Friday, February 21, 2014

Classic Literature. Original Gangsta

As some of you may have noticed, on the Bad Shakespeare Facebook page (oh... you didn’t know there’s a Facebook page? Have you liked it yet? Let’s make our relationship Facebook Official) I’ve been posting clips to a new Web Series, Thug Notes. This webseries has been picking up popularity lately, with profiles in The New York Times and NPR, and I’m surprised I haven’t said anything sooner because it’s completely awesome.

For those of you who don’t know, Thug Notes features your host, Sparky Sweets, PhD (Actually Greg Edwards, not PhD) who summarizes and analyzes classic literature in a unique and actually extremely accurate manner. But in language pretty much anyone can understand. For instance, the characters in Hamlet all “end up in chalk”; Oedipus was “boning his mama... HIS MAMA”; Wuthering Heights is referred to as “Dub Heezy”... you get the drift. Essentially re-telling all these classic pieces of literature in plain language. Well... plain-ish language. 

Also, the analysis is freakin’ awesome. It’s just... it’s a thing of beauty. It’s usually only about two minutes of analysis, so it’s not the entire thing, but everything could be used as a jumping off point for further exploration. He goes into some serious detail about what these stories are about, even managing to bring in other pieces of literature that can help discuss what he just talked about.

What I really enjoy about Thug Notes (and this is something that has been echoed by Greg Edwards in recent interviews) is that it is a different way of looking at literature. It’s a fun way of looking at literature, as a way to sort of make it fun again. I think somewhere along the line we forgot that literature used to be our television and movies. William Shakespeare wasn’t writing to make things all high and mighty or to prove a point... sometimes at the end of the day he just wanted to write a quaint little piece about a guy and his wife who bond through regicide. Alexander Dumas wanted to write a swashbuckling adventure that involved swordplay and deep political intrigue. And Herman Melville just wanted to write a book about a guy hunting a whale, no deeper symbolism.

Wait... what? Man’s quest for the unreachable? Moby Dick? Really? Wow, you learn lot watching Thug Notes.

Recently, I did an entire series of posts talking about the wonderfulness that was Breaking Bad, and how it tied directly to Shakespearean themes. I thought it was a good series of posts, but it was also a reminder that literature is where we can look for it. If we dismissed Breaking Bad as simply “not literature” because it’s a television show and for some reason not high art, we lose those themes of loss, betrayal, greed, we lose great moments of symbolism like the teddy bear in season 2, and whatever the hell purple was supposed to represent with Marie. Simply put, we lose those things because we’re too busy trying to find “what is art” and landing squarely on “art isn’t anything we produce today because it’s Television and reasons.”

Also, I’ll be starting up an analysis of Sons of Anarchy, which is loosely based on Hamlet and has similar themes that I’d like to explore. Coming in May, following this whole internship thing when I don’t go long stretches without posting anything. Which I also consider a form of literature. Why? Because it still contains those themes that we should be exploring, updated for today’s hip, motorcycle loving audience. 

But the other great thing about Thug Notes is the fact that it’s a reminder that sometimes looking at analysis can be fun.

A few years back I took a course on Shakespeare. There was a lot of analysis in that class, obviously, of the themes, symbols, etc that were deep not just in Shakespeare’s plays, but some of the earliest plays that ever graced the stage. They were good analysis, but let’s face it: it was a graduate class full of graduate students, and we were all trying to sound smart. The best classes were the ones where we had fun with it, we talked about revenge but threw something funny in it, or we played up a line out of context that was hilarious. We took our time to enjoy the class and not just sit around trying to figure out exactly what Iago meant when he looked at the audience the whole time. (It meant he loved us. All.) 

Thug Notes is just fun. And that’s the important thing: we need to have fun with it. We need to enjoy ourselves and have fun with this literature, and have fun with the analysis. There are jokes hidden deep within some of these texts. The opening scene of Julius Caesar is some of the funniest dialogue in the play, believe it or not. (Before the betrayal and killing, that is.) It’s just fun stuff that we need to start enjoying. And not pretend that scholars have some kind of hold over what makes literature great.

And where can you check it out? Well, Bad Shakespeare has a link for you!

1 comment:

  1. translating stories written a language I have a hard time understanding into language I do not understand. But it is still amusing.