The more you know

Why Shakespeare remains the greatest

Hamlet is the leader of the many immortal characters created by the Bard six hundred years ago. Who has already been able to represent the condition of modern man

«To be, or not to be, that is the question», to be or not to be, this is the problem. William Shakespeare looks like this. Hamlet says it when he looks for his father in heaven, and the author says it in all his dramatic, psychotic, heroic, poetic and above all modern work in the immanentistic sense of life.

Of course, he was not and will not be the only one, somehow he was preceded by Dante Alighieri and then by Montaigne, by Descartes, by Machiavelli, but I could make an endless list of the profound meaning of the Shakespearean motto. Being does not mean living and contains a wave of pessimism that emerges in its main dramaturgy. Of course, the first figure that corresponds to the Shakespearean motto is the mythological character of Theseus who killed the Minotaur in the labyrinth and came out of the labyrinth following the red thread of Ariadne who still represents the need to seek the solution in the problems of individuals, the masses, politics, and sociality. Dante, of course, is not the only one to precede Shakespeare, in the history of literature he precedes him chronologically above all in his Hell of the Divine Comedy.

In the same era of Shakespeare, that is, from the late sixteenth century to the early seventeenth century, there is another great poet: Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote of La Mancha. The two never met or read each other, if only because they spoke and understood two very different languages. But Don Quixote has a poetic value analogous to Shakespearean dramaturgy; the main curiosity is that they both died on the same day of the same year as long as Shakespeare corresponds to the person whose grave exists with the dates of birth and death. There is, in fact, the doubt that the writer, who is one of the centers of world culture, was the person named with the dates of birth and death but that the dramas were written by others: it is a doubt that moreover with the passage of time and research registry data is disappearing.

The variety in Shakespearean dramas is extremely numerous: it ranges from real tragedies to dramas of various kinds, sometimes even light ones, and to real comedies. Those that emerge are Hamlet, Macbeth, Anthony and Cleopatra, Juliet and Romeo, Richard III, Henry IV and Henry V of England, King Lear, The Tempest, and many others.

We have seen those who preceded Shakespeare and far from the chronological point of view but there are also those who came after him but had his artistic figure in mind. What immediately comes to mind is Leopardi and perhaps even Montale to limit himself to the Italians.

Readers will probably wonder why we face today in this intervention a figure so known and so read in the circles of classical culture. We do this for several reasons. First of all, the prevalence of being over living: a human life can be confined to the simple unfolding of the instincts that even our species has of the same animal genus from which we come. We also live on instincts even if in our species they can be slightly enriched but still prevalent on any other vital instrument, but the human species radically transforms instincts into feelings and feelings into ideal and mental values. The mind, as I have mentioned several times in my previous writings, is a completely incorporeal organ: it emerges in part from some brain areas and from the contribution of other organs of our body but in any case, it does not correspond to a body organ even if it contains nothing less than thought, also an entirely incorporeal value entity. The motto of Shakespearean Hamlet encompasses this reality and manifests it artistically: being or not being is very different from living or not living, they are two very different realities but at the same time connected to each other: one cannot think without living and is at the same time it is useless to live without thinking.

This reality is however profoundly transforming itself and the most curious aspect is that the transformation takes place for some few but extremely important causes: climate change, new communication technologies, the movement of continents, slow but perceptible through the spreading always more frequent than earthquakes, which mainly involves Africa which has an attractive relationship with the lands from which it split millions of years ago: America and Europe.

One may ask what these problems have to do with the literary culture and the authors who best represent it and the answer is quite easy: culture is one of the aspects that distinguishes our species since it endows each individual of the ego: that is, we are self-aware of our existence and how it unfolds. Artists like Dante or Shakespeare, to name only two, represent the ego with a rather rare intensity just as literary culture is rarer in general. But their thoughts evoke much more modern and yet very significant findings: Nietzsche, Freud, Leopardi, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others not to mention the Greek lyrics, from Sappho to Alceo. Shakespeare is the most modern of this culture and its modernity is expressed by some extremely important characters that we have already mentioned. Hamlet is the most significant and it is no coincidence that his ending is to be carried to the celestial tomb on the shoulders of Fortebraccio soldiers, he is a character at the same time generous, courageous, sexually attracted to his mother. If we had to choose what is distinguishes Shakespeare from all the other writers, I believe we could limit ourselves to Hamlet, created in the early seventeenth century and even more relevant in the year 2000. Four hundred years later, this gives us the measure of the author who created it.

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