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English professor's 500-plus tweetstorm about King Lear is the literary community’s hottest beef

Scene: The internet

Enter Holger Schott Syme, associate professor of English, chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto-Mississauga, and Twitter user with 1,135 followers.

And like the three witches in Macbeth, his next tweet offers a glimpse into the future.

Thus began Professor Syme’s truly epic takedown of Sir Brian Vickers’s The One King Lear, a recently published work of Shakespearean criticism that argues that the two existing texts of Lear, the 1608 Quarto and the 1623 Folio, should be combined in one version.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. Balderdash! The 1623 Folio is a distinct work and the very idea of combining it with the 1608 Folio is enough to make my monocle shatter! Well, apparently Syme agrees, because he has spent the next three weeks live-tweeting his criticisms of the book. And by his own admission, “It turned into a bit of an all-consuming exercise.”

As it stands now, Syme’s tweetstorm has stretched well beyond 500 tweets, and has recently grown to include his scathing responses to Vickers’s rebuttal. This is how Vickers describes Syme to the Times Higher Education: “[H]e comes across as an internet troll, speciality: character assassination by 500 tweets.” Syme’s response? More tweets, naturally.

Before you close this tab, thinking to yourself, Did I even read ‘King Lear’? Is that the one where the dude’s head turns into a donkey? Keep in mind, this is another example of how the internet, and social media specifically, has democratized speech. Back in the day, Syme likely would have penned a letter to the Times Literary Supplement taking Vickers to task for all his alleged “misrepresentations and inconsistencies,” and the whole thing would have amounted to a faint fart in an empty theater.

But why bother letting someone else edit and publish your tirade, when Twitter allows you to do it in bitesize chunks for an audience that could ballon from a thousand to a million? And then the whole world gets a chance to learn a little bit about Shakespeare’s Folios while chuckling to themselves about the idea of two stuffy white guys flaming each other online.

To be or not to be-that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

Who was that, Drake? No wait, his was: “trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Syme’s tweetstorm is probably the world’s longest act of tweeted criticism. I’m sure my colleagues in the literary press would agree. Move over, Kanye and Wiz. Twitter’s got some new bad boys.


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