The movie Shakespeare in Love sparkles. It's subject, the creation of Romeo and Juliet, survives a turbulent love story, shifting loyalties and rivalries among playwrights and theatres, and the mercuric personality of Shakespeare himself. Survive, though, is not the right word. 'Emerge' is. Emerging out of the swirling restlessness of Shakespeare's daily life, is a brilliant creation.
In this movie we find no winged muse whispering immortal words in Shakespeare's ear and no pages neatly stacked before him. Here we find Shakespeare embroidering on his own experiences, plagiarizing others' ideas (for example, the suggestion of another playwright turns Shakespeare's title Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter to Romeo and Juliet), and scribbling out dialogue in bursts of creative energy after bouts of lethargy. A creative genius transmuted all this into an extraordinary play.
I found this fictionalized story so very non-fictional in its portrayal of the creative process. Even I, in my own limited and prosaic way, find that only rarely is there an idea that is totally brand new. Ideas come from a word spoken by a friend. a sentence out of a book or an everyday experience. Any of these can trigger a rapid sequence of thoughts. For example, being recently retired, I entered my nearly empty office and the strange uncomfortable feeling came over me of being in 'foreign' space. I was then rubber-banded to a divorced person's comments about entering his former home--familiar with furniture but "no longer home." Two other examples came to mind. From where does this rapid linkage of ideas and experiences come? Creativity is, I believe, unpredictable, unplanned and inherently chaotic.
Most creativity is a rearrangement of the familiar rather than bringing something brand new out of nothing. Shakespeare can take such absolutely ordinary everyday words and arrange them in this incredible order: "Now is the winter of our discontent." What a magnificent statement! Out of only twelve notes the composer continually creates fresh arrangements, so that we have Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Beethoven's Ninth from the same few notes.
At the end of writing Mind Matters, I often find numerous books tottering on my desk or providing an obstacle course on the floor. The word processor makes rewriting easier than Shakespeare's quill pen. Still, page after crumpled page lands near the wastebasket until words come close to saying what I want them to say in the way I want them said.
Process, not substance, is how I compare myself with the Shakespeare portrayed in the film. Like Shakespeare I might borrow a title for these Mind Matters. I could call these notes on life: "Tucker in love."
--Robert H. Tucker
11 January 1999