Asimov, Isaac - The Immortal Bard
The Immortal Bard is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the May 1954 issue of Universe Science Fiction, and then it has been republished in several collections like Earth is room enough and The best science fiction of Isaac Asimov. Probably Asimov wrote this short story after seeing how literary academia viewed his writing, and his autobiography describes how science fiction gradually became better estimated. Asimov admires Shakespeare, and his short story is an expression which satirizes the interpretations built upon Shakespeare’s plays
This short story starts in a sudden way, with a dialogue between Dr Welch, a physicist, and Scott Robertson, an English instructor. They are at a Christmas party, and Dr Welch looks like a little drunk to Robertson. The physicist says to him that he can bring back the spirits and the bodies of the illustrious dead, and he gives him many examples: Archimedes, Newton and Galileo.
Robertson listens to him just for politeness. Dr Welch goes on saying that he can bring back these illustrious dead people thanks to a temporal transference, but they have not adapted to our way of life, so he had to send back them to the past, because they have gone mad. When Dr Welch names William Shakespeare, the instructor pays more attention to his speeches, because he likes Shakespeare and because he gives a course about him. The physicist says that just Shakespeare has a flexibility mind, on the contrary of the other illustrious dead. Robertson is interested by now, so he asks about Shakespeare.
Dr. Welch says that he showed some volumes of commentaries about Shakespeare’s plays to him, and that Shakespeare was very curious to know what the descendants think of him. The bard was very surprised by his success, so he wanted to attend a course on himself, and Dr Welch enrolled him in Robertson’s course. The instructor feels strange, and he thinks about this story, because he doesn’t know yet if the story told by the physicist is true or not, but he recalls a bald man a little strange who attended his course. Dr Welch says also that he has got a signature of Shakespeare, and shows it to the Robertson. The physicist goes on saying that he had to send back in 1600 Shakespeare because he had a terrible humiliation.
The instructor, very upset, asks what’s happened, and Dr Welch says that Robertson flunked Shakespeare!
The story is a science fiction short story, because it is not long and because Dr Welch speaks about temporal transference. The title, The Immortal Bard, makes the reader expect a story about a famous poet.
The narrator is a third-person and it is external, omniscient and not intrusive. It reports just the dialogue between Dr Welch and Scott Robertson, the two characters, so the reader is free to think about them. The point of view is of the narrator, and it doesn’t describe the characters neither physically nor psychologically, but we can understand by the dialogue that Dr Welch is older than Scott Robertson, which is very polite and at the beginning listens to the physicist just for politeness. It seems that Dr Welch has not a high opinion of Robertson, as we infer from he way he addresses him, because he thinks Robertson is narrow-minded.
The settings are not explained very well, we just know that we are at a Christmas party, so we just can infer that is winter, but also that there is a respect for tradition and for the older, such as Robertson who listens to Dr Welch.
The tone is humorous from the beginning and throughout. As the story goes on and Robertson gets less skeptical, the reader is led to expect the story in a very serious way, but here is the twist in the tale, which is in the end, and that surprises the reader. The message of this story can be an invitation to keep an open mind to both the facts of life and culture.
The twist in the tale
The twist in the tale is maybe the most emergent feature of this story. The twist in the tale is a sudden thing which happens in the ending. A classic story usually has a beginning where the initial situation is clearly set out, a middle with the events and/or the actions and their consequences and an ending with a positive or a negative solution. This solution can be given by a logical conclusion, but it also can be given by the twist in the tale, that creates an unexpected end. The twist in the tale can be used in different ways to create different effects:
-Comic effect: such as in “The Immortal Bard”
-Mysterious effect: which can be created according to the story