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Before Your Eyes


Elizabeth Broomfield

It was a day the reporter knew he would never forget. He had received his biggest assignment yet - to interview William Shakespeare about his newest play HAMLET. The reporter was feeling confident; he had consulted with every literature expert in London to prepare for his meeting with the famous writer.  While waiting in a small bar for his distinguished guest, the reporter was joined by a short, balding, rather commonplace man with inkblots all over his hands.

"So," the old man said, turning to the reporter, "Are you waiting for someone?"

The reporter smirked. "Yes, and not just anyone, but William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers in the country."

The reporter did not notice the old man's eyes flash, or the wicked grin spread over his face.

"Have you ever met Mr. Shakespeare?" asked the old man, his smile growing wider every second.

The reporter's expression grew even more smug. "Well, not really, but today we have a special meeting. I am going to interview him about his latest play HAMLET. I just returned from the Globe Theatre."

"Yes, I have just come from there too. It was a pretty good show." The man paused, and chuckled. "Still, it was rather boring at times. Why do they say this Shakespeare guy is so great?"

The reporter was more than happy to share his newfound knowledge with this seemingly ignorant old man.

"So many people just don't realize his brilliance, the subtle images that reoccur throughout the play. For example, ears and hearing are continually mentioned. One component of Hamlet's discovery of the complexity of attaining true knowledge is slipperiness of language. Words are used to communicate ideas, but they can also be used to distort the truth, manipulate other people, and serve as tools in corrupt quests for power. Ears are used in the murder of King Hamlet, and are also often mentioned by Hamlet."

The reporter still took no notice of the old man, whose entire body was shaking as if to control laughter.

"Could it be that Shakespeare just felt like writing about ears, and it didn't really mean anything?" asked the old man.

"Of course not!" cried the reporter. "You couldn't understand. Shakespeare is a genius! His understanding of human nature is remarkable! Just think of his line 'to be or not to be?'"

"OK," said the old man with a slight smile. "What does that quote mean?" 

"Uh . . ."

Unable to control himself any longer, the old man threw his head back and laughed for several minutes.

"How many times have I heard that response? And yet it never fails to amuse me!"

The reporter grew very puzzled. "Sir, I beg your pardon. I understood the play perfectly, the question just took me by surprise."

"I understand; take five minutes to think it over."

The reporter stared off into space for a few minutes, and finally came up with an answer. "His philosophizing can be a way for him to avoid thinking about or acknowledging something more immediately important."

"Of course, his thinking is a way for him to avoid thinking about something else." The old man paused for a moment, clearly trying to suppress his urge to laugh again. After gaining control of himself, he continued slowly. "You said that I, I mean Shakespeare, understands human nature. Well ..." he paused for a moment. "I understand human nature. Oh, do I! The key to all of his plays is the same thing - human nature. Want to know about people? People will never admit to ignorance. If they don't understand something, they make up an explanation. The mark of a great writer is one who can write something incredibly vague with very big words that nobody understands. It is even better if the writer makes up words himself. Why? No person will admit to ignorance, they simply assume that these nonsensical phrases must conceal some deep, profound meaning. Take this phrase for example: The star's shadows fell to infinity. It sounds nice, but does it mean anything?"

The reporter thought for a moment. "Well, a star is a bright object, and . . ."

"No, no, no! You missed the point!" the old man interrupted. "Why is it so hard for people to grasp?"

The reporter cried, "Wait! You didn't let me finish! So the star is a bright object and the shadows are dark, so that's irony and . . ."

The old man shook his head. "The star's shadow and infinity are nothing more than a collection of words! They don't mean anything! While searching for meaning, people miss what is actually right in front of their faces!" The old man sighed. "Sometimes we are too close to the picture to be able to see it. Sometimes the truth is staring right at us and we don't even notice." The old man's eyes widened. "Don't look for things that aren't there."

The reporter shook his head with a knowing smile. "You simply can't understand the work of a brilliant man like William Shakespeare."

The old man chuckled and then sighed. He signed his name to the bill and offered it to the bartender, whose face filled with respect as he glanced at the name the old man had written.

After a short pause the old man walked away, leaving the reporter to wonder as to the whereabouts of his guest. If he had only glanced at the old man's signature, he would have known exactly where William Shakespeare had been for the past fifteen minutes.

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