Monday, June 8, 2009

A bone to pick with Mr. Shakespeare...

"'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title."

-William Shakespeare

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

I would first like to express my fondness for your work. I hold great reverence for your literary genius. I would never dispute your reputation as one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the written word.

However, in this instance, I must say: What on earth were you thinking? "What's in a name?" I believe, my good sir, that you've sold the role of a name short.

I realize, of course, that the essence of this passage was supposed to demonstrate the foolishness of the dispute between the Montagues and Capulets on the principle of "upholding the family name," so to speak, but sir, please consider what other connotations your words have.

A name is a very special kind of word. It holds within its letters the entire idea of a person. You only have to say someone's name and suddenly images come rushing into your mind: memories of times spent together, the way their laugh sounds, the particular shade of their eyes. Each and every speck of their being is conceptually contained there.

And family names are quite important too. Had Romeo been anything other than a Montague, he wouldn't have been himself. There is a stereotype that is associated with the Montague name, without which he wouldn't have become the person that poor Juliet fell in love with. The hypothetical rose would not have smelled as sweet. While a name isn't a tangible part of a person's being, it does undeniably shape them. Think of the children of celebrities. Their lives are irrevocably changed by the names their parents gave them. They'll forever carry that brand, and be expected to live up to it.

"What's in a name?" Why, everything. Long after we are gone, our names, carved into a stone and etched into the hearts of those surviving us, will be all that exist. Whatever we once were will be contained in that word. It will become the very essence of our presence on Earth. You, my good sir, more than anyone should recognize this. Your name has nearly become an adjective to describe the great writers of the day.

The role played by a name deserves some credit. A name isn't something to be flippantly cast aside as an incorrect label. It is something that we shape and fulfill every day.

At any rate, I've babbled on far long enough.

All the best wishes,

Carrie Chaney


  1. Bravo! Loved it. I would hate if a rose was called anything other than a rose. For instance...what if it was called ThornFlower Or A Pokeytunia or something different. The world wouldn't be quite right.

  2. Mostly unrelated to your (wonderful) letter, but whatever:

    Isn't it funny that my name belongs to me, but others use it far more than I do.

    Just a random thought... ;)


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