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Blood will have blood

~Macbeth, 3.4.151

Different people subscribe to different schools of thought on how to appreciate works of art, whether visual, musical, literary, or dramatic. Some people want to know the artists’ biographies. Others want to know about the eras in which the artists lived. A few want to know everything — all the artists’ works, the contexts in which the works were created, who influenced the artists, who the artists influenced, and more. But there are some people who feel strongly that works of art should stand on their own and communicate with their audiences directly. For them, the artists should be irrelevant. Those people especially abhor the idea of analyzing a work of art, of taking it apart and examining its pieces. For those people, analysis poisons the purity of communion between art and audience. Fair warning: this book is not for those people.

This book approaches passages from Shakespeare, Sondheim, and a few others, in the spirit of forensic autopsy. We will dissect the passages, their arteries, and veins right down to their capillaries. We’ll get blood on our fingers. You cannot become a doctor, let alone a surgeon, without studying anatomy, in the flesh. If you want to be a writer, you should study how the best writers constructed their works. This book is about craft, not muses, about the instruments of the craft, not the profundity of the ideas. Of course, in taking passages apart, ideas will be explored but always in the context of understanding how the tools of the craft helped writers illuminate those ideas and beautify their expression. In the lit crit biz, we call this explication.

To learn to write like Shakespeare, you should learn to read like Shakespeare, and then to think like Shakespeare. Let the autopsies begin…