January 21, 2010

Sancho and Hamlet


By an odd coincidence, two giants who divided the literary firmament in the early modern period died on exactly the same day (April 23 1616). I'm referring to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and William Shakespeare.

Cervantes, born in 1547, was the older. Shakespeare's birth date is unknown but he was baptised in 1564, most likely soon after birth. Cervantes seemed to have the rougher road in life, being on occasion a soldier, captive of pirates, tax collector and prisoner.

Both have one thing in common, aside from being among the greatest writers and artists of all time. Their work embodied the kind of self consciousness that scholar Jacques Barzun described as a characteristic of the modern era. Yesterday's post looked at an artistic example of this in Velasquez' painting Las Meninas, in which he inserted himself.

In Cervantes' masterpiece, you can see this in the Second Part of Don Quixote, when the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance (aka the title character) and his trusty squire Sancho find out that they are literary characters in someone else's book--and they are none to happy about it.

In Hamlet, the something similar happens with the players visit Elsinore and Hamlet gives them instructions on acting. At one point in the play, there are (real) actors portraying actors who are portraying other people in a play within the play.

Those are just small examples of the things that make such works interesting and durable.

PLAN C. In the wake of Tuesday's election, a scaled-back version of health care reform may be the next option.

WHAT NEXT? Here is one of many takes on what this means for the Obama presidency.

HAITI. Here's more on the American Friends Service Committee's efforts to relieve suffering in the wake of the recent earthquake.

COAL. A new report predicts the decline Central Appalachian coal production. Here's all kinds of info on this from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo.

GREEN JOBS. West Virginia just got a $6 million federal grant intended to create 1850 of them.


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