I’ve been in London for the past two days. And I’m very excited. But not because I was in Stratford-upon-Avon today and just got in from seeing Julius Caesar there. Yes, of course that’s immensely exciting, and it was one of the most wonderful days of my life. I was really going to post about my trip to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. I really planned on blogging about the performance in Stratford. And I should really tell you all about my trip to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Instead, I have a far more concerning and interesting thing I want to talk about in this post. A thought that totally relates to Shakespeare. The reason I’m excited, is because I finally figured out how to get internet access on my laptop in my hotel room. Which is a bigger deal than it would normally be, because I haven’t been able to track down a “Micro SIM” for my iPhone, so I’ve been effectively cut off from the entire world. Family, Friends, WordPress and Twitter all just outside my reach. They say true ignorance is not being aware of what you don’t know. Well, true agony is knowing what you don’t have (especially when it’s something you used to have), but knowing you can’t get to it.
But hold on a minute. What!? I was at Stratford-upon-Fricking-Avon today and what makes me happy is that I have access to the INTERNET!? But…But… Isn’t the whole point of the internet to google Shakespeare and Jane Austen? I was in their backyards today!! So why do I need google? I got the full experience — in, like, 4D!
Sure, sure. There are PLENTY of justifications. I have them all down pat and completely believe these sweet little ideas by now. I need to be in touch with my family. I need to be in touch with my friends. That’s totally legitimate! All we have is human connection… right? That’s what’s most important, right? How can I have fun and enjoy myself without sharing my joy with the ones I love and letting them know all the pleasure they’re missing out on? More importantly, I need you guys! What’s the point of thinking of witty things to say about all the amazing things I’m seeing if I can’t tweet those condensed thoughts? I have all these insights I want to share about all the amazing things I’m seeing, but I haven’t been able to develop and share those thoughts here on my blog. If you think of something awesome, but can’t communicate it to your followers, was it a valid thought? (Yes, I know that last line sounds ridiculous and of course it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but, however flawed, that’s my legitimate thought process of late.)
Switching trains of thought, but still heading towards the same destination, I read Brave New World months ago for school. It didn’t overtly change my life, but it was certainly not a book which lost its tight grip on me the moment I finished the last page and closed the cover. It’s horrifyingly relevant to today and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably way too tightly entangled in our brave new world for their own good. They’re probably a card-holding member of the stupid, fickle masses. And now for the Shakespeare connection: there are LOADS of references to Will and his works in Brave New World. Many of these references are in reference to the lack of Shakespeare and his works in “Civilization”. John the Savage is completely turned off by “Civilization” and thinks they are doing things all wrong. One of the major areas of dispute is Shakespeare — John is passionately in favour of the Bard, while the Controller is (rather dispassionately) against Shakespeare and his works.
The Controller’s problem with Shakespeare’s works are not with the works themselves, but with how they fit in with “Civilization”. His plays are banned, but, what’s more interesting, they don’t even have to be. The government has taken care that the citizens have never heard of Shakespeare. Even if a citizen somehow came across one of his works, they wouldn’t even bother with it. They simply wouldn’t understand. John suggests they make “something new that’s like Othello, and that [the citizens] could understand” (ch. 16). However, the Controller explains that “if it were really like Othello nobody could understand it, however new it might be. And if were new, it couldn’t possibly be like Othello” (Ch. 16).
The inability to understand comes not from Shakespeare’s crazy (beautiful) language, but from the content and themes. One of the major premises of Shakespeare’s plays is desire for something one doesn’t have and can’t easily attain — money, power, a man or woman’s love, just to name a few. These themes are completely moot and incomprehensible in a society like the one in Brave New World. Those men and women (or grownup infants, as John sees them) have everything so easily and never have to worry about anything. They live in complete comfort in every way, but they are deprived of the suffering that is necessary to reach deeper understanding, meaning and humanity. They live comfortable, healthy lives, but for what? What’s the point of each superficially happy days, if they lead to nothing more than many years of such days? Their society is stable only so that it can continue being stable. Anything that risks that stability is outlawed, but what’s the point of stability if nothing meaningful or productive is being done with that stability? Life is so easy for them, that it makes you wonder why they even bother. The only way they can find any sort of “contentment” is by getting high on soma; sleeping with whoever they want, whenever they want; and going to the “feelies”, because they can’t even conjure up their own emotions. I call it contentment not happiness (and put “contentment” in quotation marks, at that) because obviously their mindless, superfluous entertainment can’t lead to true happiness.
I think that we, like those in the Brave New World society don’t have to try hard enough for anything — “nothing [figuratively] costs enough here” (Ch. 17). This was made glaringly clear to me upon reflecting on my experience at the phone store today. We went to go get SIM cards in Stratford. I was almost as excited about getting to the phone store as I was about being in Stratford, as my iPhone had been more or less obsolete for an entire day because I didn’t have a data plan yet– I think I’m experiencing withdrawal. When the guy at the store told us they were out of Micro SIMs, the very special and apparently less readily available SIM card that iPhones use, I was a little bit enraged. I remarked to my father (with whom I’m travelling) that it was an atrocity in proportion to a Shakespearean tragedy. Reflectively (at least now that I’ve gotten my internet fix) I think that the real tragedy is that I thought such a minor, superficial issue can be equated with a beautiful work of literature in which everyone has died, been brutally murdered or committed suicide by the final page. The Controller says that “you can’t make tragedies without social instability” (Ch. 16), and it’s ridiculous that I equate my (relatively) minor issue with social instability. Even more ridiculous that this is my biggest problem. I think that since people aren’t dying in the streets anymore, we (I) make a huge deal out of little, stupid problems, because there are few bigger problems.
While retaining our humanity seems to entail suffering and risk, human nature seems to want what comes easily. As the Controller says, “we prefer to do things comfortably.” But John wants more than that. Following our human nature comes easily, chasing after our humanity is far more difficult and he wants the latter.
“But I don’t want comfort,” [he says.] “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said [the Controller], “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said [John] defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
Sure, in principal, so am I. I want the right to be unhappy. That sounds very noble and wise. But in practice, if I look at myself objectively and realistically, I have to confess that all I want at the moment is my right to a data plan on my iPhone and wireless internet in my hotel room. And I think being brave enough to admit that (and accept the fact that I’m only human in wanting that) is the first step.