On a recent episode of Science Friday that had the story of the scientist who claims to have found evidence of the mythical Kraken. His evidence is patterns found in a “midden”, an undersea pile of bones. He argues that a creature of some intelligence organized the bones into patterns on purpose.
Debunkers of his evidence point to that bit of our brains that likes to find patterns in things. When you see a cloud that looks like a kitty, it’s not because some magical being in charge of clouds shaped it like a kitty on purpose, it’s simply because that particular random combination of particles made your brain think, “Kitty!” It is exactly the same as playing the lottery, watching “1 2 3 4 5 6” come out, and thinking, “Wow! What are the odds?!” Exactly the same as the numbers coming out 35 17 3 4 22 30, actually. We just don’t attach any significance to that sequence like we do to the other one.
What’s this got to do with Shakespeare? Well, what if everything that we’ve read into Shakespeare’s work over the centuries is just that – stuff that we’ve read into it, rather than stuff that he deliberately put there? What if he was just a guy who was just cranking out whatever got him paid, and he really and truly had no insight into human nature at all?
I often wonder about that. It’s a pretty safe bet that Shakespeare never sat at his quill and thought, “If I write this, people will still be talking about it four hundred years from now.” But it’s also unlikely that if he was just churning out the first thing that came to his mind that we *would* be talking about him 400 years later. So the answer is somewhere in the middle. But at which end?