From my point of view, it certainly seems like I just cobble myself together, gather body and soul, while in the place, the dim bar whose name is painted backwards in gold-dust letters, on the plate glass window behind me, while I just look up from being lost in thought to, dimly, recognize where I am. I never actually have gone there, but come to consciousness there, and then after an hour or so, no longer perplexed, I say goodbye to my few stationary friends, or slip out without ceremony at all, and galavant on home in the night like it was a new beginning. So it is true I am always repeating this scene, always walking home from the Purple Tavern, which once again I left– but it is destiny, because I never actually go there in the first place. My trajectory is one way, so to speak, and is to eventually get back to my house, which I left only down the street half a block. No, and for the third time, like The Drunken Porter in Macbeth, I reiterate that I am essentially helpless in this particular story, and not responsible for any mayhem and madness, or murder and paranoid dreams of Kings or would-be pretender Kings around me.
Shakespeare has had his effect, on our thoughts and actions, and none of us can escape it; and I can tell you how and why. Oh yes, I have my ducks in a row for my unassailable explanation of the privileged place of Shakespeare, but can only tickle the theme there in the imitation British pub just down my street, by asking the few cardboard figures I have propped up to ask. “What pray tell, is the source of all Knock Knock jokes?” Ah, the Drunken Porter himself. Act II Scene 3, “Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key. Knock, knock, knock. Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Bezebub?” I don’t always speak with this accent, nor did Will in his pub, nor do I always argue backwards, but the language and logic have their vestiges, their heraldry.
What has to be disabused is the notion that Mr. Shakespeare expressed universal truths. No, he pigeon-holed local truths which, furthermore, are in many cases many generations and locales gone now. Thus period costumes are most fulfilling, and rightly I scorned his antique phraseology when first handed it ; but now, this is boldly to atone and also to transcend. In most important ways, he is gaining force, because history is a steamroller or a snowball if you prefer. (Surely you groundlings have heard of . . . The Snowball Effect.)
In the Tavern of Historical Personages, and also here at Monty’s Krown, in a town named after the butler, I raise a pint, for Will was never an ancient seer or wisdom maker, but the implacable creator of contemporary consciousness for his day. It is one wing of a historical effect, the dullest even, which causes people now to regard him as miraculously central and expressive of something or other THEY think should be universal truth. I have named my local haunt three ways; Macbeth has talked to three weird sisters, and talk is running amuck, as a modern playwright dallies in our midst.
This playwright is the stamp-putter on odd psychological realities (“how is it when every noise appalls me”). The master of things happening offstage, which means in the imagination. What we have isn’t the best use of the language for some already grasped piece of wisdom or, which is just as marketable, tripe; but it is the creation and capping of that same potentiality in the language, which I (the shy lecturer) repeat for the hundredth time is a trans-historical medium of material reality. More lasting than reality itself, and capable of prefiguring, configuring, and post-figuring. But this can only be accomplished by a person, because only a person (with a leaky pen), has both individual consciousness, the source of these cartloads of sentiment, and language, which also fights for it’s rightful territory. And while I’ve got you riveted to your barstool, for one reason or another . . . answer this:
The question that was critic-wise produced, as to why Mr. Shakespeare is so superior, so a cut above the others of his countrymen. Zounds, alas and alack, but this is easy. Such a process can only produce one poet, because time rolls favorite meanings right into our very speech. Whoever stands tallest will stand alone eventually. Whoever speaks, will echo louder down the ages. For the words have power to cut the fabric and leave a specific coat to wear. We live in the Shake-scene, bear its prophetic imprint. It is in art as in science, someone assumes the discovery, the mantle where are placed things to come–and that is the prevailing spirit, and by centrifugal force, a new universe virtually is shaped. The master scribe knows very well these succeeding times are not a matter of truth, so much as a business for creating liklihood. In fact they revel in the idea . . . that truth IS likelihood. It is The Shakespeare Effect. What is conjured, happens. A poet describes the world, and that becomes the world. And bawdy tellers of jokes, are cascading descendants of the knock-knock porter. Hamlet becomes your brooding chum, the world is too much with him, soon or late.
Or he is your very self. And Macbeth, well we all know him too.