Shakespeare, on Immortality

I got asked one of those “What one question would you ask Shakespeare?” questions the other day.  I decided that I’d ask something along the lines of whether he was just writing one play at a time, just doing what the audience wanted, or if he really did have the idea of something bigger, writing something that would last as long as it has.

In the past I’ve pointed to Sonnet 18 as evidence that he had some clue about his own longevity, what with the fairly obvious “So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, so long lives this” line.  Sounds like he’s coming right out and saying “My work will last forever.”

But then I thought, is he really?  Or is the image more generic, making the simpler point that “Having written this down, it will now last forever.” See what I mean? It’s not that he’s saying “My work will last forever because it is just that great,” maybe he’s simply saying “Stuff that’s written down is basically timeless.”

Thoughts? Are there other good examples that look like Shakespeare’s hinting at knowledge of his own timelessness?

One thought on “Shakespeare, on Immortality

  1. Sean O'Sullivan says:

    I'm sure that Shakespeare wrote
    with the hope of literary
    immortality – why wouldn't he
    be aiming to join his beloved
    Ovid et al?
    His contemporary reputation
    as the equal of classical
    Roman writers (Francis Meres,
    Parnassus plays etc ) would have suggested to him that his writing was brilliant/loved enough to
    stand the test of time, surely.
    Of course, the idea that
    writing will outlast marble
    monuments etc was a common trope amongst poets – as so often, it is not what he says, but the way
    that he says it that marks his
    work out from the rest.

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