I'm in the midst of a huge pile of Shakespeare essays, and no matter how many good ones I get, the less-than-good ones sap my will to live. I'm particularly bothered by the smug censoriousness that so many weaker essays traffic in--essays that not only treat fictional characters as if they were real people (whose actions it's the student's job to sit in judgment of), but subject them to the tiresome language of pop psychology and self-esteemism:
- Brutus? He's too easily swayed by other people. Boy needs to stand up for himself!
Ophelia? Such a pushover! If she wasn't going to tell Hamlet how she really felt, she has no one to blame but herself.
Juliet? She's not in love! No one falls in love that fast! It's obviously just about sex, and if she had listened to her parents no one would have died.
I've written about one aspect of this problem before--the seeming refusal to understand works of art as works of art; if the play wants Romeo and Juliet to die, no minor character (nurse, friar, sassy gay friend) could have saved them. But this prim, easy moralizing is frustrating for different reasons.