Over the Top

My reference a couple of weeks back to “Some are born great, some achieve greatness …” took me back a few years, to when I played Malvolio in Twelfth Night. I was surprised, when reading one of his monologues, to discover that like so many other phrases, Shakespeare originated that one.
Malvolio, the stuffy major domo serving the Countess Olivia he nurtures a secret, hopeless passion for his employer. A couple of her hangers-on, frustrated by Malvolio’s perpetually spoiling their fun, convince him Olivia is secretly in love with him; the quote comes from an anonymous letter encouraging to reach for his seemingly unattainable end.
The results were intense. As his dream seems to become more and more attainable, he becomes more and more ecstatic, until he——me——was bursting with an energy I don’t think I’ve ever had to draw up on stage before (it took me a while too. Much thanks to my talented friend Laley Lippard for giving me guidance or I’d never have pulled it off).
A lot of Shakespeare is like that. I also played Ford in Merry Wives of Windsor, a man consumed by jealousy, convinced his wife is shtupping Falstaff. My attempts to prove it only wind up humiliating me over and over until I finally learn to trust Mistress Ford. Not as intense as Malvolio but certainly more than most modern plays.
In short, I can understand part of why Shakespeare has a hold, the sheer passion and intensity his work has. As one 19th-century admirer put it, for a poet Shakespeare must have eaten a lot of raw meat.
And that in turn got me thinking about 1960s Marvel Comics. No, not because I think they’re comparable to Shakespeare or that Lee and Kirby’s work is Shakespearian even by comics standards (I’ll take DC any day). But their best work is compelling because of the sheer melodrama. It’s not that a given issue is the Fantastic Four’s greatest battle; Lee and Kirby convey the sense that it’s the greatest battle anyone has fought ever.
I would love to get some of that quality——that intensity, that passion, that heightened melodrama——into my own work, but I’m honestly not sure how to do that. I’m not even sure it’s possible.
Shakespeare, after all, is Shakespearian: Even though the characters are real and understandable after 500 years, being in Shakespeare gives them a kind of heightened reality. The same is true for Silver Age Marvel; for all the talk about Marvel’s “realism” the kind of drama the characters go through is closer to soap opera than every day people (that’s not meant as an insult——like I said above, it’s that passion that I enjoy).
My stories, even though they’re fantasy, are at a much more down-to-earth level. I’ve had characters with passion, I’ve had melodrama, but I don’t think it’s the same. I honestly don’t know how the Shakespearian kind of high-energy passion would even work in a down-to-Earth setting. But I’d like to.
If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know (probably with a loud OH, YEAH!).


Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

3 responses to “Over the Top

  1. Pingback: The past was a different super-country (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Writing selfish heroes: the Doom Patrol (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Captain America, the Shadow and a Werewolf! Books read | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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