Mark Twain Shakespeare Essay

The North American Review

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Coverage: 1821-2014 (Vol. 13, No. 32 - Vol. 299, No. 4)

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ISSN: 00292397

Subjects: Language & Literature, Humanities

Collections: Arts & Sciences V Collection

Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:

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SHAKESPEARE


Illustration from AMERICAN EXAMINER, 1910
from the Dave Thomson collection

If Shakespeare had been born and bred on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect would have had no outside material to work with, and could have invented none; and no outside influences, teachings, moldings, persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing.
- "What Is Man?"

How curious and interesting is the parallel--as far as poverty of biographical details is concerned--between Satan and Shakespeare. ...They are the best-known unknown persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

Shall I set down the rest of the great Conjecture which constitute the Giant Biography of William Shakespeare? It would strain the Unabridged Dictionary to hold them. He is a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

All the rest of his vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures--an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential facts.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

From away back toward the very beginning of the Shakspeare-Bacon controversy I have been on the Bacon side, and have wanted to see our majestic Shakspeare unhorsed. My reasons for this attitude may have been good, they may have been bad, but such as they were, they strongly influenced me. It always seemed unaccountable to me that a man could be so prominent in Elizabeth's little London as historians and biographers claim that Shakspeare was, and yet leave behind him hardly an incident for people to remember him by; leave behind him nothing much but trivialities; leave behind him little or nothing but the happenings of an utterly commonplace life, happenings that could happen to the butcher and the grocer, the candlestickmaker and the undertaker, and there an end -- deep, solemn, sepulchral silence. It always seemed to me that not even a distinguished horse could die and leave such biographical poverty behind him. His biographers did their best, I have to concede it, they took his attendance at the grammar-school; they took his holding of horses at sixpenny tips; they took his play-acting on the other side of the river; they took his picturesque deer-stealing; they took his diligent and profitable Stratford wool-staplings, they took his too-previous relations with his subsequent wife; they took his will -- that monumental will! -- with its solemnly comic second-best bed incident; they took his couple of reverently preserved and solely existent signatures in the which he revealed the fact that he didn't know how to spell his own name; they took his poor half-handful of inconsequential odds and ends, and spun it out, and economised it, and inflated it to bursting, and made a biography with a capital B out of it. It seemed incomprehensibly odd to me, that a man situated as Shakspeare apparently was, could live to be fifty-two years old and never a thing happen to him.
- Autobiographical dictation, 11 January 1909. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015)


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