Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Hardboiled Bard of Avon

G. K. Chesterton, the creator of Father Brown, might have been the first to allege that, with a few tweaks here and there, William Shakespeare would have made a smashing detective fiction writer:
There is Shakespeare, for instance: he has created two or three extremely amiable and sympathetic murderers. Only we can watch their amiability slowly and gently merging into murder. Othello is an affectionate husband who assassinates his wife out of sheer affection, so to speak. But as we know the story from the first, we can see the connection and accept the contradiction. But suppose the story opened with Desdemona found dead, Iago or Cassio suspected, and Othello the very last person likely to be suspected. In that case, 'Othello' would be a detective story. But it might be a true detective story; that is, one consistent with the true character of the hero when he finally tells the truth.
Hamlet, again, is a most lovable and even peaceable person as a rule, and we pardon the nervous and slightly irritable gesture which happens to have the result of sticking an old fool like a pig behind a curtain. But suppose the curtain rises on the corpse of Polonius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discuss the suspicion that has immediately fallen on the First Player, an immoral actor accustomed to killing people on the stage; while Horatio or some shrewd character suspects another crime of Claudius or the reckless and unscrupulous Laertes. Then 'Hamlet' would be a shocker, and the guilt of Hamlet would be a shock. But it might be a shock of truth, and it is not only sex novels that are shocking. These Shakespearean characters would be none the less coherent and all of a piece because we brought the opposite ends of the character together and tied them into a knot. The story of Othello might be published with a lurid wrapper as 'The Pillow Murder Case.' But it might still be the same case; a serious case and a convincing case. The death of Polonius might appear on the bookstalls as 'The Vanishing Rat Mystery,' and be in form like an ordinary detective story. Yet it might be The Ideal Detective Story. — G. K. Chesterton, "The Ideal Detective Story," The Illustrated London News, October 25, 1930
- The full text of GKC's essay is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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