|Good morning, class!|
Well, it's not that big a deal, actually - and yes, yes, I promised to never read his silly blog! But the post was staring me in the face on Art's blogroll, and besides, as Isaac himself might say (as he gamely suggests in a backpedaling later post), his position is interesting to study. It's "a fruitful thing to discuss."
And why? Because Butler's not just an Internet busybody these days - he's also actually teaching Shakespeare, to college students, at the University of Minnesota.
I know, I know - this is a bit like Lamarck explaining evolution, or Pope Urban offering a seminar on Galileo! (I could go on and on.)
But is Butler's current post (and position) just a bizarrely ironic quirk of fate - or a kind of cultural harbinger? I'm hoping for the former, of course, but I fear the latter. Because Isaac's such an exquisitely-detailed millennial type; it's like he was designed by computers and sent back from the future to warn us or something.
Hold on, though - back to his points against Henry V; they're so cliched they're somehow delicious. According to Isaac, Henry V sucks because:
1) There's no suspense - we know how it's going to turn out. It's actually history!
2) The characterizations are bad. So what if we're still talking about them 400 years after the fact? They're still uninteresting, you know what I mean? Like in that way David Byrne talked about.
3) It's not that funny, and sometimes the jokes are mean.
4) What's with the plot? Yeah, even though it's history, it should still have a plot, just like it should still have suspense! Duh. That's obvious.
5) The Battle of Agincourt is not sufficiently awesome. There's really nothing more to say.
6) The French aren't badass villains, either. Seriously, they're not. Just try hissing them, you'll feel silly.
And yes, that's the professor's lecture on Henry V! I hope the sophomores are feeling edified by now, because I'm not.
Even though I have to admit - everything Professor Butler says is true. I mean, as I read his post, I could only think to myself, "Oh, my GOD! I do feel silly hissing the Dauphin!"
Ha ha, just kidding. Professor Butler has only proven that Henry V is a very bad comic book. Indeed, Shakespeare totally ignores the rules of genre! What was he thinking???
Gosh, who knows? But what's funny about all this is that the Professor's comments are basically what you'd expect the smart-alecky student in the back row to point out: this play was weird; Henry's a mystery; am I supposed to cheer the hero or not?; and am I supposed to hiss the villains - or not?; I don't get it. It's not like Star Wars at all!
And then the professor starts talking. And begins to explain, perhaps, that Henry V is an extended meditation on the meaning of our celebration of "history;" that Henry's "character" seems to be missing because it vanished into his public role slowly, over the course of two previous plays, and that therefore his persona is intentionally mysterious; that the actual Battle of Agincourt for Shakespeare is all but immaterial; and that there is almost no other play extant that can be interpreted in such contradictory, utterly opposed ways - which makes it a "mirror" rather than a "window" (much less a "screen"). It is, in short, a cultural artifact utterly unlike anything in pop culture; indeed, it contains pop culture - what's more, it's a covert critique of exactly what you think it should be.
Only the professor is Isaac Butler! So none of that is said. Instead, the student is encouraged to validate his own naive impressions as intellectual insight through "fruitful discussion." And the academic community takes another small step in its long journey toward intellectual senescence.