Another reason to read Shakespeare slowly

Esoteric: Designed for, or appropriate to, an inner circle of privileged followers

I’m reading this book, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing, by Arthur M. Melzer, because I’ve been curious for many years about the contradiction in Shakespeare’s works between what would have been accessible for most theater-goers of the time, be they lower or upper classes, and the underlying and often hidden significances of so many aspects of Shakespeare’s plays. Melzer’s book is about the long tradition of writing that includes bits “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.”

Melzer says a number of things that remind me of the close-reading group that I run on Sunday mornings (and in which which some on this list participate!). For instance, Melzer writes, “Esoteric reading, being very difficult, requires one to slow down and spend much more time with a book than one may be used to. One must read it very slowly, and as a whole, and over and over again.” This is exactly what we do on Sunday mornings.  ;-)

Melzer quotes a preface of Nietzsche’s about the journey through a book (or a Shakespeare play):

“A book like this is in no hurry; we both, I just as much as my book, are friends of lento [slowly]. . . . In the midst of an age of “work,” that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to ‘get everything done’ at once, including every old or new book—this art does not so easily get anything done; it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.”

And I quote Melzer again because he says it so much better than I can: “At this lower speed, new sorts of experiences and connections start to become possible. You begin to live with the book. It becomes your companion and friend. Your interactions with it become more unhurried, and thus more wide-ranging, bold, and experimental, and at the same time more delicate, nuanced, and intimate.”

I write this as encouragement to slow down when reading Shakespeare! The treasures we find along the path as we stroll—rather than run—through the text are profound.  :-)