Synchronicity with Shakespeare

Do you believe in synchronicity? It’s a term attributed to Carl Jung, in which there appears to be an “acausal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena”. Or in other words, a coincidence that occurs beyond what could be explained as a normal random event. This is also known as a meaningful coincidence. But most coincidences are random events that tie two or more things together or at least appear to. For example, you might be thinking about ice cream as you are watching T.V. only to find that during the next commercial break there’s an ad for Håågen Das. This may feel like a meaningful coincidence, especially if you take the ad to be a sign that you deserve the ice cream, but it’s not. A commercial that features ice cream is not odd or rare. Thinking about eating while watching T.V. is normal; there are so many food related commercials that it would be odd if you didn’t think about it now and again.

Normally I am a little skeptical when it comes to meaningful coincidences, but I’ve had several occur in my life so I am also open to the possibility that, in the words of my friend Micah, high strangeness can occur. It hasn’t happened for quite a while, at least not until last night. And oh boy, did it happen last night!

The impetus that led to last night’s high strangeness actually started about two month ago when I was talking about Shakespeare. A question was asked, “What makes him stand out among his peers?” and I had to admit I’d hadn’t read enough of his peers to make a solid case, other than to say, we don’t much remember them, so his writing was obviously better. I wasn’t completely happy with that answer so it occurred to me that it would be useful to have some type of collection of plays and or stories by some of his contemporaries. I have some of Marlow’s work, but not Ben Johnson or John Fletcher.

It just so happened that about the time I started looking for a possible collection of early 16th century plays, one of my fellow Shakespeare scholars Tweeted about a book he found in a used bookshop. The book is volume two (I think) in a series titled English Drama, this volume, 1580-1642. Shakespeare just happens to sit right in the middle of this time frame. This was exactly what I was looking for.

This Tweet is what I could call a lucky coincidence. Since most of the people I follow on Twitter are Shakespeare geeks and scholars it is no real surprise that one of them would eventually share a find like this. And who knows, even if I hadn’t been looking for a book like this, his Tweet might have prompted me to start thinking about my gap in literary knowledge of 16th century playwrights.

So we can agree that this was just a random event that just happened to coincide with my search for this type of collection. But here is where it all starts.

First, I have to explain who is not in this book. As the editors admit, “Due to constraints only five percent of ‘Elizabethan’ work is presented within these pages”. Shakespeare is not included because, and again in the words of the editors, “Ha, ha, ha, that’s funny. Everyone already has a collection of Shakespeare somewhere in their house!” Okay, I am paraphrasing, but the first volume does suggest that the hope of this collection would be to present other, less well remembered authors and playwrights, and that it would be redundant to include someone who is already widely available.

So, and I cannot emphases this enough, this volume in theory, had nothing to do with Shakespeare or his writing. The only connection it had was in my own head; I wanted it as a tool for my writing and lecturing.

Ah Amazon. Is there nothing that cannot be found on this site? It just so happened that several used bookstores connected to Amazon had copies for sale. I picked a seller with a 100% customer satisfaction rate who had what was described as a gently used copy. Just a random seller, with a good deal for me. No high strangeness here, right?

The book was due to arrive in April but, and this must be part of the 100% satisfaction, it came last night. This is what it looks like. Oh, and it weighs a ton. I’d hate to have to lift 10 percent of Elizabethan work.

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I first opened the inside cover and saw this lovely inscription. I enjoy buying used books that have the original owner’s name in it. It makes me feel connected to them. It even has his street and city address. Now that, I’ve never seen before. If I didn’t believe the owner to be dead, I would almost have been tempted to write a letter of thanks for passing it on.

George Kazan 529 29th Street Garden City NJ (last line unclear)
George Kazan
529 29th Street
Garden City NJ
(last line unclear)

And here is where the high strangeness begins. When I flipped opened a random page to see just how sturdy this old book is, I found this. It is a note thanking the owner, George Kozan, for lending it out!

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George-

Thanks again for use of the book-it helped a lot-if every I can return the favor-let me know.

S. Preston

If this wasn’t odd enough, the note was placed on top of a newspaper article. I paused when I saw it. It was strange enough that I just happened to flip to the page that contained a note of thanks, but it also contained an old folded up newspaper clipping. Besides inscribed covers, I get a thrill out of finding stuff like old newspaper clippings in used books. Usually they aren’t useful but can be entertaining if they have ads or pictures of the latest fashion. I saw that this was a clipping was from the New York Times Book Review section. I unfolded it wondering what “new” book or books would be offered for review. What I saw as I opened it up stunned me, and for a second I think I stopped breathing. As dumb as this sounds, the thought, “someone is playing with me” did go through my mind as I looked at the clipping.

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Yes, of all the clippings to keep, of all the books to keep it in, and of all of the people who could have ended up with this book, I, who wanted it for research for my own book about Shakespeare, was holding a review about a book about Shakespeare, Shakespeare a Biography, by Peter Qunnell.

I didn’t go looking for Shakespeare, but somehow found him anyway. If I weren’t such a skeptic, I might think that the universe had just handed me a sign that pointed to me finishing my book, but that may be a little to woo for me. On the other hand, even skeptics need inspiration so I’m going to frame the clipping and put it in my office. It can’t hurt.

Synchronicity my friends, synchronicity.

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