The great Jorge Luis Borges once said, “Magnification to the point of nothingness comes about or tends to come about in all cults.” And he goes on to say, “We see it, unequivocally, in the case of Shakespeare.”
Ben Jonson said that he loved William Shakespeare “on this side of Idolatry,” and over time the reverence for the man took on God-like proportions. Victor Hugo compared him to the ocean, the seedbed of all possible forms (!) and some have pointed out that Shakespeare uses more unique words than the King James Version of The Bible. Conclusion: Shakespeare has a better vocabulary than God does.
Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt, famous for being one of the founders of the literary theory known as New Historicism, has spent a great deal of his life studying the Bard, and Will in the World is his ambitious and well researched love letter to Shakespeare. This passionate book is a wild mix of creative non-fiction, essay, literary criticism, and literary theory. And upon finishing the story, the reader has learned a great deal about both William Shakespeare and Stephen Greenblatt, for ultimately the professor is the Gatekeeper of this book. The professor says, “[To] understand how Shakespeare used his imagination to transform his life into art, it is important to use our own imagination,” and what matters, Greenblatt claims, is “not the degree of evidence but rather the imaginative life that [an] incident has.”
What matters is not the true story, but a good story.
This approach understandably made many academics go berserk (figuratively speaking!), but the book was at least partly exceptionally well received amongst critics and readers (and it became an instant best seller). Will in the World is a story about William Shakespeare and the world he lived in, and the Shakespeare that emerges is not unlike the Shakespeare that appears in one of Jorge Luis Borges’ texts: a man who was many and no one.