In search of Shakespeare

Why should it matter who wrote Shakespeare’s works? The important thing is that we have them.

This is like saying, “What does it matter what makes the sky blue, plants grow, rain fall, humans live a certain length of time and then pass on?  All we need to know is that it happens; we don’t need to know why.”

If this is a satisfactory response to you, Reader, pass on to the next ad or weblog. If your deepest and most immediate response isn’t, “Of course it matters!” I have nothing to say to you. This post is for those who care about the whys and wherefores of human life. Religion, Science, History, Politics, even the study of language itself, are all the result of a common desire to know why things are the way they are, and how things happen. The time we spend collectively on these issues probably explains the difference in size of the human brain compared with that of our nearest amphibian neighbors. There are many who shrink from using this much of their brain unless forced to use it, but they would probably not (still) be reading this.

Everything we learn in school is an approximation of the truth. It is possible to teach the truth, but only through inspiration. By the time the truth reaches the ordinary text book and the ordinary teacher, it has pretty much been drained of its color. Unfortunately, color is an important part of truth. Sometimes it’s the most important part, as it is for most artists.

Certainly it is in the case of the most sublime artist who ever spoke/sang the English language, the one we know only by the joke name, or rather joke phrase: Will shake spear! With his very name he vowed to shake a spear, which he did, and continues to do, that is, if the pen can be seen as a spear––or as the weapon brandished by Henry V at Agincourt. Think of the words of Winston Churchill, words that brought the English people, or more precisely, the English-speaking people, through a long and devastating war. When called “the Lion of Britain,” Churchill affected modesty, claiming only to have been “the roar”; but let us ask ourselves, who provided him with the language that gave that roar its meaning?  It was Jesus who said, “Remember thy first things.”

Many individuals of many cultures have contributed to make the English language what it is, but if one individual is to be chosen to stand above the rest, it is this man, known to us as William Shakespeare, and not just by the millions of books published or the Phd’s awarded in his name. We can argue about by how much more, but I can’t imagine, even after twenty years of Lit Crit Deconstruction, that there would be any argument as to what single individual stands first in having the most influence on the English language.

If it doesn’t matter to us who created the language we all speak (if not as our native tongue, then the first we acquire as our second), that we use to communicate with each other, that we use to express our love, to argue issues, to learn about the world, to tell our jokes and stories, to describe a sunset, then what does matter?

If it doesn’t matter to us who wrote the works of William Shakespeare, then it seems fair to say that it doesn’t matter to us who we are.

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