bardseyeview

A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Claudius and Blogs

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"Save yourself, my lord!"

So begins a messenger in Act IV of Hamlet, who arrives with news for Claudius, the king of Denmark. The play until now has been preoccupied with the issue of whether Claudius killed the former king, who was his own brother and Hamlet's father, and whether Hamlet will kill Claudius back. Somewhat by mistake, Hamlet has killed Polonius, a royal advisor and Laertes' father, instead. Polonius was eavesdropping on Hamlet and his mother at the time and Hamlet stabbed him through an arras (a wall hanging). So there's at least an implication that he had it coming. After that there's a little comedy with the body even as, all the while, Fortenbras (French for "Strong Arm"), the king of Norway, is marching his army nearer.

Generally speaking, things are collapsing. The common people notice, and begin gravitating toward the aggrieved Laertes, as the messenger is trying to explain to Claudius (overpeering of his list means overtopping the shoreline):

"Save yourself, my lord!
The ocean, overpeering of his list,
Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste
Than young Laertes, in a riotous head,
O'erbears your officers. The rabble call him lord,
And, as the world were now but to begin,
Antiquity forgot, custom not known,
The ratifiers and props of every word,
They cry, 'Choose we! Laertes shall be king!'
Caps, hands, and tongues applaud it to the clouds,
'Laertes shall be king, Laertes king!'"

In just two years, an estimated 20 million common people throughout the world have started gravitating away from the Claudius of Television and toward the Laertes of Weblogs, like this one. The ocean indeed eats not the flats with more impetuous haste. The great majority of blogs are for personal and family use – in the future, in fact from now on, the family Christmas card will be an uploaded page for family friends dispersed throughout the world to view. In fact, the card now remains up all year. The ability to remain in touch with friends regardless of distance is now at our fingertips.

The meaning that the internet suddenly has for our hearts, for the life of our affections, could not be greater or happier. Just as the Bard describes, it is as though the world were now but to begin, antiquity forgot, custom not known. And the speed with which all this is happening should be breathtaking to us, except that we are in the middle of it. Where once we lived under a Danish tyranny of separation and expense, we are now suddenly, well, free.

From one of the sonnets (main means ocean):

"When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage of the kingdom of the shore
And the firm soil win of the watery main
Exchanging store with loss and loss with store…."

And the effect of blogs of course will extend far beyond the primary one of drawing us closer on an individual level. The King Claudius of the news and entertainment industries will be reshaped, is already being reshaped. Hollywood and newspapers have each recorded stunning annual gross revenue losses. The key movie demographic of young adolescent boys has turned decisively to video games. The average age of newspaper readers is now 55. The average age of network news viewers is approaching 60. As soon as advertisers realize that people's eyeballs have moved from TV screen and newsprint to computer, the money will follow, and the old order will collapse. Here are some messengers toward the end of Richard III:

1st Msgr: "My gracious sovereign, how in Devonshire
As I by friends am well advertised,
Sir Edward Courtney and the haughty prelate,
Bishop of Exeter, his elder brother,
With many more confederates, are in arms."

2nd Msgr: "In Kent, my liege, the Guilfords are in arms,
And every hour more competitors
Flock to the rebels, and their power grows strong."

3rd Msgr: "My lord, the army of great Buckingham –"

King R: "Out on ye, owls! Nothing but songs of death?"
…………………….. (Richard strikes him)
"There, take thou that, till thou bring better news."

If we were merely exchanging one order for an equivalent one, meeting the new boss, same as the old boss, exchanging store with loss and loss with store, there would be not much to hope for. But in place of a limited selection of channels, local papers, magazines and even publishers, there will be an unlimited number. Concerns over quality I think are mistaken. The net has built-in quality control, in the form of immediate response to any factual error posted by a blog with a significant readership. We read a blogger, and we read bloggers to the side of that blogger. All are constantly analyzing, criticizing, and keeping each other honest. For what is now happening, the stirring words in Act V scene I of the Tempest, among the most hopeful in Shakespeare, best apply:

"O brave new world, that has such people in't!"
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