An old friend of mine--one who calls me a "Shakespearefreak"--and I discussed Marx and Shakespeare on the phone the other d...

Shakespeare and Marx || Azfar Hussain

9:49 AM Editor 0 Comments

An old friend of mine--one who calls me a "Shakespearefreak"--and I discussed Marx and Shakespeare on the phone the other day. It was quite a useful discussion. We talked about certain aspects of such works as S.S. Prawer's _Marx and World Literature_, Howard and Shershow's anthology _Marxist Shakespeares_, and Gabriel Egan's _Shakespeare and Marx_, among other things.

And we talked about how Marx was deeply interested not only in Shakespeare but also in parodic forms. In fact, when Marx was only 19, he began work on a comic novel of his own called _Scorpion and Felix_. Interestingly, the structure, design, and techniques of that novel were based not on the "Bildungsroman" of Goethe but on Laurence Sterne's _Tristam Shandy_, an anti-novel that anticipated my favorite James Joyce's _Ulysses_. 

The "Sternean" in Marx, then, has to do with, among other things, Marx's unmistakable delight in "sudden, deliberate letdowns" and even in "verbal cartoons," to use Prawer's words.
True, like Sterne, Marx already developed quite a range of parodies: of the Bible, of Ovid, of Goldsmith's _The Vicar of Wakefield_, but above all of none other than Shakespeare himself. 

As Peter Stallybrass rightly points out, "Not only does Marx parody Shakespeare, and in particular _Richard III_, but he also pays particular attention to parody IN Shakespeare, and to the bitter fool Thersites in _Troilus and Cressida_, a 'fool' whom Marx would continue to quote and appropriate throughout his life." (Can't help thinking of how Kenneth Burke cites Hegel's coinage of the term "Thersitism.")

Although Marx developed his love for Shakespeare relatively early on in his life, it was during his exile in England that Marx passionately devoted himself to Shakespeare. In fact Marx read Shakespeare every day. As Franz Mehring tells us in his memoir of Marx: "After Marx had become permanently domiciled in London, English literature took first place, and the tremendous figure of Shakespeare dominated his field; in fact the whole family practiced what amounted practically to a Shakespearean cult."


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