Shakespeare's Plays and Repetitiveness--Plus What's the Big Deal?

This one is two for the price of one.

Have you ever noticed how repetitive some of Shakespeare’s plays are? He seems to repeat in the next line, what he basically said in the first line. I know I read some place that people would hock their goods between the play and the audience. Is that the reason why? In case the audience didn’t hear what the characters said the first time?

Also, what is the big deal about Shakespeare? It’s like he is a god or something. He often has a unique way of expressing things. But not anymore so than anyone else. In my humble opinion at least.


Perhaps you could give some examples of what you mean?

@GreenWyvern There are many many. For example, from Othello we have ‘The robb’d that smiles, steals something from the thief; He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.’

He just said that the robbed that smiles steals something from the thief. I think we got it the first time :slight_smile: .

Also, that loser Shakespeare never wrote an original turn of phrase, he just strung cliches together:
“Bated breath”
“Dead as a door nail”
“As luck would have it”
“Cold comfort”
“Give the devil his due”
…just to name a few. Jeez, original much? What a hack. :roll_eyes:

I would chalk it up to fatigue, he probably just “whatever, I need to get this script done” and cut corners. Can’t blame him, must be exhausting to write a hundred-page script.

No, it’s subtly different.

  • If a thief robs us and we react with a smile, then we steal something from the thief - his power cause us grief.
  • If we feel useless grief, then we steal from ourselves - our own happiness.

There’s a contrast between stealing from the thief in the first line, and stealing from ourselves in the second.

The whole passage is playing with the concept of the thief stealing from us, reversing it, and focusing on our attitude to the theft in terms of our emotional ‘stealing’ - from 1) the thief 2) ourselves in the two lines.

I know it’s not cool to answer “just google it” but in this case it seems apropos. Shakespeare is the most discussed writer of all time. Any question you can think of about him or his plays have been discussed at length. Googling " why does shakespeare repeat" gives this as the first hit when I just did it.

As for why he’s afforded such high status, I’ll give you my reason. Because he’s been so popular for so long. And why has he been so popular? Because there’s something for everyone. Love stories, war, family drama, inner conflict…all of the stuff we look for in our entertainment. It’s not popular because it’s great (although, it is very great), it’s great because it’s popular. Anyone who can hold an audience’s attention for 400 years has done something.

Er, just in case anyone misses the point: Shakespeare originated those expressions that would later become cliches. Yes, original. Much.

See also

Repetition can be problematic in writing if it leads to dull work, but it can also be an effective poetic or rhetorical strategy to strengthen your message, as our examples of repetition in writing demonstrate.

And to anybody who did miss that point, here is some more helpful information.

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I think also that Shakespeare is just so old and is still relatable. So much of his stuff has survived down through the centuries. When was the last time you went to see a Marlowe play?

There’s just not that much beside Shakespeare that people are still reading or performing from that rather exciting period of history.

Freshman English just called; they want their rant back.

My answer to “What’s the big deal?” is simple. Shakespeare’s works are full of astounding insights into the human condition, and he expresses those insights with the most beautiful, elegant, and powerful words ever written.

I’ll cite one passage that always amazes me. In Julius Caesar, after Brutus decides to proceed with the assassination, he says, “Between the acting of a dreadful thing / And the first motion, all the interim is / Like a phantasma or a hideous dream.” He’s decided to commit a horrible, violent act that he hopes will achieve some greater good, but placing himself on that path gives him the sense of being in a waking nightmare. It’s an incredibly vivid observation that feels very authentic. Shakespeare was obviously never involved in any political assassinations, but somehow he knew this and expressed it powerfully and memorably. That’s the miracle of Shakespeare.

Usually I’m not sympathetic to the “it’s great because it’s popular” argument, but it’s spot-on in this case. People have been performing, reading, studying, analyzing, and enjoying Shakespeare for centuries. This isn’t some emperor’s-new-clothes situation. I have no problem with someone saying that they aren’t into Shakespeare or it isn’t their thing. But if you look at the Shakespeare phenomenon and say, “Meh, he wasn’t that great,” then you’re on the wrong side of the argument.

As @GreenWyvern said, this is not repetition by itself; it’s a contrast. The Duke is contrasting what Brabantio is doing – grieving something that has no remedy and therefore “robbing” himself – with what he should be doing (smiling, making the best of it, and waiting for an opportunity to steal something back – although it’s not clear how that would actually work in this case, since the “thing” that has supposedly been stolen is Brabantio’s daughter, who got married of her own free will).

That said, this actually is a fairly repetitive speech – the Duke gives Brabantio the same advice in four successive rhymed couplets. But that’s a character note! The Duke is speaking ornately, sententiously, and repetitively for a reason: partly, that’s the sort of person he is, and partly, Brabantio just isn’t having it, and the Duke is trying to hammer the message home by rhetorical brute force. (It doesn’t work.) And that is a pretty good example, right there, of why Shakespeare is Shakespeare – he’s exceptionally good at conveying character through language, and he bothers to do it even with very minor characters. We’re never going to see the Duke again after this scene, but it’s a striking portrait in miniature of a ruler who’s well-intentioned, fair-minded, but also condescending and rather oblivious to how the people in front of him do feel and act since he’s so sure he knows how they ought to feel and act.

Um, I’m not sure if I whooshed you, or if you got the joke and you’re just helpfully pointing this out as a public service announcement to make absolutely sure others don’t get tragically whooshed :smirk:

Excellent point. I’ve acted in some Shakespeare plays, and I always disagree whenever someone says that doing Shakespeare is hard. It’s actually easier, because Shakespeare does most of the work for you. Everything you need is right there on the page.

To understand some of what a big deal Shakespeare was and is, see a staging of Pericles, if you can find it. Scholars think someone else wrote the first two acts, and then Shakespeare wrote the third. And when you see it, it is SO easy to see why they believe it. The third act is heads and shoulders above the first two.

Plus, Shakespeare was prolific and most of his works survived. Some of it is really recycled material, but Shakespeare’s versions are the most complete versions we have. Understanding Shakespeare can help you understand succession anxiety during the Elizabethan period. His plays were popular among all classes of English society, and that tells us something about English society (namely, they liked dick jokes).

Playing Shakespeare is a series showing how various lightweight actors (like David Suchet, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and many more, all alumni from the Royal Shakespeare Company, coached by RSC director John Barton, break down and do scenes from some plays. Watch that and you’ll understand more what the fuss is about. I particularly remember Suchet and Stewart both doing some of Fagin’s speeches from “A Merchant of Venice.” It is not staged, it is just a bunch of actors sitting or standing in a room, but it is riveting.

You do have to immerse yourself in the flow of the language somewhat to begin to appreciate what is being said but if you chooseto do so the rewards can be immense.

One short piece on the death of a child is testament to his power.

“Grief fills the room up of my absent child.
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me.
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words.
Remembers me of all his gracious parts.
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief.”

For all that he is thought of as wordy and verbose, the above captures complex and powerful emotion and expresses it in accessible form. It is a true punch to the gut delivered in 51 simple words.

Bolding mine…Oy Vey! :grinning: