sábado, julho 25, 2015

No Redemption for First Folio Thieves: "The Shakespeare Thefts" by Eric Rasmussen


Published October 30, 2012.


I’m lost in the desert, beer thirsty, hungry, and desperately searching for any sort of book-nourishment Shakespeare-related. What is that I see in the distance? It's something stuck in the sand, and I think it may be oval. As I get closer, I’m also able to see it more clearly. Is it a cave? Yes, I think it is! But to where does it lead? Doesn't matter! As I bend down to enter the cave, I’m able to see something deep inside. I can't quite make out what it is; I need to squint my eyes, trying to focus as I begin to slowly waddle towards it. As I get closer, I’m able to discern something. I think I may know what it is, but I don't want to get my hopes up only to be utterly devastated. But wait, yes it is, it's a book! It’s a book with the word “Shakespeare” on the cover. I start furiously waddling towards that delectable, precious gift from heaven, practically falling on my damn face until I notice that the cave has narrowed. I have to slow down my pace, but I clearly am not deterred, because I’m going to get to that book no matter what. However, as I’m thinking that, my shoulders begin to hit the cave walls, knocking me back and forth as I make my way forward, until I’m no longer able to waddle, having to resort to more prosaic methods of locomotion, i.e., crawling on my hands and knees…. At this point I’m on my precious “tummy” and using my hands to pull myself forward as the cave is now barely large enough to fit my stretched-out body. But Shakespeare makes me persevere. Sweating like a pig, and as the friction of the walls and the sand on the ground scrape my skin, I can finally feel the book with my fingertips. I frantically and desperately try to toss the book back towards my head. I’m able to strain my neck as I still try to twist my body through the cave, taking one small, pathetic peek at the book. It’s when I see the book cover in its entirety. It’s a book about the thefts of First Folios…My heart gives a lurch!  As I started reading it on my way back, after coming out of the cave, I can see the book is as dry as the Sahara!!!

'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. 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.'

From Macbeth

This quote is one of my favourites. I thought about it while reading Rasmussen’s book. It captures a bit of everything that Shakespeare means to me. The brief tedium of life, the acting analogy, how puny we are in the overall scheme of things. So few people have been able to articulate and communicate such things in a way which we can so immediately connect with. It appears to me, that there's no Christianity here. No recognition of an after-life. No concept of the idea that this short life is merely part of a longer journey. No redemption. The quote appears unnervingly modern. This shows us how, as Ben Jonson said, that Shakespeare is 'not of an age but for all time'. How can someone who died nearly 400 years ago speak to us so directly when we imagine him still wrapped in religion and believing in witches (ah well, that was probably just for James I's benefit). As a dramatist speaking through so many different characters, Shakespeare became the consummate ventriloquist, able to explore so many ideas and perspectives, to probe human nature, to hold the looking glass to our souls.

What we love best about Shakespeare is that all life is here. Wherever we are, we can find something that encapsulates what we feel. My taste in Shakespeare is not static, it moves with different stages of my life. What is certain is that there is always something new to discover - in life and in Shakespeare. 

Unfortunately this book did nothing to satiate my hunger for something new Shakespeare-wise…

I say. No redemption for thieves stealing Shakespeareana as well as for authors writing dry books even if they’re about Shakespeare…

NB: 3 stars to the episode with Pope Paul VI, the most unlikely Folio thief of all. When asked by someone from Rasmussen's team to bless the Royal Shakespeare Company's treasured copy, the Pope misunderstood and instead accepted it as a gift, and there goes another Folio, this time "stolen" by the Pope himself! The Vatican eventually returned it, but only after some deft behind-the-scenes diplomacy.  


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