incongruous to try to compare the artists William Shakespeare and Bob Marley. These two men, separated by centuries and embodying two very different forms of art, both make up part of the history of popular culture. One man is considered the premiere playwright in the history of the English language, a man whose name is synonymous with high culture. The other man is known for his success in a musical genre and a culture that uses a different meaning for the word high. What could these men possible have in common one might ask? Examining the history and writings of both Renaissance writer William Shakespeare and reggae musician Bob Marley it becomes evident that they both use emotional appeals and heavy symbolism to prove points about the human condition and to promote understanding between people from different stations of life, all of which are used to persuade others that the morality of their literature is the correct one and ought to be adopted by the general population.
William Shakespeare was not as respected in his own time as he is in the modern era. His plays were designed to appeal to the lowest members of society. A Shakespearean play would be the equivalent of a blockbuster movie in the modern vernacular. His upbringing was not anything special. Shakespeare was the son of a glove maker (Laroque, page 13). It was initially believed by historians that William's father, John Shakespeare was wealthy or at least relatively well-off. In fact, John Shakespeare had been a "gentleman" until debt forced him into exile from the township. William Shakespeare grew up in a small village called Stratford-Upon-Avon with this scandalous beginning over his head. He married but did not less this inconvenience him either in his romances or in his artistic endeavors. It would not be long before William Shakespeare left his wife Anne Hathaway, who was several years older than Shakespeare, and his children in Stratford-Upon-Avon for the gritty streets of Renaissance-era London. "Overpopulated and filthy, London was a city of seething activity, spectacle, and theater" (Laroque, page 41). Shakespeare, like Bob Marley after him, was very much a product of the time that he was writing.
Ethnically, Bob Marley was unique for the time and place in which he lived. Born of a black Jamaican mother and white father, he was a physical embodiment of the effects of colonialism (Paprocki 2006,-page 10). Like Shakespeare, he grew up in a relatively poor area with little income for his family and an absent father figure. His father was a Marine officer who came to Jamaica to work as an overseer of a plantation. Marley's father died when he was only ten years old. His biracial heritage would lead to Marley experiencing prejudice from both sides of the ethnic landscape. Marley once said, "I don't have prejudice against himself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't dip on nobody's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white" (Webley 2008). The conflict that he grew up with would shape Marley's musical as well as philosophical work later in life.
Very little factual information is known about William Shakespeare's life. That is to say, there is little information that can be empirically verified with data. What is known is that Shakespeare was married at 18 and deserted his family at 21 for the world of theater. According to historian Truman J. Backus (1897) in his book The Outlines of Literature: English and American:
London was the resort for such an adventurer as he in search of fortune; and the theatrical profession, with its ready reward for the successful actor, was the most advantageous calling for him. When Shakespeare arrived in London, he naturally entered the service of one of the dramatic companies. Like other young men of that time, he made himself useful both as an actor and as a re-writer of plays. His early professional career was marked by industry and success, and by the prudence with which he accumulated wealth. By adapting old plays to the demands of his theater he acquired masterly knowledge of stage effect, and discovered the genius which enabled him to write the greatest dramas in the literature of the world (Backus 1897).
The theatrical profession was one designed for people who wanted to make money quickly and who were willing to work at their craft. Theater, although not the most respectable job of the era, was still considered an art form and participants were expected to entertain the audience in each performance. In The Age of Shakespeare, writer Francois Laroque describes exactly what it would have been like to see a Shakespeare play during the Renaissance. He writes, "Thanks to the wide range of prices offered by the 'box offices' of the time, theaters were places of popular entertainment. Entrance to the 'pit' -- standing room around the stage -- cost only a penny; prices rose to sixpence for seats in the covered galleries" (page 71).
Much of Bob Marley's music centered on the themes of individuality and individual choice and why it was wrong of other people to judge someone for his or her choices. In his song "Judge Not," Bob Marley portrays a narrator who antagonistically challenges authority and defies the judgments of those around him. "I know that I'm not perfect / And that I don't claim to be. / So before you point your fingers, / Be sure your hands are clean" (Marley 1961). Each person has graces and flaws that they must be made aware of. At the end of the song, Marley repeats the lyrics that someone is judging you. Everyone is judging somebody else and everyone is being judged by another. It is a vicious cycle that serves no one and the narrator hopes that the lesson can be taught to look inward before looking outward. Marley lived his life as he deemed appropriate and vocalized his opinion often that everyone should be allowed to live according to their own sense of propriety.
Shakespeare's plays have been divided into three categories: comedies, tragedies, and histories. The comedies originated "in farcical tales in which the world is turned inside out" (Laroque, page 53). Although each play was designed to entertain the audience, he also used his plays to prove point about the human condition. In The Merchant of Venice, for example, Shakespeare uses the guise of a comedy to show how easily we judge others by our own prejudices. One of Shakespeare's most famous characters, the Jewish moneylender Shylock says the following lines with regard to how Jewish people are treated as opposed to the Christian population of the area. "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" (III.I.58-60). Throughout the piece, Shylock is considered the villain by the other Christian characters. He is supposed to be the villain of the story but that is mostly because he is Jewish. He tells the people that Jews learned their cruelty from the Christians in that they were themselves cruel to the Jewish people. In Venice, the Jewish population is treated as villains before doing anything bad. These lines are Shylock trying to explain his confusion and distress. Jews have the same humanity as Christians and should be treated the same. This, however, is not the case. The rest of the quote goes on to express the idea that Jewish people are subject to the same frailties as all human beings. "If you prick us, do we not bleed / If you tickle us do we not laugh, / If you poison us, do we not die" (IIII.62-64). All people are people no matter of skin color or religion. This is what Shylock is trying to illustrate in this speech; and Shakespeare through the character.
Bob Marley became famous for his variation on reggae music which traditionally featured discourse on the value of human worth rather than financial success. Reggae music began in the rural location of Kingston, Jamaica. "Reggae music features the soothing beat of slow rock and blues, mixed in with the familiar calypso sounds that developed their own distinct rhythm…They played homemade instruments and hoped one day to buy real ones. For these youths, their music was the hope of a better future, one in which they would have a bed to sleep in, plenty of food to eat, and respect" (Paprocki 2006,-page 5). Bob Marley was just one of a large group of impoverished children trying to make their way into the world through their music.
Shakespeare, like Marley, could have been just one of a large group of men seeking their fortune in the theatrical profession. Instead through his unique perspective and his ability to create indelible, unforgettable characters, his plays are still read and remembered five hundred years after his death. Like any great artist, William Shakespeare had his critics and detractors. One…