Tolstoy doesn't dismiss Shakespeare, he just posits him as a teacher, rather than as a great, or even good, writer. Teaching what? Well, as in the last post, art and propaganda are connected, in that the artist cannot completely separate his writing from his underlying prejudices and beliefs. The other side of this equation informs us that propaganda affects the public's perceptions of literary writers. So despite Tolstoy's critiques of Shakespeare over-the-top characters, boring and recycled plots, and improbabilities, Tolstoy still credits him as influential because of the spell he has over the public, whether or not he deserves it, or if they seem him for who he really is.
On pages 46 & 47 of Tolstoy on Shakespeare, Tolstoy says: "For any man of our time--if he were not under the hypnotic suggestion that this drama is the height of perfection--it would be enough to read it to its end (were he to have sufficient patience for this) to be convinced that far from being the height of perfection, it is a very bad, carelessly composed production, which, if it could have been of interest to a certain public at a certain time, can not evoke among us anything but aversion and weariness...But such free-minded individuals, not inoculated with Shakespeare-worship, are no longer to be found in our Christian society. Every man of our society and time, from the first period of his conscious life, has been inoculated with the idea that Shakespeare is a genius, a poet, and a dramatist, and that all his writings are the height of perfection."
Here it's clear that just how deeply Shakespeare's impacts our culture, not just his readers. Shakespeare has thus been one of the biggest benefactors of literary propaganda due to the fact that reading him isn't a prerequisite for admiration. That's pretty impressive considering when you think of unfounded propaganda, you generally think of negative assumptions.
Tolstoy's critique's of Shakespeare are fundamental:
1) Each character lacks their own style of language, thus speaking and gesturing as caricatures of their category (gender, hero, villain, etc.). Orwell makes this same critique about Dickens' characters.
2) Each character is merely an improvement upon similar characters preceding the current work. Page 57 of Tolstoy's essay, "All these characters not only are not rendered more powerful by him, but in most cases, they are weakened and spoilt."
3) His characters' speeches and actions are so exaggerated the artistic expression is compromised. In short, they're not earnest; according to Tolstoy, he's "playing with words." (p. 94 Tolstoy on Shakespeare) Since they're not earnest, Shakespeare's not earnest about his own work.
4) His work has no moral or religious significance due to its inconsistent readability, implausibility of plots and subplots, and unrealistic characters.
Ironically, Tolstoy's critiques of Shakespeare are based in the common argument that literature--though not real--is purposed toward the feeling of real, using devices that in themselves and uncombined, do not create a realistic experience. The conveyance of realistic fiction requires a process totally unrealistic, and there's a few simple tests. One of them is to record real people talking, then transcribe it onto paper. Is that good dialogue? No, it's awful. Even bad dialogue in books moves plot and characters forward more than 99% of common dialogue. (Most real life dialogue is simply interstitial content; necessary to our worlds but irrelevant to others'). Second, since every single conversation, action and scene has to drive plot and character--otherwise, the hypnotic spell you have over your audience breaks--then no real gesticulations and quirks can be demonstrated. Very rarely in books do people go to the bathroom. Very rarely in books do people clip their fingernails. Very rarely in books do people flip through the radio stations on the way to work just tapping the steering wheel, thinking...not much. But real people need to use the bathroom, clip their nails, and often are empty-headed on their morning commute. But that doesn't make gripping fiction, it just makes ordinary, everyday life.
Tolstoy's page 78: "An artistic, poetic work, particularly a drama, must first of all excite in the reader or spectator the illusion that whatever the person represented is living through, or experiencing, is lived through or experienced by himself. For this purpose it is as important for the dramatist to know that precisely what he should make his character both do and say as what he should not make them say and do, so as not to destroy the illusion of the reader or spectator." Illusion. That's the perfect word for the universe fiction creates. We're not supposed to believe it's real, but we are supposed to feel what the characters feel and see what they see. Unlike a narcotic, where your entire reality is changed, in fiction you're stepping into another reality, which is very fragile, because any literary device that's poorly exercised pulls you right out. And Tolstoy believes that Shakespeare didn't even get his readers to step into his illusion, he simply created lavish environments and folksy characters that readers could handle because they're told they're reading a master.
Contemporary drama, according to Tolstoy, has thus been influenced to be more faux-art, thanks to the public's continual immersion to him by previous generations compulsive transmission.
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