I have been exploring the question of plot vs. language, one that arises fairly often in Shakespeare discussions and has recently been debated on Twitter (see previous post). While this connects with such ideas as modernising Shakespeare, I am not looking at that here.
Here, I am looking at language, plot, character – due to the above debate stimulating discussion that included plot vs. character over on Linked In – and action (my own addition) , to see which I find most important.
I see each as necessary for storytelling – the basics of a play – in this way…
Considering characters, actions, plot and language
1. ‘Recipe’ – Ingredients (action and character) Combined (plot):
A -> B + A -> C + C -> D + (D+C) -> E
Bird to Branch and Bird to Fruit and Fruit to Water and Water and Fruit to Waterfall
where A=bird, B=branch, C=fruit, D=water, E=waterfall (characters) and ->=’to’ (action), +=’and’ (part of plot creation)
The particular order is the plot and necessitates having elements to order – character and action. Character and action, in turn, require plot for their interaction and placement as a tale. Communication of all three relies on language and language relies on having elements to communicate – all of these necessary, I posit, in telling a tale. (Which element drives a play can change, depending on type of story, but all need to be present.)
So, all equally important at basic tale to be told level.
3. Additional language:
Hungry Bird to leafy Branch and quick Bird to juicy Fruit and ripe Fruit to flowing Water and rushing Water and battered Fruit to churning Waterfall.
Adapted with descriptive language to Tale of Bird (or Fruit or Water, etc.):
Hungry Bird flew to leafy Branch, and quickly pecked at juicy Fruit, but ripe Fruit fell into flowing Water below. Rushing Water carried poor battered Fruit right into churning Waterfall.
This final language is clichéd and overly full of adjectives – to mention but a few flaws! – but it gives a lot of information, painting pictures, etc. Here, choices about how to communicate, what response is sought, who it is being targeted and so on come into the way in which language is used.
Language is involved throughout: it communicates on a very basic level at first and then becomes more complex / elaborate as the story takes shape. I find it also becomes more important along the way and that expression is added to basic communication.
The Shakespeare Recipe
The recipe (play) is a particular combination (plot) of ingredients (character and action) served up with / via language (verbal for script-based, always physical when visual).
With Shakespeare, the characters, their actions and the plots that are a particular combination of these, are often borrowed, but these elements are raised to glorious heights via Shakespeare’s exploration of the ideas they bring and the language with which they are expressed.
The successful and beautiful marriage of all these elements is part of Shakespeare’s great achievement and in this respect, language gains more importance for me: whatever the plots or the characters, Shakespeare makes them into something incredibly rich, a gift worthy of repetition, admiration and – above all – exploration, and he does this through his understanding and language.
It is his plays that attract my attention most. Though I may have interest in the plots others have also used and the characters others have also written of, it is Shakespeare’s version of these which really grabs me and his version is his telling: the vehicle for his story, the language.
So, while plot, character and action are necessary, in my mind, for story, with Shakespeare, language provides not only the conveyance of these – making it necessary on a par with the others – but also the greatest attraction, working on me mentally, emotionally and physically.
This makes Shakespeare’s language the weightiest of all these necessary elements.
That answered to my satisfaction, I am still left with other questions:
At what point does the ‘recipe’ formula become a story? Is this a story throughout, or is 1. simply a formula, 2. an account and 3. a story?
Where do Shakespeare’s ideas and understanding come in?
And, of course – very importantly – what do you think?
Oh – and – what became of poor, hungry Bird and battered Fruit?