Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mandela, Shakespeare and Advertising.

The Robben Island Shakespeare
Last night I finished Neil MacGregor's latest book, "Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects."
The first book I read of MacGregor, who is a Director of the British Museum, was the brilliant "A History of the World in 100 Objects." Based on that book, I had high expectations for "Shakespeare." I was not disappointed.

Many of the puffy pundits and pontificators in our business declare, practically it seems with each breath, how human behavior and nature changes with each spasm of each pixel. They proclaim advertising dead. Marketing dead. TV dead. Radio dead. Print dead. email dead. And so it goes.

They forget Faulkner's genius quotation. "The past is never dead; it's not even past."

But back to Shakespeare. Sort of.

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island of the coast of Capetown, one fellow lifer had ingratiated himself with one of the guards. He was granted one book--ostensibly the last book he would read for the rest of his life.

He chose the complete works of Shakespeare. He disguised the book (above) with Diwali cards, gulling his jailors into thinking it was some kind of Hindi religious tract.

Nelson Mandela's Signature in Robben Island Shakespeare
Under this guise, the book circulated among the prisoners. Each was asked to choose the passage they found most meaningful. The book made its way to Nelson Mandela on December 16, 1979.

Here is the passage he selected, from "Julius Caesar."
Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
- Julius Caesar 2.2.32-7
In advertising, we should spend more time thinking about what lives in all of us than thinking about what's purported to be dead.

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