By Carlos Fonseca, translated by Ellen Donnison
At the age of twenty in a foolish and juvenile fit of rage, I promised myself I would never read Shakespeare. The canon overwhelmed me and I found it sterile and hardly productive that the academy taught this English writer. I had reached my twenties without reading his work, which gave me a rare advantage. It was in this vein I vowed not to read this classic English author and somehow I managed to achieve this, or at least I thought I had. I went through my entire baccalaureate gloating about being the only aspiring writer who had not read Shakespeare. I picked courses so I could evade him, or sometimes missed a class the day one of his theatrical pieces would be read, all of this to simply avoid acquainting myself with the words of this master. ‘Mine’, I used to like to say, came from somewhere else: for example, instead of Shakespeare I would read Cervantes. Therefore, I felt a betrayal the day that, impressed by one of Javier Marías’ novels, I found myself faced with the words of the man I had sworn to ignore. The novel, Mañana en la Batalla Piensa en Mí (Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me), was marvellous and I had not hesitated to tell a friend about it. My friend, who was slightly embarrassed by my error, explained the novel was actually about a fragment from Richard III. Two weeks later I was faced with the dreadful evidence that another title by the very same Marías seemed equally alarming – Corazón tan Blanco (A Heart so White) – also seemed linked to the work of Shakespeare. This unexpected domination didn’t stop there: that same year I discovered that behind the magnificent title by Faulkner –The Sound and the Fury – once again I found evidence of this English master.
I did not give up, however, small embarrassments began to weaken my anti-canonical project. I reassured myself that if I continued my reading, which included important titles, it would be such a long, drawn-out process that what I had unintentionally read would end up dissolving within a library of fragmented phrases. After graduating I still felt I had maintained my distance from the world of a man, which to me felt remote and incomprehensible. However, little by little, the Bard of Avon planned an invisible and playful siege against my false and pretentious fortress.
I came to understand that my endeavour would be more difficult than I could ever imagine; one afternoon, out of pure curiosity and in amazement, I found myself reading an epigraph signed by the very same Shakespeare. This epigraph was located at the start of Borges’ El Aleph, in which the hypothetical inhabitant of a nut imagines they are the owner of the universe. Impressed and knowing full well that I had read that story countless times, I now recognised that the epigraph derived from Shakespeare. It was as if this English man, with great subtlety, had robbed me of a world, phrase by phrase, title by title, epigraph by epigraph. The Bard of Avon had started a race with agitated steps, chipping away at a world I thought was mine and marking it everywhere with his fearsome touches. Without declaring myself defeated but knowing full well that the game had changed, I continued my stubborn project only to find his words seemed to be everywhere: from conversational turns of phrase, in love letters, in the taxi, to modern film adaptations.
Maybe I was slow to discover this, but finally one afternoon I found out the nickname of the much loved Roberto Gómez Bolaños, was in fact, Chespirito, a Hispanicised diminutive of Shakespeare. I then realised that my defeat had been inevitable from the beginning. The subtle omnipresence through which the English bard had appeared everywhere, even when disguised as the Chavo del Ocho, was the true way of experiencing the classics. Being a classic means to be present like distant sound and to be capable of generating interpretations before even being read. It also signifies the construction of a world of images and a resemblance to something so fragile, like a book. Those who have visited Istanbul will have experienced a similar sensation. In the case of this prodigious city, in principle there is only the word of Allah: a sacred principle is therefore lost among the rough tracks made by calligraphy, as agile and light as a feather. Those who walk through this city understand that to escape the word of God is an impossible task; marks from sacred calligraphy seem to scatter over a city appearing to have been traced by a quill held by the most distinguished calligrapher. To try to escape from a classic is futile and naive, like trying to escape from a sacred city’s divine language.
Our world is a world of Shakespeare, like it is a Cervantes world, a Borges world, a Dostoyevsky world, even when we sometimes do not believe it. One cannot avoid the classics, which have inhabited our lives from the very start. Our society has replaced the sacred texts for works by lesser gods, determined to gift us other possible worlds. Now, conscious of my initial ingenuousness, I am afraid to read Shakespeare for another reason: now it is not the simple pride of a rebellious youngster, but the certainty that the day I read him, I will see that not even my own texts escape this logic of plagiarism. The world copies Shakespeare and the evidence is written everywhere. Perhaps to ignore the overwhelming evidence, or to believe that at least it can be explained, I decided to move to London. But it only takes two pints of beer, drunk in my local pub to see the Bard laughing everywhere.