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ShakespeareBorgesBW2In a slightly roundabout way I’ve come across a short story of José Luis Borges called La Memoria de Shakespeare, that is, Shakespeare’s Memory.

It’s a beautiful story – and by now I should know that, whenever I cross paths with Borges, I come away with wonders and discoveries. It starts, in a way that put me in mind of Kipling, with a rather dull Shakespearian scholar who, over dinner, gets offered the gift of Shakespeare’s memory. There are warnings – it will be hard, it will be dangerous… but frankly, would you refuse such an offer?

Hermann Soergel doesn’t, and in the following weeks find himself gradually flooded by Shakespeare’s memories, knowledge, likes and dislikes… I won’t tell you how it ends. It’s a pretty eerie ending, though not unexpected, but that’s not the point. The point is that, Borges being Borges, the story becomes a chance to illustrate the author’s… I was going to write “the author’s theories on Shakespeare”, but it’s not quite it. Borges is no Wilbur G. Zeigler or Gene Ayres, trying to smuggle some bizarre theory in fiction’s form. On the contrary, he adds layers and depth to a fictional story with a handful of unprovable but beautiful intuitions.

Here is my favourite:

I know that for Shakespeare the moon was less the moon than it was Diana, and less Diana than that dark drawn-out word – moon.*

I love it. This is Shakespeare in twenty-five words. Not Shakespeare’s works, but ShakespeareBorgesBW1who Shakespeare was – or may have been. The Grammar Schoolboy with enough Latin and rhethoric to identify the moon with its mythological counterpart – but, more than that, the man with the exquisite ear, the poet who sees sounds, and uses each word as a brush-stroke. Borges is a genius.

Moreover, this gem of characterization doesn’t come just like that. It’s one of the tidal waves of Shakespeare’s mind flooding the narrator’s. You can almost see him – Hermann Soergel, absentmindedly watching the moon, one summer night, and suddenly he catches his breath as the alien awareness invades him. Diana first, and then the silvery light, the half-gloom containted in the “dark drawn-out word”.

I’ll say it again: it’s beautiful. Shakespeare imagined – seen – by moonlight. I do love Borges.


* Translation by Andrew Hurley.