Is Shakespeare Dead?

Mark Twain had a few words on irreverence to the crowd in the pursuit of what is sacred to the self:

Irreverence. The quality or condition of irreverence toward God and sacred things.

What does the Hindu say? He says it is correct. He says irreverence is lack of respect for Vishnu, and Brahma, and Chrishna, and his other gods, and for his sacred cattle, and for his temples and the things within them. He endorses the definition, you see; and there are 300,000,000 Hindus or their equivalents back of him.

The dictionary had the acute idea that by using the capital G it could restrict irreverence to lack of reverence for OUR Deity and our sacred things, but that ingenious and rather sly idea miscarried: for by the simple process of spelling HIS deities with capitals the Hindu confiscates the definition and restricts it to his own sects, thus making it clearly compulsory upon us to revere HIS gods and HIS sacred things, and nobody’s else. We can’t say a word, for he has our own dictionary at his back, and its decision is final.

This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this: 1. Whatever is sacred to the Christian must be held in reverence by everybody else; 2, whatever is sacred to the Hindu must be held in reverence by everybody else; 3, therefore, by consequence, logically, and indisputably, whatever is sacred to ME must be held in reverence by everybody else.

Now then, what aggravates me is, that these troglodytes and muscovites and bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd in and share the benefit of the law, and compel everybody to revere their Shakespeare and hold him sacred. We can’t have that: there’s enough of us already. If you go on widening and spreading and inflating the privilege, it will presently come to be conceded that each man’s sacred things are the ONLY ones, and the rest of the human race will have to be humbly reverent toward them or suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it happens, the word Irreverence will be regarded as the most meaningless, and foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and impudent and dictatorial word in the language. And people will say, “Whose business is it, what gods I worship and what things hold sacred? Who has the right to dictate to my conscience, and where did he get that right?”

Is Shakespeare Dead? (Chapter XII) by Mark Twain (1909)

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Filed under 1845-1945, Book, Trevor Blake