You all may think this a bore and spam. But really, Shakespeare, dead white dude that he is, is perhaps the closest thing to a hero that I have, behind my Mother, Father and Elenor Roosevelt, and... Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Junior, and... No... I think that's it. Anyway, he's definitely up there in the list of people who make my heart strings thrum a bit, and bring a lump to my throat.
Whatever Shakespeare's genius as a playwright and poet, I am often struck by the real
reason we study his words in high school, and not those of his contemporaries, so much: His
works got collected and printed and sold, so we can just get our hands on Shakespeare's plays.
And the reason
his plays got printed? Two actors in his company, John Hemminge and Henry Condell, got the patronage for the plays to be printed, and did the work of editing them together into the
single volume, by which the authenticity of all of Shakespeare's work is now judged by scholars.
They'd worked for and with him for years, interpreting the characters he'd written, rehearsing the plays, and suffering the drunken royals during the Christmas season, with him. And they
wanted to make sure he was remembered through the centuries. This is a bit of what they wrote in their dedication to William, Earl of Pembroke (etc.) and Philip, Earl of Montgomery (etc.):
We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his Orphanes, Guardians; without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our SHAKESPEARE, by humble offer of his playes, to your most noble patronage.
And this is a bit of what they wrote in the introduction addressed to the general public:
It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings ; But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publish'd them
We have no similiar folios of George Chapman, or John Fletcher or Francis Beaumont. Hemminge's and Condell's "office of care and pain" was more than something expected of them, out of some politeness to the dead. Shakespeare, at least to them, was a great a friend
as a writer. And that, in my not-so humble opinion, should count for at least 4/5ths of his miraculous genius.