Sample 2: Exploring Shakespeare’s (Im)Mortality
The text analysed in this part of the essay is The Immortal Bard (1954), a curious short story by the well-known American science-fiction author Isaac Asimov, in which a scientist brings Shakespeare back to life and has him face up to the world of our own time. The text is easily available online.
Isaac Asimov is a famous - if not the most famous - American Science-Fiction writer. Born in 1920 in Russia, he published more than 500 books, most of which had an enormous success: among his most famous Sci-Fi books it is worth mentioning I, Robot (1950), and his trilogy Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation (1951-53). He also wrote non Sci-Fi books, such as the popular Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare (1970), in which he introduces Shakespeare’s plays and places them within their cultural and chronological context. The short story that you are about to read, entitled The Immortal Bard, is an example of Asimov’s interest in Shakespeare and was written in 1954.
1. Imagine you woke up in the 17th century, Shakespeare’s age.
a. How would you feel?
b. What would attract you about this unusual condition?
c. What do you think you would not like about it?
d. Would you like to go back to the present age?
Share your ideas with the rest of the class.
1. Give short answers to the following comprehension questions:
a. Who are the two characters involved?
b. What is their job?
c. What can Dr. Welch do?
d. Who are the people that he brought back to life?
e. Why did Dr. Welch choose to bring Shakespeare back to life?
f. What most fascinated Shakespeare about today’s world?
g. Which university course did Shakespeare attend?
h. What happened to him at the end of the course?
2. Which narrator does Asimov use in this passage?
a. 1st-person narrator
b. 3rd-person narrator
3. The action takes place after a Christmas party. Which particular about the two professors does Asimov mention to make their conversation appear suspended between reality and dream? Quote from the text.
4. Dr. Welch’s experiment is clearly unreal, but is presented by Asimov as perfectly real. Which elements does Asimov use to make it look realistic? Find evidence in the text to support your choice(s).
a. Use of scientific terms
b. Clear description of the scientific process
c. Dr. Welch’s air of reliability and certainty
d. Other (specify)
5. What do the three people brought back to life by Dr. Welch have in common? Explain it in your own words.
6. What differs Shakespeare from the other three people resuscitated by Dr. Welch?
Complete the following sentences.
a. He has a great mind but is also…
b. He is not a scientist: he is…
c. He knows people so well that…
7. To make his story even more credible, Dr. Welch also projects a wholesale hardware card with Shakespeare’s authentic signature on it. How would you define the effect produced by this device? Match the adjectives below with their definition and choose the one(s) you think are most appropriate.
Comic Incongruous and bizarre
8. Why does Shakespeare call his Hamlet “a damp clout”?
9. Dr. Welch calls Shakespeare “Bill” instead of William. Does this produce the same effect as the device you analised in question 7?
10. Which “humiliation” did Shakespeare have to endure? Explain it in your own words.
11. How would you define the end of the story? Tick as appropriate and give reasons for your choice(s):
e. Other (specify)
Imagine Shakespeare entered your English class now, 400 years after his death. What would he find interesting, strange, or simply surprising? Write a short text from the point of view of William Shakespeare himself.