Every now and then I become aware of my hollowness. I’m hollow but not like a log that was once a healthy tree. No. I’m hollow like a vessel made to be filled up by something else.
I take on the interests of others to fill out this human form and to make up for my natural hollow deficit. If you’re familiar with or recall the extremely literal let’s draw attention to how acting exploits people until the world ends series Dollhouse, I’m like the Actives but less sex-bot. But there never was a me that was ‘wiped’ to be replaced by another person. There are only passing fads and hobbies amongst a shallow pool of collected factoids, quotes, and pop culture references. This is just a passing feeling poured in from somewhere else.
All this is a prelude. What I’m going to talk about is enthusiasm. Going viral is one thing, but I’ve noticed I’m often susceptible to bouts of enthusiasm when exposed to it. Passions of others are contagious in the right conditions. I mean they are communicable when communicated well. Which gets me to why I began to think about it.
I attended a talk by Stuart Kells about his new book, Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature. Hearing him speak about the mysteries, frauds, hoaxes and hopes behind Shakespearean studies, and rare book searches made me want to be the kind of person who travels the world like it’s a stage, tracking down lost works of literature, such as Shakespeare’s version of Don Quixote. Kells was able to paint a picture of Shakespeare the person: a canny businessman-poet turned playwright. At the same time Kells argues the writer Shakespeare is not the Platonic ideal of the individual Great Artist alone in his garret. No, he worked like others did at the time, in collaboration. It’s just Shakespeare became renowned for adding a sheen of bloodshed and bawd to extant stories, to transform them into Shakespearean plays. Then the likes of Kyd and Marlowe edited his works and these were transformed into the performed plays and later, publications.
Of course all this was interesting. I was aware of some of how we conceptualise authorship today is not how it has always been. This is not what captivated me. What did was the two great quests to find Shakespeare’s library that formed the basis of formal knowledge for years…and how they were both much later found to be frauds. So, many Shakespearean scholars have built castles in the air based on generations of assumptions, class-ism, and naiveté while rakish swindlers banked on the innate romanticism of others for a quick buck by conjuring visits to Stratford. It is thus entirely right that The History of Cardenio is lost because the pursuit of Shakespeare’s legacy and his missing works is entirely Quixotic. It is tilting at literary windmills.
The fact people travel the world to scour libraries established by oil executives and tobacco producers for evidence of books Shakespeare might have owned is a world I am far removed from. It’s another reason why it’s captivating.
Writers, academics, and rare book traders seem to me a collection of Don Quixotes, running around, finding books, losing them, arguing for and against the authorship being attributed to Bacon, or Neville; revealing frauds, tripping over new discoveries, and deliberating endlessly in a self-perpetuating Shakespeare industry. Yet this industry is self-contained. The industry has little impact on schools teaching Hamlet and the teens rolling their eyes at enduring such dry stuffiness, or the local community theatre rap version of Romeo & Juliet. If the industry did have any power school students would know Shakespeare was considered a kind of red neck by his city competitors who attacked him on the equivalent of Snapchat and made fun of his yokel surname. And if this ‘upstart’ ‘Shakes-scene’ was around today he’d be infamous as a womanising plagiarist with works full of violence and terrible jokes about bodily functions. Quentin Tarantino is thus more like Shakespeare than how many still think of Bill from the country.
Thus, I am entranced by this world, full as it is of fool’s endeavours, where academics dubbed heretics, spend careers writing tomes about how an English ambassador actually wrote plays alone in prison, even if this was not how plays were then written. Yet while I am entranced, Kell’s work seems to me one of the few ways to access the industry. His book is thus a portal into a secretive realm. Sadly, I don’t think it means we can all go on False Folio quests.
I have caught the enthusiasm Kell’s clearly demonstrates, but I can’t see what I can do with it except read his book and write about it here. I don’t have the means to invest in travel or rare books. I’m not an academic and am unable to access the research that informs scholarly thinking about Shakespeare.
So what you say?
My point is this is why being prone to catching enthusiasm is a double-edged sword. It’s fine if the new enthusiasm is for something within your budget and not beyond physical and intellectual abilities, and you can pursue it without drastic difficulties. If not, enthusiasm is like falling in love with someone unattainably distant and also happily married to another person. Your love will have nowhere to go and must therefore be directed elsewhere, lest it turn unhealthy. In this way, enthusiasm catchers must inoculate themselves against harm by finding the next thing. Otherwise the risk is becoming a Robert Greene, a playwright whose fame was eclipsed by Shakespeare, so that he is chiefly remembered for his criticism of Shakespeare. I am no Greene nor want to be. As I said earlier, there is nothing here except what fills me up. What’s next?
I think, about experiencing another’s enthusiasm, Shakespeare or his secret author, expressed it best in As You Like It:
But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes.
Or, much of this is my own fraud, a dream of the me that longs to tilt at windmills.