Borges’ (R) Everything and Nothing gives an interesting description of Shakespeare
There’s a wonderful short short story by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899- 1986) about Shakespeare, called Everything and Nothing. It begins dramatically, “There was no one in him… In London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person.”
But, says Borges, speaking perhaps for all great actors, he writes, “His histrionic talents brought him a singular satisfaction… but once the last verse had been declaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavour of unreality returned to him…
Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables...the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur’s admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates…
For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire.
That very day he arranged to sell his theatre. Within a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood…He had to be someone.” The story goes on to add that when Shakespeare met God, God told him that he was like Shakespeare, “many and no one.”
Again, in the story Borges and I, Borges writes about the experience of being a creative person. “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to…It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me…but I recognise myself less in his books than in many others… I do not know which of us has written this page.”
The process of creativity, the functioning of the creative mind (a term which is also used of great scientists) remains so mysterious that writers have been known to look at their work and wonder where it came from. Did s/he write this? Or was it some outside force taking possession of the mind? By what alchemy did words, images, rhythm cohere? We may never know.
In the meantime, it would seem to be rewarding to look at those words themselves. Here are some of the best-known lines in Macbeth. Macbeth contemplates the utter tedium and futility of his life and, as he sees it life in general, in words that are totally desolating: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time/…Out, out, brief candle!/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more.
It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” And here are some lines from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets that seem conventionally idealistic, but were written to a man, as most of the sonnets were.
“Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove:/O, no! it is an everfixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/ It is the star to every wandering bark,/Whose worth’s unknown, although its height be taken.”
Finally, Shakespeare also understood perfectly well the compromises we end up making to keep relationships going. “When my love swears she’s made of truth/I do believe her though I know she lies.”
He pretends to believe the woman when she says she is faithful to him, and does not sleep around. He pretends to be more naïve than he is. “O love’s best habit is in seeming trust.”
• Fuentes’ theory
This refers to Eunice de Souza’s column ‘Carlos Fuentes with others’, (PM, July 25). It was interesting to read about Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes’ life and work. I was pleased to read that Fuentes believed reading, writing and learning are all aimed at introducing civilisations to each other.
This is something I have always believed in. It gives me immense joy to know that a similar belief was held by a man of eminence. Despite being from an engineering background I have always been a strong advocate of studying literature. I think there’s a need for a similar thought process in India as people often restrict themselves to a particular stream of learning.
- Jatin Malik