Twitter v. Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Photo by Elliott BrownCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

If you love Twitter, does that mean you hate Shakespeare?

One of Shakespeare’s leading fans thinks Twitter and our other social networks are destroying our ability to communicate.

In accepting an award from the BFI London Film Festival, Ralph Fiennes took the opportunity to attack our “world of truncated sentences, soundbites and Twitter.” As reported by the great culture correspondent Lucy Jones of The Telegraph, Fiennes is no fan of our way of communicating: “Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.”

Fiennes, one of today’s best actors, was at BFI to premier his movie directorial debut, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Strange that Fiennes believes that while one can change the setting of Shakespeare (the film is presented as a present tense modern warfare story), language must remain static.

Are we really suffering from our lack of iambic pentameter and stretching out our thoughts with multiple words? Isn’t there a difference between every day direct communication, and poetic language that purposely heightens a moment? In fact, don’t you think that the more concise we are in our normal exchanges, the more we can appreciate the power of poetry and the language of art?

For example, two young kids meet at a dance. The everyday exchange would start with the guy saying, “Hey. Nice to meet you.” Now, to make that brief moment one of artful romance: “If I profane with my unworthiest hand/This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:/My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand/To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.” Now, that’s a memorable opening line. Heightened language increases the stakes and our connection to the moment.

Fiennes is caught in the same trap as believing that photography ruined art: Why look at a painting’s interpretation, expansion, or focus when we can have a photo to see it exactly how it is? Both photography and painting are art forms that focus attention in different ways, just as our quick and direct language on social networks focusses the communication in a different way from theatrical exchange.

Fiennes also seems to be oblivious to that other art form – irony. After all, the star of Clash of Titans I and II shortened his own name. While his full name might be more poetic, it certainly is not one to use on an eye catching poster or marquee: Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. (Now, that’s poetry!)

And, how does Fiennes promote his Coriolanus film? Why, with short catchy phrases, of course. His trailer tells you the story:

FROM THE ASHES OF WAR, HE WON GLORY.
AT THE HANDS OF HIS PEOPLE, HE WAS BETRAYED.
IN THE ARMS OF AN ENEMY, HE WILL CLAIM VENGEANCE.

His trailer also quotes the critics to convince you to come see the flick: “Stunning”; “A Triumph”; and, “Rousing and Primal”.

Want to promote Coriolanus? Fiennes has given us pretty good Twitter phrases, don’t you think?

- Bill Reichblum

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