For All Time?
Ben Jonson (1572—1637) is best known as a playwright and contemporary of William Shakespeare (1564—1616). When Jonson said this of Shakespeare:
HE WAS NOT OF AN AGE, BUT FOR ALL TIME.
… he made a claim about the universal and “trans-historical” value of Shakespeare’s writing.
So far, Jonson’s claim has been proved correct: Shakespeare’s plays are still performed for audiences that span the globe. Jonathan Bate (b. 1958), on the other hand, in his book The Genius of Shakespeare (1998), suggested that the globalization of Shakespeare might have had as much to do with the extension of the British Empire over large parts of the globe in the years after his death.
HAD THE HISTORY OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE TAKEN A DIFFERENT COURSE, PERHAPS LOPE DE VEGA (1562-1635), THE ACCLAIMED PLAYWRIGHT OF THE SPANISH GOLDEN AGE, MIGHT TODAY ENJOY SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBAL REPUTE.
So, is Shakespeare’s “genius” an innate quality of his being, or a matter of contingent and historical construction?