Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shreya Ila Anasuya - Happy birth and death anniversary, Shakespeare, and you’ve given us a new play as a present // Everything and Nothing by Jorge Luis Borges

On this day in 1616, April 23, William Shakespeare died, and Miguel Cervantes was buried. Three hundred and ninety-nine years later, the play connecting them still confounds us. Of course, Shakespeare was also born on this same date 451 years ago.

See alsoEverything and Nothing by Jorge Luis Borges

A play is lost
Three years before, in 1613, royal records give evidence of the performance of a play called Cardeno by The King's Men, the famous acting company that Shakespeare was associated with, for which they were paid. At the time Shakespeare was collaborating with another writer named John Fletcher – they wrote Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen together – for the King's Men. Forty years later, in 1653, leading publisher Humphrey Moseley asserted his right to publish the play, but ultimately never did. The play was lost, and would go on to be one of the most hotly contested lost plays attributed to the Bard.  Only two things are known: one, that it is based on episodes from Don Quixote, and two, that Fletcher and Shakespeare co-wrote the play.

What happened next
More than a hundred years later, things took an interesting tun. A well-known Shakespeare editor and a (minor) playwright, Lewis Theobald, produced a play in 1727 called Double Falsehood, or The Distrest Lovers, which he claimed was adapted from Cardenio, based on a manuscript that Theobald had discovered. His great rival and archenemy, Alexander Pope, vociferously opposed this claim. Pope disliked Theobald immensely, especially after Theobald had pointed out several inaccuracies in the former's editions of Shakespeare's works. Pope's campaign to discredit Theobald's claim was successful.

But although this charge of fraud stuck for over 175 years, recently literary scholars have been reading and re-reading the play and finding the touch of Shakespeare lurking in Double Falsehood, especially in the repartees and the long passages of this play.

What the software revealed
One such scholar is Robert Flockenflick, a Professor Emeritus at UC-Irvine. He recently invited two researchers at the University of Texas, Ryan Boyd and James Pennebaker, to investigate this mystery, using a computer programme to measure the "categorical dynamic index" of the three writers – Shakespeare, Fletcher and Theobald – and try to trace them by evaluating how they used simple words, especially pronouns. In effect, Boyd and Pennebaker said, they were looking for the "psychological imprint" of Shakespeare through mining the text using their computer-based analysis.

The programme uses a scale with the "dynamic" at one end and the "categorical" at the other to examine the words used by a writer. While people who're natural storytellers and are generally outgoing fall near the former end, those with a more reticent and conservative nature tend to fall nearer the latter. What they found was that John Fletcher's words fell near the dynamic end of the spectrum, while Theobald's fell close to the categorical end. Somewhere in the middle lay Shakespeare's words. The researchers claim that this proves that Shakespeare's own writing exists within Theobald's adaptation.

This result was announced at a UCLA conference recently, and met with approval among scholars of Shakespeare who were present. Whether this truly is a scientifically valid way of determining Shakespeare's authorship or not – or whether such a thing is even possible to compute using the methodology of the natural sciences – Double Falsehood is fast shaping up to have the most believable claim of originality in all his other Shakespeare's 'lost' works.

The Renaissance scholar and editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare, Gary Taylorbelieves that Theobald's play is indeed based on a manuscript of Cardenio written by Shakespeare and Fletcher. For him, the greater problem lies with the fact that he considers Theobald a not very good playwright. After years of painstaking recasting of Double Falsehood, where he attempted to lose the bits in the play that was clearly from the 18th century, he staged The History of Cardenio (he believes that is what the play would have been called in 1613) in 2012.
There have been other attempts to resurrect this lost play, notably by the Arden Shakespeare edition of Double Falsehood and a recent Royal Shakespeare Company staging. But not everyone is convinced by the various claims made about the play. Considering that there are as many conspiracy theories about Shakespeare as there are college papers about his works, one thing is clear - this won't be the last we'll hear about Cardenio.

Everything and Nothing 
by Jorge Luis Borges

There was no one inside him; behind his face (which even in the bad paintings of the time resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous, and of a fantastical and agitated turn) there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream. At first he thought that everyone was like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of an acquaintance to whom he began to describe that hollowness showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual ought not to differ from its species. He thought at one point that books might hold some remedy for his condition, and so he learned the “little Latin and less Greek” that a contemporary would later mention. Then he reflected that what he was looking for might be found in the performance of an elemental ritual of humanity, and so he allowed himself to be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long evening in June.

At twenty-something he went off to London. Instinctively, he had already trained himself to the habit of feigning that he was somebody, so that his “nobodiness” might not be discovered. In London he found the calling he had been predestined to; he became an actor, that person who stands upon a stage and plays at being another person, for an audience of people who play at taking him for that person. The work of a thespian held out a remarkable happiness to him – the first, perhaps, he had ever known; but when the last line was delivered and the last dead man applauded off the stage, the hated taste of unreality would assail him. He would cease being Ferrex or Tamerlane and return to being nobody. Haunted, hounded, he began imagining other heroes, other tragic fables. Thus while his body, in whorehouses and taverns around London, lived its life as body, the soul that lived inside it would be Caesar, who ignores the admonition of the sibyl, and Juliet, who hates the lark, and Macbeth, who speaks on the moor with the witches who are also the Fates, the Three Weird Sisters. No one was as many men as that man – that man whose repertoire, like that of the Egyptian Proteus, was all the appearances of being. From time to time he would leave a confession in one corner or another of the work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard says that inside himself, he plays the part of many, and Iago says, with curious words, I am not what I am. The fundamental identity of living, dreaming, and performing inspired him to famous passages.

For twenty years he inhabited that guided and directed hallucination, but one morning he was overwhelmed with the surfeit and horror of being so many kings that die by the sword and so many unrequited lovers who come together, separate, and melodiously expire. That very day, he decided to sell his theater. Within a week he had returned to his birthplace, where he recovered the trees and the river of his childhood and did not associate them with those others, fabled with mythological allusion and Latin words, that his muse had celebrated. He had to be somebody; he became a retired businessman who’d made a fortune and had an interest in loans, lawsuits, and petty usury. It was in that role that he dictated the arid last will and testament that we know today, from which he deliberately banished every trace of sentiment or literature. Friends from London would visit his retreat, and he would once again play the role of poet for them.

History adds that before or after he died, he discovered himself standing before God, and said to him: I, who have been so many men in vain, wish to be one, to be myself. God’s voice answered him out of a whirlwind: I, too, am not I; I dreamed the world as you, Shakespeare, dreamed your own work, and among the forms of my dream are you, who like me are many, yet no one.