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Burnt Offerings

Burnt Toast#5, 1990

True, I talk of dreams;
Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy; Which is as thin as substance as the air; And more inconstant then the wind...
Romeo and Juliet
William Shakespeare

No, this isn't simply an excuse to get yet another bloody quote about dreaming into this issue, well, not really. Because last night I saw, for the first time, a performance of the Bard's glorious tribute to puppy love, Romeo and Juliet, and never was a story of more woe indeed.

One of my favourite quotes about Shakespeare is that despite the fact that everybody likes him, he is actually rather good. And, with the benefit of a brilliant and energetic interpretation provided by the Australian Theatre for Young People (it was done in a mix of styles, old and new, with a revolving junk-yard set, Romeo in denim, and his father played by a woman in olden costume but for the broken umbrella in her hat. And as for energetic, I was hit full in the face by a tightly-packed newspaper 'sword' during the first fight -- the perils of sitting in the front row) it becomes good bordering on awesome. But despite the bizarre design, it was Shakespeare's words, from the one-liners to the more verbose speeches, and the performer's emotion, that drew you in, and Romeo's father did not look in the least bit silly whilst grieving for his wife and son. And though Shakespeare is hell to read, on stage, after fifteen minutes of acclimatisation, it is all but indistinguishable from modern speech.

But why rave about something written 400 years ago? And if it is that good, why bother writing at all, if that which is contained in the best of fiction, the characterisation and emotion, the comedy and tragedy of life, has all been done before.

There's no real answer to that question, just as there's no real answer (certainly not economic) to why we write fiction in the first place. It's just got to be done.

I'm no Shakespeare, my fiction won't be hated in the class-rooms of four centuries hence, but that's not why I write. I write for my own enjoyment, for the entertainment of others, and if possible say something worth saying.

And if enough people try that, someone's going to hit the jackpot, if they haven't already. Because writing for the enjoyment of himself and others was exactly what Will was doing, so long ago.


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