TEXT prose


Rhys Stalba-Smith


The humble tool



‘This is remarkable! Look at it all! Incredible … what did you say this was again?’ William asked, taking off the goggles.

            ‘Virtual Reality, Shakespeare. Uh, I mean, William.’

            William waved his hand and returned the goggles to his face. Max watched the man in front of him in awe. Literature that had lasted thousands of years, characters that captured the human condition so superbly, so incredibly accurate, and yet here he was impressed by simple VR equipment.

            ‘You know, I always thought the nose bleeds were the best seat in the house at the Globe. You got to see the entire stage … and yet, I can’t help but love it down here in the front! The pauper’s seat! Fantastic.’

            Max moved to the window of his apartment as William babbled on. His lesson prep was not going to plan. The William Shakespeare he’d been given by the Department of Education was stuck in the ‘awe’ stage of his accelerated living.

            ‘When I was a lad, Max, we just read books. None of this cloning stuff.’

            Max snapped back to the room, William was standing next to him by the window.

            ‘I was a man so in love with his own imagination, yet, for all the pieces that I wrote, ideas I loved, I never would have imagined this.’ William gestured at the city.

            It was the year 3085, almost fifteen hundred yearssince the Bard had lived. Cloning technology had become the rage during the mid-2000s, which meant the answers people wanted could be fulfilled. Meanings, themes, ideas, all proven because the real Shakespeare was there.

Shakespeare, while still revered, was alongside many other great philosophers now teaching their own works in school. A teacher undertaking the Shakespeare unit registered with the Department of Education, applied for rent assistance, and picked up the man and carer’s box on the set date. There was a day or two of transition from tube to talkative person, but most kinks were settled before anything bad happened.

            ‘While one’s genes are manipulated before he has a chance to meet them,’ William said, ‘it is still baffling standing here. I know I’m going through the “motions” – I’m not crazy, Max. You can take that look off your face. I’m just saying, this is surreal.’

            Max looked on at the passing hover cars, towering skyscrapers, and endless grey of city life. ‘I think I understand what you mean,’ he said to the cityscape. ‘I’m not sure whether I find this whole business overwhelming, or if it is my newness to being a teacher … with you.’

            Shakespeare smiled. ‘Well, it’s to be expected, my dear boy! You’re interacting with a man almost 1500 years your senior! Hah! Indeed though, had I met Pluto, Aristotle, Thaetus, or Cleopatra herself, I would be confounded. But no, books, our memory, and our imagination; I felt as if I knew them sometimes, as if I knew their personality through the pages. I must insist to you though, I am not him.’ William moved back to the couch. ‘As much as imagination and faith might entail, I am not him… Of course, we knew what was around us too,’ he said before Max could reply. ‘We looked within and found the answers. If not from boredom, then interest! If one is going to look, Max, then look, dammit! Stop thinking! If one is going to think, then stop looking; start feeling. It is easy to find the answers one seeks when looking with their eyes and not their mind. Is it not the eyes that tell us we are hungry?’ William laughed.

            ‘But didn’t you ever feel – ’

            ‘Overwhelmed? Like people were putting words in my mouth? All the time! We had the King breathing down our necks! The Black Plague at our door! Of course the clouds descend, but it’s one’s sense of duty that keeps them sane. What he does with himself. And you have a duty too. This lesson plan – what would you like to know?’

            Finally! Max thought. He made his way to the table and looked for the curriculum.

            ‘Well, the first week or two will be covering your major plays, characters, and themes. Then we’ll move into – ’

            ‘What about my co-wrights? Thom was always a good chap. Great with finishing things off.’

            ‘Well … yes. Then we move into theories about your writing, who else you worked with – ’

‘You know I invented the word elbow? I despised the word we used before. Phaw! I won’t even say it now, but let me tell you, it fixed a lot of plays back in the day.’

Max continued. ‘By the end of the course we want the class to feel as if they know you… Or, at least pass the final exam.’

            ‘And who am I, Max?’

            Max paused. It was true; the younger clones of Shakespeare were better, more stable, more suggestible – more expensive. But overall, they were a whole lot more compatible. The older Shakespeares were known to be quite philosophical and probing, of not only their self, but their new masters.
            ‘I will answer and help you wherever possible, Max, but do ask yourself that question too. All this work to reincarnate me, to educate me, and thrust such monstrous questions upon me, yet I get the sense you don’t know yourself. Where do you think I got most of my characters from?’

            ‘Well, Michaelson of 2074 supposed – ’

            ‘No, no, no, not Michaelson of 2074! Or any other Shakespearian! You! Where do you think I got my inspiration?’

            ‘I’m, I’m not too sure. If I’m completely honest.’

            ‘Good!’ William said. ‘Great, even! An honest man that doesn’t know a thing! Few and far between you find a man concerned with truth and not ego. I loved finding the truth! Beautiful, as horrendous as it was. Maybe it had begun in my time, if it did I wasn’t paying attention, but if it did … if this need to know things began then, then it has only gotten worse over time. James had to know things actually, sorry King James. It always annoyed me. The buffoon asked any and everything about my plays! “Who was such and such? Why did she have to become a he? Why do I feel these things, William? How do I love like you?” Phah! All redundant questions – he just wanted to be lazy.’

            William pulled at the collar around his neck, loosening its grip. ‘But see that’s the answer, no one wants to look! Not anymore. I merely gazed at the pond, saw the surface, and the depths below! But it’s as if people look at the pond and ask what to see! And then, you create me as puppetic evidence!’

            William crashed down onto the couch. This must be the unpredictability he was informed about, Max thought.

            ‘And stop thinking I’m crazy!’ William said.

            Max tried and failed to hide his surprise. ‘Look, I understand how crazy this all seems – ’

            ‘Do you? Do you really, Max? To be, or not to be awoken fifteen hundred years later against my will, was not what I had in mind!’

            William stood up with his hands akimbo glaring at Max.
            ‘Tell me, Max, what are you doing to be awoken in fifteen hundred years? What great thing are you achieving to cement your name in destiny as a somebody? I challenged how one truly lives, or does not ... and this,’ William said gesturing at himself, ‘makes that redundant. What if I’d rather be some one else?’

            ‘Uh, well, I haven’t really thought about it. I’m just trying to teach and – ’

            ‘Get by? Me too. Surely you understand my fascination then? Surely my surprise, and intensity over this situation is not too “odd”?’

            ‘Sure, I understand,’ Max admitted. ‘I just – ’

            ‘The oddity that exists here, is that I can be reincarnated millennia after my death! Re-educated before my “birth”, dressed as a clown...’ he tugged at his Jacobian clothing again, ‘...and paraded like a show pony. You’ve spent so long wondering what I meant and what I wrote in my works, that this is just a charade to back up your agenda. I see none of you have become your own Shakespeares by the way.’

            Max felt like a child being told off by a parent. ‘Look, I’m just a high school teacher. I chose to do Shakespeare 101 for my class. I didn’t realise how much it affected you clones. I apologise,’ Max said.

            William sighed.

            ‘Oh fie, Max. The human condition, ey? Or should I say clone condition? The burdens of being torn between Heaven and Hell. Cannot a man exist in a realm between? Cannot a man live in Limbo? Not worrying about such trivialities as this? But then, when would life be exciting! It’s funny isn’t it, pining over boredom. This is how it happens by the way. We’re so aroused by the future and the past – yet longing for the present in life’s adventure – that when we’re there, we don’t even notice. An achievement either feels easy or too hard! You’re in awe of my abilities, but for me it was a daily thing. Anyone that spends enough time in their trench will learn its tricks and shadows. But I am in awe of you! This world! Never could I picture such things.’

            William picked up a pencil from the table. ‘Even this. The humble tool. Has one instrument ever told the truth of one’s character so well? To be a master of stonework, a warrior of steel, or a humble farmer, and cower at such a monstrosity? You could conquer scores of scriptures, command throngs of people, communicate with the higher power, and appear bound by such a tool. Your life recorded and never read again, or your words nothing more than an exhaled breath… Don’t forget that what is heroic to some, may be commonplace for others.’

            William stood up and walked over to the fridge. ‘And this! What an invention!’

            Max sat staring at his paperwork. He could feel this semester becoming heavier and emotionally heavier; if this is what each evening entailed.

            ‘You wonder how I wrote all those plays, don’t you? Not just you alone Max, but all of you – society. Conversation. This. Adaption. Standing around. I imagined a lot of those things in a small room, nothing grandiose. I held conversations with older, younger, exotic, more susceptible, better, pathetic, selfs. I am a man, just like you. But, rather than dwell on the pressures of expectation, I enjoyed the ride. Wrote down what I saw, what intrigued me, what puzzled me. I truly was just a note-taker of mankind. I didn’t tell people who or what to be, nor who they were. I told them what we were. What we are. And we are humans – thinking, feeling, laughing, and crying, humans. We are capable of so much, Max, yet tripped up by such small pebbles... We wish to be told of our lessons, not to uncover and experience them.’

            William sat down across the table from Max, and poured a glass of milk for both of them.

            ‘I will answer your questions, Max, but be warned, you said you wanted to know me by the end of this course.’ William began to smile. ‘You’ll definitely know something.




Rhys Stalba-Smith is currently finishing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and Communication, with a sub major in Editing and Publishing, at the University of South Australia.


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Vol 21 No 1 April 2017
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Julienne van Loon
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence