For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of the horse, the rider was lost.
For want of the rider the battle was lost.
For want of the battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Memory is identity. Without memory, without a record of what we’ve done and thought and said, what we’ve heard and seen, a human exists only as a thing, as foreign to itself as it is to those who pass it on a busy city street. “Know thyself,” said Socrates. But to do that we must have memory. Our memories are the building blocks of our identities. They are what make us unique from others, they guide us as we mature. The sunny ones bring happiness and cheer on dark days; the dark ones help to keep us from suffering through repeated error.
History is our word for our collective memory as a people, a culture. To our personal memories it adds the experiences shared by our ancestors. Whether we absorb it from tales told around a winter fire, from lectures, sermons or books, it gives us context; it connects us to our fellows, expands our personal identities and those of our immediate family members to embrace our neighbors, our heroes, our ancestors. It gives meaning to the buildings and streets that surround us, to the art and architecture of our cities, to the songs we sing, the movies we watch, the stories we repeat. It gives us something to be a part of, something bigger than ourselves. “Know thyself,” said Dad, quoting somebody he called Socrates, but who was that? The Greek who used to cut his hair downtown? Without the shared memory we call history, we’d never know.
History is the story of humanity. While Science, Religion and Philosophy all attempt to explain a great deal more than just who we are, History is focussed on us, on what we have done, with, to, and for each other. And at the center of that “we” is always some central figure, some human being whose name and life story are central to a particular area of our shared memory, a story that holds meaning for a particular community, culture, religion, philosophy, the leader, the ground-breaker, the pioneer, the genius whose name we connect, not just with the history of whatever it was they invented or discovered, but the thing itself.
All History, be it the history of France or the American car industry, revolves around the name of its founder. Without that name it’s a story without an opening chapter, an adventure without a hero. If for some reason the name of one of these pioneers gets lost, the entire history of what they found or created can get broken into pieces and dispersed, skewed, distorted, minimized, misunderstood. If somehow we had lost all evidence of the life of Alexander the Great, to what would we attribute the spread of the Greek language over the 500 years from 300 BC to the rise of Rome in 200 AD? What would the history of mathematics look like without Sir Isaac Newton? The history of the Amercian Civil War without Abraham Lincoln? The Russian revolution without Karl Marx? The history of aviation without the Wright brothers? The Blitz without Churchill? The Cold War without Stalin?
Hard as it may be to fathom, this is exactly the problem we have with the history of today’s English language. It’s Greek without Homer, Christianity without St. Paul, Existentialism without Sartre. In fact, it’s more than these, for the loss of the truth about Shakespeare not only skews and disperses the history of English literature, it’s lost to the history of England the most important of the pioneers of the sixteenth century gathered at the Court of Elizabeth. It’s skewed the history of the language itself. It’s plunged into darkness the bloody birth of the modern media (the fourth estate of government) and modern humanity’s first painful steps towards a functional democracy, of all these stories the most important today, not just to the West, but to the entire world.
What the man known by the pun-name Shake-speare did in the sixteenth century has never been fully understood because, for reasons of political and economic expediency, his primary achievement was passed along by contemporary politicians and historians to an undeserving front man, one whose modest story has skewed this era in English history so badly, that, deeper than ever did plummet sound, it’s buried the truth about these things for over four hundred years.
And all for the want of that horseshoe nail, his real name.
4 thoughts on “All for the want of a horseshoe nail”
Or modern Spanish without Cervantes (i.e. predicated upon a bogus Cervantes), is another, contemporary metaphor.
This is so true, Stephanie. And truth is what De Vere is all about. Those that love him love the truth, just as he paid homage to it in every line he wrote. But unfortunately, history is often written not by the victors so much as by the liars. Anyone who–like you–has looked behind the surface of official history knows that, as Conrad wrote about the popular press, “it is written by fools for the reading of imbeciles”.
Some of it, yes. But when we went round our Thanksgiving table three days ago I found myself giving thanks for the Media that is playing such an important role in bringing justice to one of the most dangerous moments in US history. I can turn it off when I can’t stand to hear any more, but these anchors have to deal with it all day, every day, week after week, month after month. Without them we’d much farther up that famously nasty creek, and with no paddle at all.
Yes, as to the importance of our press in keeping the need for justice and the note of danger ever before us. And we must thank the women and men of strong enough stomach to keep revealing the noisome doings of the kleptocracy now eating away at our democratic vitals.
And much of this heroism traceable far back in history, virtually to the doorstep of the man we call Shakespeare.