365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

153. The Truth of Masks

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More Oscar Wilde – and more of him utterly infuriating me.

His essay “The Truth of Masks” speaks about the power and necessity of illusion in Shakespeare’s plays and the importance of the costumes. He goes on and on about it, and then ends the essay with the following statement:

“Not that I agree with everything that I have said in this essay. There is much with which I entirely disagree. The essay simply represents an artistic standpoint, and in aesthetic criticism attitude is everything. For in art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true. And just as it is only in art- criticism, and through it, that we can apprehend the Platonic theory of ideas, so it is only in art-criticism, and through it, that we can realise Hegel’s system of contraries. The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks.”

Okay, Wilde, we get it. You like to mess with people’s heads. But did you have to do it to college seniors who just spent four hours analyzing your essay line-by-line?

The reason I bring up this essay in particular is not just because it mentions Shakespeare. It is because it reminds me of Shakespeare, a bit. I mentioned that most of my class felt the need to over-analyze this work, to the point where we were practically tearing our hair out to get to the root of it all. And isn’t that what a lot of us do with Shakespeare’s work? We go line by line, one word at a time, checking out every possible definition for the antique words we no longer use and the phrases which make no sense to a modern reader at first glance. We search for patterns in the pentameter like a schizophrenic searching for messages from aliens in the personals ads.

Am I saying Wilde = Shakespeare? No. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Absolutely not.

Okay, maybe a little.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

March 3, 2010 at 2:05 AM

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