Who taught Shakespeare to write?

It was one of those disturbing questions that appeared unbidden over an early morning cup of tea, trying to get my share of the day before too many other people had used it.

We have been brought up and trained, by and large, to get things we understand right rather than have an impact by trying to explain something not yet understood. We are taught to colour inside the lines, to follow policy and process, and be rewarded on the basis of the judgement of others.

In times such as now, of unpredictable, systemic, non-linear change, that doesn’t work so well and for it to have increased so rapidly within a couple of generations still alive it has even more impact. The workplace I grew up in has very little resemblance to the one my grandchildren are entering, and trying to advise them is as futile as it is unwelcome. They will have to find their own way, That does not mean I cannot help. Whilst technology may be a driving force behind the changes taking place, there are underneath them values and perspectives on what really matters that are timeless, and which we all come sooner or later to recognise. The nature of work is a temporary phenomenon, contained within a generation or at most two. The meaning and purpose our our lives marches to a different tune.

Shakespeare understood that. The essence of his writing is timeless, and triggers insights for us today as much as for the audiences who first heard them. I find the insights of the Stoic philosophers of a similar quality, and keep a copy of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius within reach for quiet moments.

So back to the question; who taught them ? I can only imagine trying to mark Shakespeare’s work, and could also imagine he could well have got straight “F”s by those for whom his work was unconventional, provocative and disruptive. What we need today is courageous, original thought more than clever compliance. We need those with generous purpose who are curious about what might be, and a willingness to bring it into being.

I think we need to keep that in mind. Whilst we may have no pretensions that our work might be cited decades in the future, we can work to see if we can make it resonate than longer for today’s meeting, maybe even to have some resonance, with some people, five years hence. In today’s conditions that is no inconsiderable task. The answer maybe lies at a mid point between humility and hubris. Enough confidence in what we do and create, and enough humility to know it will be transient. Somewhere though, in that middle, we can perhaps be be relevant to somebody beyond the shallow performance of today’s objectives imposed on us by somebody else. We are all artists at heart.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Pablo Picasso.

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