Everyone And No One: Jorge Luis Borges And Shakespeare

2008 words - 8 pages

“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors . . . Perhaps I would have liked to be my father, who wrote and had the decency of not publishing. Nothing, nothing, my friend; what I have told you: I am not sure of anything, I know nothing . . . Can you imagine that I do not even know the date of my death?” (“Borges-Quotations”)

The work of Jorge Luis Borges has been the subject of much literary criticism and research. Scholars have spent entire lifetimes attempting to pinpoint the meaning of his works. The fact that many of them use the above quote to do so sums up the enigma of Borges; the quote most likely to be used to explain him cannot be authenticated. In seventy-four short stories, over one hundred sonnets and thousands of essays, reviews, lectures, literature introductions and notes, the quote found in many quote collections and in an abundance of papers on the author may not be his words at all.
Far from this paradox disproving any theories on the themes and intentions of Borges, the very fact that writers continue quote to quote this passage illustrates his thoughts on memory, identity and authorship perfectly. Memory is malleable and transferrable. Memory is identity. Authorship is identity. Therefore, authorship is memory and is malleable and transferrable. There is no defining work from Borges defining these themes. Even to apply them to his fictions, one must absorb them all.
The fictions of Borges are brief, many as short as three pages. One of these (at eight pages) was the last story he wrote, Shakespeare’s Memory. Published after his death in 1986, he touches, for the last time, on the relationships between memory, identity and authorship. That these are entwined with Shakespeare provides a fitting bookend to the life an Argentinian who, learning from his grandmother to read English (“The Garden of Jorge Luis Borges”) before he could read Spanish, devoured the bard’s complete works in English by the age of twelve (“The Eccentric Borges”).
While it is easy to understand how Shakespeare would be an integral part of Borges’ being, it is crucial to grasp that, when he refers to Shakespeare¸ he means the works, not the man. Taken out of context, lines such as “Shakespeare is everyone and no one” are incorrectly used by some to substantiate their claim that Borges did not believe the works of Shakespeare to have been penned by William Shakespeare. In fact, in a speech entitled “The Enigma of Shakespeare” given at Harvard University in 1964, he states succinctly: “I, of course, believe that the William Shakespeare honored today in East and West was the author of the works we attribute to him…” (“Enigma” 474). Also present is the original quote about the nature of Shakespeare which does not originate with Borges; it is Borges quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Like Shakespeare I...

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