Gabriel García Márquez and William Shakespeare: A Celebration


In a week that has seen the passing of Colombia’s greatest writer we also see the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (or three hundred and ninety eight year of his death if you trust the sources). Both men used their creative skills to explore human nature, and while the passing of a Nobel Laureate will be mourned as much as Shakespeare’s birthday will be celebrated this month, it is an opportunity to be grateful that we had such luminaries at all.

In his most critically celebrated work One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez managed to convey the pressure and strain of a whole continent recovering from colonial rule. In the same way that Shakespeare’s Henry V managed to embed a sub text of humanity and compassion into a story about bloody conquest, García Márquez was able to hide the whole world in his dusty village that the Buendia’s called home. There is a literary device known as metonymy, where a thing or group is identified by something associated with it. A common example is ‘crown’ to refer to the monarchy but a more fitting one here maybe the way ‘the stage’ can often refer to the whole of theatre and beyond. Metonymy is not unique to literature, we most often use it in our everyday speech, but it is in the hands of artists like Márquez and Shakespeare that it becomes most potent. Both writers could afford to generalise in the same way an artist like Jack B. Yeats could afford broad knife and brush strokes. They built worlds out of concrete themes like jealousy, love and loneliness and then deftly explored them and in doing that exposed a little of the great mystery of the human soul.

Both were national writer’s first and foremost who captured and illuminated facets, and sometimes whole quarters, of their prospective cultures. Shakespeare may have set his plays in Venice and Rome, Spain and hidden, mythological forests but he was always an Englishman and when he wrote characters like Pistol and Falstaff the audience didn’t just recognise their canonical background but also their bawdy tavern humour. There is a reason that his depiction of the great English kings still inform the way we view them today and it is because he made them human and flawed without destroying their nationalistic importance.

A voice as powerful as Marquez’s was always going to be influenced by the nation of his birth. If it’s not in his description of the dusty path and the high yellow sun then it can be found in the life of his characters. Even the phrase ‘magical realism’ so often used to title his specific brand of literature has its background in other South American writers such as the complicated musings of Jorge Louis Borges. As part of the Barranquilla Group Gabriel García Márquez and his fellow intellectuals considered their national literature and where it was meant to go forward. As a journalist he was embedded in his country politically and when he accepted a post in Venezuela he eventually become part of the coup that took place in 1958. But it is his literature that proves how much his country and continent meant to him. Whether in his popular work Love in the Time of Cholera or his excellent non-fiction News of a Kidnapping he uses his skill as a writer to constantly poke and explore the nature of his countrymen, and thanks to the beautiful names, the heat, the cultural specifics and whatever magic makes up the best writers we on this windy, rain swept country can join in to. It is surprising how under represented such a lyrical and literary talented continent is on the average bookshelf. Except for Paulo Coelho, Márquez is one of the few to break out and appeal to the masses. It is a testament to his skill and his keen insight that he was so popular. The critics loved him just as much as everyone else.

It is this skill to reach out and touch nearly everyone who engages with their work that connects both writers. Whenever a friend asks me for a book to get them into “real literature” (read: an accessible classic that they can talk about at dinner parties) I always recommend Márquez. Not just because his work is expansive, emotive, perfervid and beautiful but because it is extremely enjoyable to read. His prose deliver their complex themes with the ease and fluidity of a cool breeze. Many people wouldn’t say the same about Shakespeare but to those that think his language is inaccessible, maybe even archaic, I ask you if today you’ve exclaimed “For goodness sake” (Henry VIII), waited “With bated breath” (The Merchant of Venice) or felt “Faint-hearted” (Henry VI, Part I).

While the two came from from vastly different eras, wildly different cultures and rarely worked in the same medium what the two have in common is the immense power of words. Both have enriched generations through their writing and both are recognised globally for their skill. There may not be a lot to connect the two but I for one am glad that there is a week each year where I can celebrate them both together; The Bard and Gabo, geniuses of the written word.

William Shakespeare April 1564 – 23 April 1616
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014

Images courtesy of and Wikipedia
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