the mutt

One Hamlet, on the rocks. Or, the art of mixing it up.

Posted in Writing by grx20 on August 27, 2008

‘Genre’ can be a scary word.

Perhaps you’ve grappled with it, wondering what kind of stuff you want to write. You have an idea which is a little of horror, a little crime, some humour, some history and even romance. Are you allowed to do all that in one book?

One of the best in the field has done it, and gotten away with it. I’ll leave it to another master of the craft to tell us more – Salman Rushdie, in an interview with Powells. (Full interview here)

Rushdie: Many, many years ago, when I was just starting out as a writer, I heard the British playwright Howard Brenton talk about Shakespeare. He said some things I’ve amplified in my mind, so I don’t remember what was him and what’s me, but the gist of it was that one of the great gifts of Shakespeare to writers in the English language was to show that a work of literature can be many things at once-it doesn’t have to be just one thing.

An example I sometimes use: look at the sequence of opening scenes of Hamlet. The first scene is a ghost story. The second scene is intrigue at court. The third scene is a love story. The fourth scene is knockabout comedy. And the fifth scene is a ghost story again. What Shakespeare showed is that you could do all that. It’s completely unlike the French classical tradition, which is much more purist. Shakespeare said, Mix it all up. You can have comedy, history, and tragedy all wrapped into one. And all you have to do to pull it off is be Shakespeare. (Emphasis mine – the mutt).

But it’s a great liberation for writers of the English language to see that the greatest writer was free-form in that way. I’ve always liked that. A book doesn’t have to be just a thriller, or just a comedy, or just a psychological novel. It can be all those things at once.

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