Monday, February 10, 2014

Speak Up and Be Heard

     In our class this semester, a common discussion topic has been the power of words and this power was nowhere near foreign to Shakespeare as is evident in Twelfth Night. Words, for centuries have been an important definitive element of not only education, but social class as well. In Shakespeare's time, the most elaborate of vocabularies were reserved for the upper classes, and the lower classes were privileged if they could read or write at all. In many of Shakespeare's plays, societal status is easily determined simply by his use of verse or prose in writing their speech. This style directly reflects the embellished and sophisticated speech of the actual aristocracy and higher class citizens of his time.  In Twelfth Night, many of the characters speak in prose, but the first time readers are severely separated from the usual iambic pentameter is at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3 with the conversation between Toby, a drunk, and Maria, a maid. These "lower" characters are meant to be perceived as such and simply from their speech, an audience or reader can determine a lot about the character's personality and status in the play. 
     Language, though, is not only used as a lowering device in Shakespeare's writing. In the same scene with Toby and Maria at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3, Toby praises Sir Andrew Aguecheek by saying that he knows "three or four languages" (1.3.26) and even though this later appears to be a blatant lie, it serves, for the time being, as a high merit to Aguecheek's character which is meant to be credited by Maria. Viola, too, is later credited for her language by Olivia: "Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit / Do give thee fivefold blazon" (1.5.298-299). Olivia falls in love with Viola (Cesario) upon meeting her for the first time and spending little time with her at all simply because of the way she spoke to her. Viola, being of a high rank from birth, has a more sophisticated form of speech than the typical messenger might and because of this, Olivia sees her not as a mere messenger, but closer to a peer, completely overlooking Viola's apparent rank and creating her own, all because of the power of her words. 
     Although Shakespeare's works tend to emphasize the beneficial power of words, it is still clear that he knows their power comes with a danger as well. Maria says in Act 1 Scene 3 that "thought is free" (68) which somewhat implies that speech, the next step after thought, cannot be. There are chains and fetters that bind words that are a risk to release. Speaking freely is well and good, but most times, this does not happen without consequence. We all censor ourselves in little ways on a daily basis in order to maintain pleasant relationships and a peaceful environment and often times, this is for the best, but of course there are times when we must speak up and reach out. This is something that I've found very prevalent as a value in Loyola's community. It is important to speak for those with either no voice, or a fear of using their voice. Many people do this through action beyond their word, but this can be done in smaller ways too by simply raising awareness. 
     The risk of speaking up for oneself and for others is a hard one to take and some would ask, is it worth it? I, personally, wholeheartedly say yes. In my philosophy class, we are currently talking about Thomas Hobbes and according to him, the difference between man and animal is the capability of speech and I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to extend this to writing. Communication through words is man's greatest gift and if not used then we reduce ourselves to be no more than animals. As Toby asks, "Is it a world to hide virtues in?" (1.3.128-129) I say no. But I can't help but wonder what the authors of these banned books would say. Was it worth it for Twain to use his talent in writing to expose the world of his childhood through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Would Chaucer say he was successful in making a text for the common man if he knew it were to be banned in the future? I would like to answer yes to all of these questions. I would like to say "Yes! That is what writing is for! To open portals to worlds and teach lessons and make readers ask questions and see the injustices in the world!", but I cannot speak for the authors. I can only say that there is a clear power in words: a power which is embraced and used to its fullest extent by some but is intensely feared by others. I beg the world to embrace it. 

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