From LitMag, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Elvis Bego writes an allegory in which the King of a dystopic country bans the works of William Shakespeare. It’s not a big deal. No one reads him and everyone moves on with his or her life minus one man, Gilbert Shakespeare. Why? He’s a playwright who just so happens to have the unfortunate surname as the famous Bard. Unknowingly, the King has accidentally banned all of Gilbert’s plays as well.
Gilbert appeals to various authorities to refine the law that mistakenly outlawed his livelihood. He starts by appealing to the Chancellor, then to the Minister, and finally to the King himself. Like all good fables, his task offers three obstacles. Each one raises the stakes from the previous.
Gilbert Shakespeare’s Fabled (and Moralized) Adventure
His journey goes as follows: Gilbert finds an authority, fails, finds a higher authority, and fails again. Each government official admits that the law’s intent should not put Gilbert out of work. Yet, none of them try to help him or seem willing to question the authority of the King.
The story becomes a commentary on a couple of different topics. First, it aims to criticize how people blindly follow laws, even when they carry injustices and idiosyncrasies. Second, countries that give total power to a King often find their citizens oppressed underneath his foot. Everyone fears the despot. The people never speak ill of him and those like Gilbert must accept the government’s failure to serve them.
Finally, it makes an overt commentary against the bureaucracy found within governments full of weak, scared men. The story ends with Gilbert moving from room to room in the castle, never getting to air any grievances to the king. Instead, he sits for hours each day until he finally gives up. In this case, the king uses his bureaucracy as another form of control.
A Story Trapped Between Satire, Didacticism, and the Absurd
Although satiric in nature, the “The Word is the Word’s” political agenda makes it a tough read as a literary piece. Stuck between two possibilities, it could have been funny, witty, and lighthearted. It could have been a harsh commentary against the abuses of totalitarian governments. It didn’t do either as well as it should have done.
This story felt like a fable, but one that had its knees cut out from under it by the silliness and contrivance of the set up. It’s hard to take a story seriously when it asks you to accept that Gilbert has the same last name as William Shakespeare. There’s also no mention as to why the king chose to pass the law to begin with—and that contrivance also made it feel like a children’s story.
I’m willing to take the plunge into a story like that, but for one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I would have preferred outright ridiculousness with aspects of an absurdist piece. The story got caught in its own allegory and tried to offer a deeper understanding of the dangers of laws and kings.
Feel Free to Skip The Word is the Word
This story takes a brave stab at appropriating the many tropes found in fairy tales. It also went after the lightning rod of English allusions, Mr. William Shakespeare himself. Frankly, this story fails to tie these two strands together. It felt didactic. We never expect things to work out for Gilbert and they don’t. Once established, the story seems to have an obvious conclusion and few unexpected obstacles along the journey. Unfortunately, LitMag whiffed on this one.
To read more reviews of the short stories found in LitMag’s Spring 2017 issue, click here.