The Beauty of Monosyllables

Research has taken me by the hand and led me in new directions. Proudly I came with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and humbly I leave with the King James Bible. Perhaps this theological turn is unavoidable in a place like Cambridge–dominated, as it is, by gothic spires and church bells. I always felt, for some inarticulable reason, that I was meant to come here; that no sacrifice was too great to walk where Spenser, Marlowe, and Coleridge walked. At nighttime, the lampposts at the back gates of John’s and Trinity light up, and you know this must be Narnia: stars strung between the rooftops, darkness pouring down and soaking your clothes like rain–silhouettes of bluebells dancing in a midnight wind. The Trinity Hall library lights flicker in the river as you cross the bridge, slightly inebriated: drunk on wine and life. Can history be a spiritual experience? I believe so, and I have felt God’s presence here–a kind of suspension, tension between the body and the soul. I wonder if the reason we love Shakespeare is because he is much closer to Tyndale than we care to admit; if the reason we love him is because he reminds us of the Bible, which is embedded in our very idiom, our cultural consciousness. And yet we never revere Tyndale as the greatest English poet because we fear him and everything he stands for; because we will not address such loaded terms as ‘God’ or ‘religion’. But what about those simple iambs–“Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth”–how could depth emerge from the minimalism of those monosyllables, such profundity? How can any responsible early modern scholar refuse to acknowledge the influence of the Bible on Shakespeare’s rhetoric? How can any lover of poetry deny the beauty of those lines, freed from the shackles of dogma?

Perhaps we are afraid to articulate the unknown. For as soon as the words form in our minds, they tremble on our lips.


Some day, all of this will be just a dream. When I read Shakespeare, I see the shadow of my former self–running towards the ocean. These days, when I pick up a book, it falls apart in my hands. I read somewhere that a person can love something too much. Did I love Shakespeare? I did. I still do. But now that love has transformed into something else–a kind of protectionism. I love Shakespeare so much that I can no longer study him, criticize him. I can no longer subject him to the kinds of rational analyses I found so invigorating in the earlier stages of my academic career. I re-read old essays in a naive, self-indulgent tone. Am I reaching a state of empty intellectualism, reason devoid of passion? Is pure objectivism something I should strive to attain? And yet I cannot help but think that reason should be infused with passion; that the true intellectual life is at once logical and intuitive. Intelligence should never be confused with wisdom, though it so often is. What was once fulfilling now seems empty; I have witnessed the superficiality of appearances and I miss the sunshine, simple things. Sleep and flowers and walking on Sunday afternoons–monosyllables.

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