For that which is (a Shakespearean gloss)

A recent performance of Two Noble Kinsman, Shakespeare’s last play (a re-working of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale written in collaboration w/ Fletcher), at the White Bear theatre pub in Kennington, ends in a perplexing & ambivalent way that gives more food for thought / is less familiar as far as last lines go than Prospero’s soggy book & broken stick. It’s strange to think this, spoken by Theseus, was Shakespeare’s parting shot across the bows of history —

——————-O you heavenly charmers,

What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh; for what we have are sorry; still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let’s go off,

And bear us like the time.

So — the gods after everything are charmers who happen to be heavenly, are perhaps only charming because heavenly, and the combination of heavenliness and charm means they can make things of people at will and decide things such as the fate of knights & who gets the girl, or just leave it to bad luck, as with Arcite falling off his horse. The inverse relationship between having and lack and their correlative, seemingly paradoxical emotional states, being sorry and laughing, means the we who are made things by the charming whims of the gods are also children, not yet subject to the instrumental logic of accumulation or equating having with being, but laughing in our naivete because we lack things and being sorry because we don’t: you can’t take it with you, etc. Instead gratitude towards the world is focused on that which is, a clear coming down on the side of the parts of the world that are found or stumbled across, rather than piled up or swapped for something else, which isn’t, in this sense, in that it falls within the ambit of ambition, not what is but what could be (yours) if you perform a series of acts which, leaving their morality aside, are until realised fictional or exist in different temporal or geographical realities (such as killing the King and taking his place) and cannot be objects of simple gratitude. All the rest — ‘dispute / That are above our question’ — can be forwarded upstairs for the heavenly charmers to arbitrate. Given that, the only thing to do is to go off, for the time has come, and indeed it is time to carry ourselves in the manner of that time, or bear our being, for which we are thankful, as we would bear the time, which has also brought down the curtain, as we must also do, having had time to give minimal thanks ‘for that which is’ and by doing so put paid to that which is not.

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