Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Hitch Said - An Important Counterpoint

It is a basic premise of "Shakespeare" By Another Name -- and this blog -- that a very often unappreciated (or under-appreciated) autobiographical layer of the "Shakespeare" canon exists. For actors, directors, scholars and just plain fans of the Bard, tapping into this new level of meaning only enhances the experience of the greatest works of literature in the English language

But of course all those other layers of meaning -- poetic, linguistic, philosophical, dramatic, tragical, historical, tragical-historical-pastoral, etc. -- still remain in an Oxfordian reading of the canon, too. And they're just as rich as if we knew nothing about the author's life story and its relationship to the works. (The latter is, essentially, the Stratfordian position. Pace the valiant effort of books like Will in the World, there is no substantive connection between Will Shakspere of Stratford and the canon.) 

Here, with that setup in mind, is a wonderfully concise exposition of the universal qualities of Shakespeare -- whoever wrote the works -- within the context of an appeal to skepticism about religious certainty. It's from recent remarks made by the author Christopher Hitchens:

The key quote from Hitchens here concerns the question of heaven. "Why don't you accept this wonderful offer?" he asks

"Why wouldn't you want to meet Shakespeare, for example? ... The only reason I'd want to meet Shakespeare or might even want to is because I can meet him any time. Because he is immortal in the works he's left behind. If you've read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment."

I'd only add that Hitchens is right that getting to know Edward de Vere is a disappointment if you're expecting the Christ-like "Divine William" fantasy of 19th century romantic visions of the Bard. If you're more of a realist, though, and want to know the warts-and-all story behind the phenomenal plays, poems and sonnets, then Edward de Vere is anything but a disappointment. He's as mortal and fascinating and fallible and sometimes frustratingly human as Dickens, Mozart or Caravaggio.

Leave it to Hitchens, then, to deliver in his final words a fitting end to this thread too.

"Take the risk of thinking for yourself," he said. "Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come your way."

No comments: