Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday

NRO’s Shakespeare symposium contains some clever comments by contributors on their favorite plays--see Charlotte Allen, Rick Brookhiser, Joe Queenan, et al. No one mentioned Merchant of Venice, so let me propose that oddest of comedies. The often prescient George Anastaplo expressed his disgust at the play, but (following Brookhiser’s take on the boldness of The Winter’s Tale) that is one of its beauties, as it drags us in and out of the muck. The Merchant is in many ways a tale about America--commercial and diverse, with an underpinning of slavery.

A former colleague told this insightful joke: A man takes his mother to her first Shakespeare play, a performance of Hamlet. Afterward, she remarks on how much she enjoyed the play but hadn’t realized Shakespeare was so full of cliches.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Justice Stevens seems to think Shakespeare was not the author of the plays. No matter, an amusing tale about the Supremes' internal disputes on the question. Best comment is by a former clerk: "My view is that the work stands on [its] own."

I dispute the authorship of Candide. Hobbes wrote Locke's first treatise. Locke wrote portions of Descartes. Descartes wrote for Spinoza who in turn who wrote some of Bacon. Descartes and Voltaire wrote some of Emile. David Hume wrote part of the Wealth of Nations, while Adam Smith helped Hume with his History. To top things off Ricardo and Malthus schemed together in editing each others work, yet and all of these works stand on their own in the best of all possible worlds.

Shakespeare on the other hand wrote all of his attributed works with insights gleaned for a copper from the ever watchfull eyes of the beggars and palace servants.

However possible it is that Shakespeare gleaned his insights by bribing the servants, that is still a very democratic way of looking at the plays. I think one of the reasons Americans love Shakespeare is that they love the idea that an ordinary guy can, naturally, have extraordinary insight into human beings and do extraordinary things, like write those plays. If all men are created equal, then an intellectual inequality, such as Shakespeare's, counters other inequalities of birth. We love him for his commonness, despite who he wrote about.

This insistence that only the "high-born" can have high thoughts is almost un-American. It is very funny that Justice Stevens thinks that way.

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