Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Ghost of Shakespeare...New Mexico

For places like Shakespeare, New Mexico, the past lives on in three separate, but parallel universes: history, legend and literature. I think that is what makes the term “ghost town” so appropriate. When a person dies, he or she becomes a corpse. A pathologist performs an autopsy, an undertaker performs the embalming, and the funeral director oversees the handling of the remains. The historian is like a little like the pathologist, using knowledge and science to determine all there is to determine from the body.

In some cases, however, this is not the end of it. If family, friends or strangers encounter the person’s ghost, there is more to be told, things to resolve. The pathologist may have determined one cause of death, yet the ghost may assert another. The obituary may be written and published, yet the ghost may know and reveal things not in the “official” record.

In the case of a ghost town, there is something of importance that transcends what can be researched and confirmed. There is something about the past, something about the human condition that is still there to be discovered and learned.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE history. I marvel at and admire the almost surgical precision with which historians examine primary documents, like an archaeologist exhuming a dinosaur skeleton with bare hands and a small paint brush. What they are able to discover and rescue is priceless. For this reason, I am eagerly awaiting Erica Parson’s history of Shakespeare.

By the same token, I own, have poured over and continue to treasure the various articles and books I have by Emma Muir and by Rita and Janaloo Hill. I have not had the pleasure of touring Shakespeare yet, but when I do, I am eagerly awaiting all the facts, tales and details I will learn as I finally get to see and touch the place I have dreamed so much about.

And, of course, I will continue to write about Shakespeare. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S GUNFIGHT takes place in Shakespeare, and Shakespeare will figure prominently in the sequel, MUCH ADO ABOUT DYING. A very respected writer of Westerns, Robert J. Randisi, once advised me, “You have to choose: either you can write about the factual West, or you can write about the mythical West.” To me, they are like yin and yang. Neither one would be as magical were it not for the other. And at some points they are the same.

Like Shakespeare, all significant people, places and periods live on in the triangle of history, legend and literature. Take Troy for example. I have read and reread the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer many times. I have also read several books about the excavation of the ancient city of Troy and what this suggests about the actual Trojan War. The result is that I love the story of Troy all the more.

Herodotus is the ancient Greek historian from whom we have the first and best telling of the Spartans holding off the gigantic Persian army at Thermopylae. It is perhaps fitting that he is considered “the father of history” and yet has also been called “the father of lies.” His work is history, legend and literature all rolled up into one.

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