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The silence at the heart of words


A building that is identified as the Globe is flying the flag of England, but that is a mistaken ID. The rebuilt Globe is actually the building named Beere bayting (on far left). The bears ("Exit, pursued by a bear") were elsewhere.
Image: British Museum

Frances Taliaferro observes in the Wall Street Journal (Feb 16-17) that "Of making books about Shakespeare, there is no end." Each generation finds something new, and wants to say what it is. Laurie Maguire, who teaches English at Oxford, sees Shakespeare as life coach in the recently published Where There’s A Will There’s A Way. She's not the first.

Bill Bryson has focused on Shakespeare’s life in the theatre. "To prosper, a theater in London needed to draw as many as two thousand spectators a day. . . .To keep customers coming back. . .most companies performed at least five different plays in a week, sometimes six."

This is interesting because it's pretty certain that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (give or take one or two others) in the 21 years spanning 1592 and 1613 when his last play, Henry VIII, was produced and a stray cannonball burned down the house. That is less than two plays per year. Six months per play makes me wonder how else he spent his time – managing the Globe, acting, experiencing the depths and heights of life, gestating?

The wisdom of the plays suggests gestation, but the plays feel as if they were written swiftly, though not 'untimely ripped' from the womb.

The meagerness of what we know about Shakespeare seems to inspire books about him. Few writers can resist a mystery, the silence at the heart of words.