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At the present time, before writing this preface, being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the "Henrys," "Troilus and Cressida," the "Tempest," "Cymbeline," and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings,-this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits,-thereby distorting their esthetic and ethical understanding,-is a great evil, as is every untruth. Tolstoy seems a bit obsessed here-"I hate these plays, but I can't stop reading them!Who can deny the right of arguably the greatest novelist to say what he likes about the greatest dramatist? "-which somehow reminds me of the restaurant joke: "The food's terrible, and the portions are so small."In his critique of Shakespeare, encapsulated in his essay, "King Lear," Tolstoy tosses around bombs that characterize Lear as filled with "incredible events," "mirthless jokes," "wild ravings," and that a dispassionate observer couldn't read it without "aversion and weariness."Letting us know how he really feels, Tolstoy summarizes Shakespeare as not even "an average author," and that his words "have nothing whatever in common with art and poetry."He concludes: "Shakespeare might have been whatever you like, but he was not an artist."George Orwell, as a writer, not chicken liver himself, took a look at this clash of the titans in "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool."Orwell agrees in part with Tolstoy's observation that, as drama, the plays are sometimes lacking." is not a very good play, as a play.As he became the supposedly saintly personage, his wife was annoyed at his lay-about, freeloading, low-life friends and disciples tracking their peasant mud over the carpet. Pacifist Tolstoy did not hesitate to get into shouting matches with his wife, Sophia.
One interpreter enumerates five ways that Lear attempts to do this in the play.
For an inking that the play is Job, note the comment by one of the sufferers, that "like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport." In fact the preamble to Job is all about God trying an experiment with Job -- a fly to God -- which is why the Rabbis called Job "a never happened fable" that was brought into the canon of the Bible to show that just because a man suffers, it doesn't mean that he was being payed back for his sins; that there were purposes in the suffering beyond the understanding of men and that this must be accepted in life.
His doctor went too-in an ironic parallel to Lear hitting the road with Cordelia and The Fool-and presaging the tabloid mentality of today's media, their wanderings were followed in the international press until he died of pneumonia at a train station in Astapovo.
Today it would make reality TV show: -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------My book, Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare (Avery/Penguin, 2009) provides a unique, insider's perspective on aging in America.
Clearly he could have no patience with a chaotic, detailed, discursive writer like Shakespeare. '"Or to put it bluntly, Tolstoy in his later years was fixated on the transcendental, while Shakespeare was looking at life as the mess that it is.
His reaction is that of an irritable old man who is being pestered by a noisy child. Perhaps he saw Shakespeare having a touch of the unreflective careerist attitudes of Ivan Ilyich.Tolstoy-who earlier in life had been a soldier and man of the world-in his old age was intent on renouncing his material possessions.He, like Lear, was bitterly disappointed in his family.It is too drawn-out and has too many characters and sub-plots.One wicked daughter would have been quite enough, and Edgar is a superfluous character: indeed it would probably be a better play if Gloucester and both his sons were eliminated."But aside from possibly missing the poetry-Tolstoy read the plays in Russian translation-Orwell argues that in his later years as Tolstoy was evolving his ideas of Christian pacifism, which had an almost Buddhist sense of abnegation, he had little patience for art that did not have a moral outlook: "[Tolstoy's] main aim, in his later years, was to narrow the range of human consciousness. It is the story of an unreflective careerist who suddenly finds out he's dying. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: "King Lear", "Romeo and Juliet", "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium...In his focus on ambition, he never counted on death-and at an early age-would be part of his life. Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. As much as Tolstoy was "repulsed" by Shakespeare, to confirm his opinion, he read again and again and again every one of the plays.Ira makes a good analysis of Tolstoy and why he might not like the discursive Shakespeare.What is more, if Tolstoy did not access Shakespeare's English, he lost a lot of the marvelous poetry." check on Shakespeare para 3 If he had read him in Russian - and Russian translations of Shakespeare do lack all the Shakespeare's best to a certain extent - that would have accounted for much of what he had said.Shakespeare is almost universally respected among those writers who have followed him into the literary canon.