Last night, in my perusal of literary news, I stumbled across an article on The Guardian website, Is this a pint I see before me? The title, of course, is an allusion to one of the more famous lines from Macbeth (replace “pint” with “dagger”), and has to do with the fact that sometimes Shakespeare wrote some crap:
“Crap lines can be found in even the most revered places. When, for example, pondering whether to be or not to be, Hamlet fantasises about “taking arms against a sea of troubles”, what does Shakespeare expect us to see in our mind’s eye? Some mad idiot firing a blunderbuss into the waves from the end of Brighton pier?”
Indeed. They write that like that’s not what I’m supposed to see. Pfft.
Now, it’s so easy to argue that Shakespeare is the most-revered writer in the entire history of English letters that there’s no point in even arguing it, and as such, I suppose it stands to reason that there are people in the world who think that every word the hallowed William S. wrote is 24-karat gold perfection. Yet it seems to me that pointing out the fact that out of the thousands of lines Shakespeare churned out over his career, not every one of them was shiny genius doesn’t really seem like all that much of a revelation. (Nevermind the fact that when the article says “Following Dromgoole and Hall’s allegations, ‘Crap Shakespeare’ will probably be a fashionable parlour game over the next few weeks,” I’m glad I don’t have to party with any of those people.)
Did Shakespeare do his bad writing on mornings when he was hungover? That’s the hypothesis. Unfortunately, The Bard didn’t have a page on MySpace complete with a blog containing posts like “I got so wasted last night after play practice, and my hangover doth rage mightily. Duuuuuuude,” so we’ll never know for sure. But if the supposedly bad writing was the result of hangovers or if it’s simply probability at work, the truth is that even though we tend to put writers we admire on pedestals, everybody’s entitled to write dreck once in awhile. Hungover or not, everyone has an off day now and then.
Shakespeare often gets all of the attention, but certainly there are other writers out there who have penned less than stellar work, even despite a general reputation for being good. So, in the interest of fairness — let’s not let Shakespeare get all the credit — can you think of any works by generally well-respected writers that weren’t that great? Perhaps a passage or two in a novel (or maybe the whole novel itself) or a poem that just doesn’t work? I’m not talking about overrated writers, since we’ve pretty much covered that topic already, but good writers who just happened to have dropped the ball once or twice.