‘Fantastic!’ the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn is said to have exclaimed, on first looking into the collected works of Shakespeare. ‘And it was all written with a feather!’
Greater minds have given birth to more subtle thoughts on the subject, though not all of them as memorable. Wittgenstein, that unacknowledged humorist, worried away at the question of whether people are really killed in tragedies or not, but then Wittgenstein did not really like Shakespeare anyway. Neither did Voltaire, who called Hamlet ‘a product of the imagination of a drunken savage’ (we could do with a few more, monsieur). D H Lawrence was less contemptuous, but wrote a poem called ‘When I Read Shakespeare’ in which he called the character Hamlet ‘boring … / so mean and self-conscious’, and referred to Lear as ‘the old buffer’, going on (not just for the sake of the rhymes), ‘you wonder his daughters / didn’t treat him rougher, / the old chough, the old chuffer!’ That same Lawrence poem neatly encapsulates in its jokey way, how some people still love Shakespeare even while finding his characters sometimes ridiculous:
How boring, how small Shakespeare’s people are!