Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Do Not Be "Fool"ed by Shakespeare

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Oh, the classics. We read them because they were perhaps revolutionary for the time period, thus we are enlightened by the antiquity yet still taught by the applicable lessons in them. Or we read them because our mean high school teachers forced us to. One of those commonly required authors is William Shakespeare; he wrote seemingly endless amounts of fodder for future English classes. Yet, one man saw greatness in a particular Shakespeare play. He saw the potential for humor, gore, smack talk, smut, and an endless amount of sarcasm in King Lear... he saw his eleventh literary creation, Fool.

Fool is the story of Pocket, King Lear's court jester. Pocket is a witty, highly intelligent, manipulating, kind, crude, sweet man, who is subtly the voice of reason in Lear's crumbling kingdom and family. Fool follows the original King Lear story line... and that's about it. The characters are much more richly detailed, their interactions more complex, emotional, and conniving. Pocket is stuck in the middle as Lear divides his kingdom and falls into a pit of self-pity. Pocket decides that it is up to him to solve the crisis and the reader will see how King Lear's plot ACTUALLY moved along.

Christopher Moore is no stranger to humor, crudity, and controversy. His earlier books revolve around a strange, fictitious community with a penchant for attracting wackos, people on the run, supernatural forces, and plain tomfoolery. In 2002, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal was published and tongues started wagging about Moore's writing; reviews ranged from scandalized to adored. (It is a great book; however, if you are delicate, it might not be the book for you!) Moore forged ahead, cranking out books with his ideas ranging from vampires to his favorite fiction community to death hounds. In 2009, Fool arrived on the scene. During this time, readers had seen a deluge of "retold classics"; no one could escape Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Yet, Fool is not a retold classic. It is the classic story told from a different perspective, the one of the jester, who, in most stories from the time period, is just a background character. There is none of the flowery, aged language that we suffered through with Shakespeare; Moore uses modern language for his dialogue only slightly peppered with old English (mostly for sarcasm's sake), which adds a very entertaining twist for the time period. Like Shakespeare, Moore doesn't waste time with lengthy descriptions of settings or background stories. He too jumps straight into the fray that is King Lear's family and kingdom. Moore has an distinct writing style; he combines wit, humor, and stark detail, with twisted, complicated story lines that leave the reader fully immersed in the story and in the characters' lives. His characters and their escapades are memorable; you cannot help but laugh at their shenanigans and chaos. However, Moore also weaves sorrow, anger, and a sense of moral dilemma in each novel; thus, while humorous, each will leave the reader thinking about the story, the outcomes, and the characters long after they have finished the book.

There is a certain amount of crude language and adult scenes in the novel. However, there is a purpose with every adult scene (or mention of women with "a generous spirit in the dark"); marriage, sex, and relationships all play a huge part in the decisive actions in King Lear, thus they play the same role in Fool, only with copious amounts of humor and cheek involved. There is nothing horribly graphic; however, like with Lamb, Fool has raised several eyebrows with the unchecked language and the compromising situations that several characters find themselves in.

Moore has not written anything outlandishly obscene or awful. He is merely joining a growing crowd
Author Christopher Moore,
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of authors, like Carl Hiassen, Robert Olen Butler, David Sedaris, and many others, who write without pretension and without the fear of offending others. They write real life-like interactions, situations, and scenes; life is chaotic, funny, and awkward. Critics have chastised Moore for his destruction of a classic. Others, however, have praised Moore for resurrecting a play that almost no one reads for joy. He adapted a story that has solid morals, lessons, and emotions (King Lear is one of the most emotionally turbulent Shakespeare plays) and made it readable for the current generations. Fool is a wonderfully written, thoroughly enjoyable book. It does not subtract from the original; in fact, to readers who enjoyed King Lear, Fool almost enhances the story line, giving life, breathe, and personality to characters whose surroundings, etiquette, and beliefs are out of date and hard to relate to. Critics must remember that Shakespeare's play were not famous because of flowery language, hidden literary tools, and deeply convoluted literary meanings and metaphors (if I had a dollar for every time a teacher said, "But what does it mean?!"...); Shakespeare's writings were famous because it captured the human condition and the characters had emotions that we all feel and that we all hide. His characters range from being saviors of their peers to cold-blooded, ambitious murderers. He became famous for exploring the human emotion in play, which had not been done before. Fool does the same thing. We see the characters at their worst and at their best and it makes us wonder how we would react in similar situations. Shakespeare and Moore, centuries apart, both capture the human spirit: all the filth, the crudeness, the hilarity, and the beauty that life comes with in their works.

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