Much Ado About Nothing?

I recently saw a poster for a small production of the Shakespeare play it called "Much Ado About Nothing?". The company had taken a controversial decision to add a question mark to the title of the play. It made The Great Bard seem as though he had that annoying vocal tick which some people have where their voice goes up at the end of each sentence like they’re asking a question. I had a couple of flatmates like that at university. It drove me round the bend, they were lovely people?

My brain couldn't help but dwell on this poster as I walked into town. It made me think of one of my favourite philosophers, Robert Anton Wilson, an advocate of the abolition of the word “is”. He believed writing and thinking should be done in what is called E-Prime, where “is” and other derivatives of the verb "to be" are erased from your vocabulary. The aim being to free people from dogmatic thinking and remind them that no one actually knows what the world “is” but only how it appears to be, to them. Most of Wilson's later work doesn't feature the word "is" at all and he occasionally claimed not to use it in speech either.

I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot and the Shakespeare poster got drawn into my internal monlogue. Although I accept the premise, that there is no use of the word “is” which isn’t suspect. Even the in that sentence the word is a bit dodgy so I’ll rephrase it: I accept his premise that, it appears to me the use of the word “is” feels suspect. It's a fact that we cannot ever say what “is”, we can only say what appears to be the case, to us.

However eradicating the word “is” I don’t think is the answer. It's too unwieldy and tricky to un-learn old habits like that. Furthermore it's not essentially the point. Instead, all sentences could be re-written with a “?” instead of a full stop? That way perhaps people will know we’re not sure but only expressing an opinion that we invite them to challenge?

I don’t think in the long run that this idea will work? Then again neither will everyone adopt e-prime will they? Although I also suspect I will not add question marks to the end of every sentence after writing this blog entry I think the point is made? You do not know how the world is? You only know how it appears to be, to you?

Nick Margerrison


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