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‘Sometime a Paradox’: Shakespeare, Diderot and the Problem of Character

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

With characteristic flair for paradox, the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges describes the protagonist of his parable Everything and Nothing in almost entirely negative terms:

There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no-one.

Part of the joy of reading this extremely short text comes from the skilled and gradual way in which Borges allows the reader to fill in these instances of lack, these gaps, counterbalancing negative with positive terms, juxtaposing pieces of evidence to the point at which an identity can be surmised. When, in the final sentence, none other than the voice of God confirms the suspicions that have become a certainty, we also feel able to address the protagonist, intimately, as ‘my Shakespeare’.

Borges places the reader in a proprietary position that is also one of authorship. The efficacy of the parable relies on the prior knowledge of the reader of such clues as ‘small Latin and less Greek’, depends, in fact, on her ability to guess the solution before she is told it, creating the identity of the subject herself and coming to own it through the possessive pronoun ‘my’. The reader authors, and owns, Shakespeare, a Shakespeare, moreover, who is in the last sentence explicitly connected to the divine in a phrase that also recalls the title, as God tells him, ‘you, like myself, are many and no one’.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 285 - 297
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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