MystiCon Recap: Shakespeare Edition

Hey folks! MystiCon last weekend was a blast, but it’s got me pretty wiped out this week. I’ve been scrambling to keep up with all my obligations, which is nothing new. Happily, I had some free time this morning to knock out this blogpost for you this week!

I had a great time at MystiCon this year, largely because some friends joined me and I got to do a lot more of the weird social stuff. I still did lots of writer things, too, though, including being on four panels! My favorite panel, surprisingly, was our discussion of Shakespeare and the Supernatural late Saturday night. We had some great conversation, which I will attempt to describe here.

My exposure to Shakespeare has largely been as a watcher and reader, and I’ve had relatively little wish to analyse Shakespeare’s work. I wouldn’t say I’m the most widely read either – I have seen The Tempest, an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (multiple times), Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet. I’ve acted in A Comedy of Errors, and seen and read a good portion of Hamlet. One time I visited Stratford-upon-Avon. So that’s my whole Shakespeare career, pretty much. Everything after that is cliffnotes. Yet I was blessed to be part of a group that had apparently read a LOT of Shakespeare critique and analysis. They had the cultural context for the life of the poet I lacked. It made for some great discussion!

One of the things that we came away with during this panel was the Shakespeare’s time was very different than our own. Superstition was pretty rampant – the King at the time had a treatise on the supernatural and witches that he had made up, and witchcraft was a crime punishable by death and tried in the courts. So it makes sense that witches were generally bad people in Shakespeare’s works. If nothing else, he would have been run out of the country otherwise. The exception to this, possibly, is Prospero – who is, for all intents and purposes, a witch. We didn’t go into this too much, except that it’s fair to say that Prospero is a bit of an anti-hero in the Tempest. Your sympathies are somewhat with him, but mostly they are meant to be with Miranda, the young innocent, and her Ferdinand. I think this is why so many adaptations of the Tempest focus on her story, and not Prospero’s, but I digress.

Spirits and faeries, on the other hand, are the fun characters. They are forces of nature more than people, and so they aren’t subject to the same rules of morality as the human characters on the stage. Like nature, they often throw the humans around them into chaos, and can be either benign of malignant. Think of Oberon changing his wife’s lover into a donkey, or Puck being…Puck.

Lastly and most forbiddingly, we have the ghosts. A witch is bad news, but a ghost spells certain doom for the main character. They are the embodiment of fate, and all fates end in the cutting of the cord. We had a long debate on if ghosts were more or less “real” to people in Shakespearian England. I personally think that, despite our modern ideas that ghosts are just psychological echoes of our own trauma, ghosts are still a real thing, but I felt like other people in the room were a little less superstitious than me. They felt that views had changed pretty drastically on ghosts since Shakespeare’s time, and they were probably right. One thing we agreed on was that within the play Shakespeare’s ghosts were their own elements – they existed independently of the characters’ psyches, despite their impacts there.

I hope everyone goes out and reads some Shakespeare after this! It’s so much fun to get to dive back into the words of a person who was so prolific in their time.

Until next year, MystiCon!


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