The Masters Thesis That Wasn’t
Okay, so I was watching my favorite guilty pleasure, the holy grail of m/m shows, the one that features smart adults, hot young male bodies and enough teen-angst to fuel an entire generation of plaid-shirted emo-bands, when suddenly, holy shit and shut my mouth, the Queen Bitch of Mass-Murderdom starts spouting Lady MacBeth!
Now, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me—Shakespeare has been quoted several times in the show, and I was not the only English major with wet panties when the smoldering tortured male lead told innocent looking Lady Mac that she should teach The Crucible as an allegory of McCarthyism, but this quote? This quote?
This quote got me where I lived.
See, about a thousand years ago, when I was still harboring delusions of getting a MA, (I have more than enough units after my BA, by the way—I just really wanted the frickin’ letters behind my name goddammit, I did!) I was going to have to choose between a concentration in Creative Writing and one in English Lit. I told myself at the time that if did choose English Lit, I already had my thesis chosen, and to this day I wonder if it would have flown. Honestly, it seems so common sense to me that I’m surprised that nobody else has chosen it, so probably not—but I really frickin want to ask someone who actually floats in the hallowed halls of academia, because I think it’s really true.
I was going to write about how Steven Spielberg was the 20th Century’s answer to Shakespeare.
Now I’m sure some of you are scoffing, looking down at me as simple, barely educated hack, but bear with me on this.
We live under the delusion that Shakespeare—and Ovid and Virgil and Homer and Sophocles and ad infinitum—were all writing from the depths of some hallowed place of poetry which only the special blessed can access and which those of us with an addiction to genre fiction cannot even begin to plumb. Ah, yes, let the Charles Dickenses and Jane Austens write for posterity, but not so us poor genre fiction generators—we shall simply endeavor to toil along in their shadows, and never shall our pen noble purpose achieve.
You heard me. Bull. Shit.
Yeah—no. I don’t give a crap what the pundits or the rude interns say about genre fiction, romance fiction in particular, the one thing—the one true thing—that romance fiction guarantees that literary fiction does not is a belief in the human race as a whole.
Now I sat in the academic staff room, the one with all the cynical, snarky, disillusioned humanities majors who shit on what I wrote in particular and genre fiction as a whole. The fun part was when I pulled examples from the history that we all knew to be true to defend myself.
“Okay—you’re telling me that writing for a commercial audience demeans the art? Uhm, Dickens wrote to get his entire family out of debtors’ prison. Was he pandering to the common crowd? You betcha. Virgil? He was trying to get in good with the people in power. In fact, some people say that’s whyThe Aenead lacks passion, and Homer’s work—which was tailored to fit the common man, where he was courting his income—has more longevity and visceral appeal. Shakespeare whored himself on both fronts—he wrote to fill his playhouse, which is why even his tragedies have those lovely bits of grim humor, and as for political pandering? The man had his head so far up King James’s ass when he was writing MacBeth I’m surprised James didn’t get credit for the damned play.”
“Well yes,” my colleagues and tormenters would reply, “but they went into writing for the sake of art! They’re not some bored housewife cranking out romance novels by the half-ton.” (Why yes, I did work with tools, why do you ask?)
“Well, as to that,” (and here I would get gleeful!) “Let’s look at the women. Who wrote more for the purpose of entertaining her friends as opposed to the purpose of selling books than Jane Austen. The Brontes weren’t writing for money—they were writing for empowerment. Mary Shelley wasn’t writing for fame—she was writing for the same reason Victor made the damned monster: the sheer stinking joy of creation.”
And at that point in the conversation my department head would start talking about excrement, and the whole thing would devolve from there, but I think you see my point. (No, really. His excrement. He felt like it was a moral imperative that we all be updated on his bowel movements. I, erm, shit you not.)
The point is that the people who lasted the longest were the people who were read the most. The people who were read the most were the people who appealed to the vast spectrum of humanity—they managed to tap into some common thread that was shared by all, and say something important about it that was important just because it was common.
What is more common, more visceral, more important to us on a personal, every day, face-to-face basis than love?
I once wrote a twenty-page paper on Hamlet and how the majority of pain in that play was caused by people trying to have a personal agenda while having a public and political agenda at the same time—in short, the downfall of the political animal is love. Name a fallen or notorious politician for whom this is not so. The Macbeths would not have been sympathetic in any sense of the word had they not, at the beginning of the work, possessed the capacity for love. Whether the Dickens story ended badly or gloriously or (most commonly) tainted by the bittersweet taste of tragic necessity, he believed there was truth in love. Austen tempered her love with practicality, but by God, she believed. The Brontes laced their love with fanciful Gothicism (as do many of our paranormal writers today) but by the God their father thundered about, did they believe in the transcendent power of the beast.
We write about love. We write from the place that love will prevail—that it can heal, that it can give us strength. Not one of us sits down and strives to write something bad, and I would rank the prose and the poetry and the depth of some of our authors against any writer read today. Those who are writing erotica are still making a human connection in sexuality, and God,what is more important than human connection in anything?
And as for importance?
Unless we’re convincing the world how to save itself from annihilation, I’d say our purpose is pretty damned sound. What nobler purpose, what nobler goal, than for humanity to save humanity by the virtue and for the purpose of the best part of being human.
In a romance writer's hands, love is redemption. It may fester the disease but it manifests the cure. It is the alpha and omega, and it may start with the lovers themselves but in perfection it is passed on in some way shape or form, and thus is perpetual and perfect. Love doesn’t die; it seeds the ground for more love.
So my guilty pleasure, the brain candy of millions, sporting the language of Shakespeare—why not?
A million people will see it, and a million people will cry and a million people will hope and a million people will celebrate it and a million people will dissect that quote and come to the same conclusion: Money or not, patronage or not, Shakespeare's soul lives in his words. The souls of all good writers do.
Our souls, and our writing, are no exception.