Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mordred Prince of Britain

When I was growing up reading science fiction, one of the oddest notions was the idea of alternate history. It's a common idea now, but back then you seldom ran across it outside of the small circle of science fiction readers, unless the subject was, what if the South had won the Civil War?

In such stories authors often gave their heroes technology that altered the time stream, weapons maybe, or even the printing press. But what about an alternate history where it's just an artistic image that's different? How big a difference could that make?

Some years back I was thinking about how Shakespeare wrote many of his "biographical historical" plays -- the non-English ones-- about characters that were really obscure. Who would ever have heard of Lear or Macbeth if Shakespeare hadn't used them to build a striking dramatic situation? Next to nothing is known about Macbeth and I have my doubts that Lear ever existed. Even the characters of Julius Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra as we know them were somewhat new to his audience, since Plutarch's Lives had only recently been translated from ancient Greek into western European languages.

I thought, what if Shakespeare had not gone for the obscure figures he could shape to his liking, but preferred to reshape famous ancient legends? What if he'd done an Arthurian play? Instead of writing about a melancholic, haunted Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he'd put his genius into portraying Modred (Mordred), Prince of Britain?

What would it mean to Anglophone culture -- world culture -- if these famous words were associated with the treacherous bastard son of Arthur?

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Maybe none. But maybe...

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1 Comments:

Blogger Colin Archbell said...

One week without a computer and I miss so much!

As an aspiring writer of sorts, this is such an interesting topic. I remember writing a report for History and Historians about hypothetical history (I can't remember the correct term), but I never considered this to be applied to mythology. With so many authors redoing the same thing over and over, especially in the Arthurian genre, this concept proves very promising!

9:12 AM  

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