Taken from Franklin’s Prologue
“Shakespeare’s Memory” is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. While the work is fiction, Borges’ insights into memory are both precise and profound, and as real as life itself. Borges leads us through a maze of discoveries as bits and pieces and chunks of memory begin to unfold.
It was an earlier time, late nineteenth or early twentieth century, when three learned men — Hermann Sorgel, Daniel Thorpe, and Major Barclay — gathered in an english pub. They had attended a day-long Shakespearean conference in London; listening to lectures on the works of William Shakespeare. What better place to finish the day. A bar lined one wall, a smoke-stained fireplace stood against another, and several like-minded patrons circled small wooden tables separated just enough for an intimate conversion. The cigars were strong that night, and the dark, warm beer was smooth and plentiful.
The major abruptly changed the conversation when he pointed to a beggar standing outside. Islamic legend has it, he said, that King Solomon owned a ring that allowed him to understand the language of the birds. And a particular beggar, so the story goes, somehow came into possession of the ring. Of course the ring was beyond any imaginable value and could not be sold. Legend has it that the beggar died in one of the courtyards of the mosque of Wazir Khan, in Lahore.
Sorgel jokingly added that the ring was surely lost, like all magical thingamajigs. Or maybe some chap has it, he said with a chuckle, and can’t make out what they’re saying because of all the racket.
Thorpe weighed in. “It is not a parable. Or if it is, it is still a true story. There are certain things that have a price so high that they can never be sold.” Thorpe went mute and stared at the floor. He seemed to regret having spoken at all.
The darkening of Thorpe’s mood and the lateness of the evening moved the major to call it a night. Thorpe and Sorgel soon followed suit and returned to their hotel. Thorpe then invited Sorgel to his room to continue their conversation. It was here, in the privacy of Thorpe’s room, that he asked Sorgel if he would like to own King Solomons ring. “That’s a metaphor, of course, but the thing the metaphor stands for is every bit as wondrous as he ring. ‘Shakespeare’s Memory,’ from his youngest boyhood days to early April 1616–I offer it to you.” Sorgel fell silent as he struggled to find a word.