Shakespeare versus Hemingway

At my previous employer, I had a great deal in common with the QA guy.  He was a Hemingway geek.  Ran sites about Hemingway.  Had that dream project of creating the next great text on Hemingway’s works.  Naturally we got along well and often has discussions about Shakespeare and Hemingway.  Most of the time, though, they were of the “Here’s what’s great about my favorite author…” variation, without much crossover.  (At least Shakespeare’s works are public domain, whereas Hemingway’s copyrights are still very much aggressively defended.) I’ve changed jobs recently . Much to my surprise I find myself in conversation with a coworker who claims Shakespeare and Hemingway to both be favorites of hers, both of whom she has studied in depth.  Fascinated, I point out my history with the Shakespeare/Hemingway connection. “Well, they did both have very similar styles,” she says. “Eh?” I say, maybe too loudly.  “Shakespeare is all about the interaction between characters.  Everything’s in the dialogue.  Maybe I read the wrong bits of Hemingway, but isn’t he the one that’s famous for writing for 50 pages about a guy going fishing?  Or sitting alone in a restaurant having dinner?” “That’s true,” she says, laughing.  “Very often there’s only one character at a time.  When you’re reading those, though, you need to look not just at the words Hemingway used, but the ones he didn’t.  Especially foreign language.  When does he choose to switch to a foreign language, and why?”  She goes on to tell me that this is what fascinates her about people in general – listening to how different people communicate the same circumstances, and what words people choose to use (or not). At that point we got back to work. So I’m still left with the question:  Hemingway and Shakespeare, similar styles or not?  I think I get what she was saying about word choice and communication.  But she’s referring to the author’s choice of words to communicate with the reader/audience.  Which is fine, and correct in both cases – after all, “Hamlet says” is really “Shakespeare wrote that the character of Hamlet would say…” Part of the problem for me is that I read the plays like reality.  I just assume that these characters exist.  I don’t play the “What did Shakespeare mean here?” game, I don’t look for political jobs or secret Catholic messages.  I just see humans interacting with each other.  So when I read Hemingway I tend to see the exact opposite – almost everything I’ve read of Hemingway’s is centered around one person who might be communicating with the world around him, or with his own innermost thoughts, but there certainly aren’t any other people on the page with him. (When I was in the second grade, which I guess would have made me about … 7 years old? I had to be in the hospital for a little while.  An aunt of mine who knew that I liked to read brought me some books.  One of them was “The Old Man and the Sea”.  Not knowing anything about Hemingway, I read it.  Can’t say I necessarily *got* it (it’s about a guy that catches a fish and then loses it before he gets home, right?), but I can say that I was reading Hemingway when I was in the second grade :)).

One thought on “Shakespeare versus Hemingway

  1. You are right in saying that Shakespeare is about the characters interacting with each other. Like you, I read Shakespeare like reality.

    Whereas for Hemingway, it may take real beginners time to understand his books. I remember I struggled with my first Hemingway book (also The Old Man and the Sea) and I wondered why would he need to write so many pages about someone going fishing?

    It was later when I realised that there is more to it than just what Hemingway wrote on the pages. But to choose between the two, it will still be Shakespeare all the way!

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