I started to read an article I found on the Arts & Letters Daily web site about Shakespeare and how ideas from modern astronomy show up in his plays, modern ideas like, for instance, infinite space. I say I started the article, so you probably guessed I never finished it; you’d be correct. The article was describing how, not only was Shakespeare a great writer and poet, it appears he was also a great scientist to boot and somehow knew everything we know about astronomy, despite having lived in the 16th century. Maybe the writer didn’t go that far, but that was the gist of it. Such ideas are interesting to the extent they show how quickly ideas and scientific information spread, even in the 16th and 17th centuries, but that’s it. Yet somehow, the desire to make Shakespeare one of our own just won’t go away.
In the past few years there have been books by Catholic and other writers trying to prove that, despite any real records supporting the claims, Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, or Shakespeare was a Catholic or was not a Catholic, or was or was not (a Marxist, feminist, pot smoker, fill in the blank). Sometimes, I lose patience with such blathering on about how nicely Shakespeare fits in with our favorite ideas and causes. The the truth is, for most of these things there’s little or no substantial documentary proof. Even if there were, I’d still have to ask myself, what difference does it make? The plays attributed to a man called Shakespeare are great plays, so great that every school boy or girl should be thoroughly familiar with them. They are a foundational part of what makes, or made, us a great civilization, and great fun to see or read as well. Nothing within our fantasy filled conjectures about unsubstantiated history can or should take the place of that. So my advice to writers and rewriters of history is, get over it.
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I’m thinking about starting a monthly feature on the blog, “Books I Never Read.” It would be about books considered great, famous, books everybody’s read, but that I never got around to. I might even make it a bi-weekly feature, now that I think about it. I have to admit that to do this, I’d have to get something like Cliff Notes to use to help me stay aware of what’s going on in the book and to help me remember what it was like to read a novel in my high school and college English class. The series would be about reading those books and what I learn, or don’t learn, from reading them.
Going back to reading literature in high school and college, I have to admit, I loved those classes. If you knew me back then you might never have guessed that because of all the griping and complaining I did; I desperately wanted to be the tough guy, and cool on top of it. It was a “real men don’t read that kind of thing” act I put on. But deep down, I looked forward to each and every class. I even did (most) of my homework. Recently, I looked back at my university transcript and was astounded that I had completed18 hours of English classes. I’d completely forgotten that.
Anyway, thanks to my high school English teachers, I read many books I probably would never otherwise have read, books by Dickens, things like, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter (!). Still, there are so many books I should have read but never did. The list would include books like, Don Quixote, Ulysses, almost anything written by William Faulkner, and on and on and on. When I think about it, I’m appalled. It makes me realize the lack of both breadth and depth in my reading life; now that I have time, I must correct the deficiency.
I hesitate to announce such a series because I’ve done blogs before, and announced series ideas before, and utterly failed to follow through on all those ideas. Time will tell if I do any better with this one.
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Another article from Arts & Letters Daily that I read more of was how geography can be so prominent in literature. Think of Thoreau and Walden Pond, or Robert Lewis Stevenson and Treasure Island, or from British TV, think of Midsomer Murders where the author conceived and mapped out an entire region of England. I can think of Wendell Berry, Tolkien, so many more writers who have gone down that path (sort of pun intended).
I wonder if that’s not some sort of inner yearning that we all have but aren’t able to live out in real life. I was born and grew up in Michigan, lived most of my life in Texas, and now live in the mountains of Colorado. Even though I consider myself a Texan and lived there for 30 years, I’m not there now. Colorado feels like a new place, unfamiliar and strange; after 15 years, you’d think I’d have settled down. Maybe I have, but I don’t feel it. It makes me wonder if, these days, it’s even possible to be so throughly anchored to any one place. I’d feel better if that were the case, I know that inner yearning is alive and well within me for sure.