In Search of Shakespeare’s Mind – by Daniel Blank from the Los Angeles Review of Books

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Two excerpts from the review:

IN ONE OF Borges’s final short stories, a Shakespearean scholar named Hermann Sörgel is offered an unusual possession at a conference in London. The object, which also gives the story its title, is Shakespeare’s memory, a collection of the playwright’s own remembrances “from his youngest boyhood days to early April, 1616.” Sörgel hesitates before accepting, but after brief reflection deems it the ultimate end of his scholarly endeavors: “Had I not spent a lifetime […] in pursuit of Shakespeare? Was it not fair that at the end of my labors I find him?”

“Shakespeare’s Memory” captures the essence of a longstanding desire — to know what the writer was thinking as he wrote HamletKing Lear, and the Sonnets. Like centuries of readers and theatergoers, Sörgel wishes to “possess Shakespeare […] as no one had ever possessed anyone before.” By entering Shakespeare’s mind, Sörgel imagines, the mysteries of Shakespeare’s stories will be revealed. As the Shakespearean devotee Henry N. Paul wrote in 1950, craving precisely the kind of talisman Borges conjures: “The internal forces [of Shakespeare’s writing] can only be known by peering into the laboratory of the dramatist’s mind as he did his work.”…

…Newstok draws a straight line to the striking versatility that defines Shakespeare’s body of work, and to the sense of empathy that many have rightfully detected within it. He quotes Zadie Smith:

Shakespeare sees always both sides of a thing .… In his plays he is woman, man, black, white, believer, heretic, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim .… He understood what fierce, singular certainty creates, and what it destroys. In response, he made himself … speak truth plurally.

Before we attribute the phenomenon Smith so brilliantly describes to Shakespeare’s education, the historical realities of the Elizabethan classroom should give us pause.

In Search of Shakespeare’s Mind – Los Angeles Review of Books

Daniel Blank writes about Shakespeare and early modern drama. He received his PhD in English from Princeton University and his master’s degree from the University of Oxford. He is currently a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.