fool means she's gone outside her role as daughter. So, even though she's right, Shakespeare has to kill her off because that's his code. By the middle of King Lear they're all acting outside their silly roles, and the silly Bard of Avon has the temerity to suggest this is a bad thing -- all those stupid allusions to witchcraft, old wives tales and madness -- then equilibrium is restored and everyone who transcended his or her role has to die -- all so Shakespeare can make his point that everybody must confirm to the status quo. Same thing with Hamlet. He dies and the person who is willing to play his role takes over; and as in the play Henry V, the people who correctly play their roles and who restore the social equilibrium are mass murders who wear crowns. (Kaplan, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, page 125)
All you Shakespeare fans are thus dupes of lovely language written to lull you into accepting a hierarchical cosmos in which you really ought to know your place and simply stay there . . . or else. Perhaps D. H. Lawrence had it about right when he read Shakespeare:
How boring, how small Shakespeare's people are!
Yet the language so lovely! like the dyes from gas-tar.
I confess that I've never quite suspected Shakespeare in this hermeneutic-of-suspicion fashion, though there's something to it, but does Carter Kaplan truly expect us to trust his alter ego Cappy Cahtah Kohenum, who's possibly a stand-in for Satan, likely stained by transworld depravity, and certainly a trickster?

More another time . . .

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At 5:58 AM, Anonymous David Duff said...

Like the very best of advertising, propaganda and libel, there is a tiny kernel of truth in Mr. Kaplan's words but, even so, I know whose works I would rather have with me on a desert island.

At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It provides an interesting perspective on Shakespeare, one worth considering, but I wonder if Kaplan himself is entirely serious. I'm not sure that he agrees with his alter ego, Capricorn.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:59 AM, Anonymous David Duff said...

Well, I think it's fair to say that a recurring, underlying theme in much of Shakespeare reflects his middle-class desire for stability and for rulers to take their responsibilities seriously but, of course, he always permits the rebels to 'strut their hour upon the stage' whilst he, the author, remains discreetly in teh background. Oh, that our contemporary Left-wing playwrights would follow a similar course - but I won't hold my breath!

At 4:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hadn't thought of Shakespeare as middle class, given his concern with kings and courts, but I suppose that you're right about that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:43 AM, Anonymous David Duff said...

Oh yes, son of a glover by trade in Stratford but a dad who dabbled in all sorts of nefarious commercial undertakings/scams (you choose) but who rose to be mayor of the town which is partly why William, having made a fortune as the principal playwright in London, eventually returned and bought the biggest house in the town! Family name and reputation, don'cha' know!

Incidentally, I gather you are an 'Arkie' and I thought you might like to know that I am almost (but not quite) an honorary citizen of Arkansas! I am still learning the language with a little hekp from one or two 'Arkie' e-pals:

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yep, I'm an Arkie, and a hillbilly to boot.

I see that you're studying under JK. He's a good instructor.

By the way, you can set up a link by following the instructions under "Leave your comment."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:48 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

To identify a strong character with the character's creator is a reasonable thing to do. Of course, as Jeffrey suggests, there is always more to it.

At 5:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right. We should at least consider distinguishing author from narrator from character (says "JeffERy").

Jeffery Hodges

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