Gilbert and Bardolatry

by F.

Having just finished Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (it’s wonderful, by the way), I wondered why he put so many Shakespeare quotes in his book. It seemed a little out of character. I mean, I expect Harold Bloom to fill his books with Shakespeare quotes, but Gilbert?

In an interview with Powell’s, in my view the world’s greatest bookstore, Gilbert was asked about it:

[Interviewer]: You mentioned that people have been speculating about happiness for hundreds of years. In that light it’s hard not to notice that all the chapters start with a few lines from Shakespeare. He’s your chorus.

Gilbert: They start with a Shakespeare quote for two simple reasons. One, to remind everybody that most of what science has to tell us about human behavior already has been divined by writers with great insight. Science helps us confirm which writers were right and which were wrong, but it rarely tells us something that a writer of Shakespeare’s caliber didn’t come up with first.

The more important reason Shakespeare is there is that I’m a Harvard professor. Therefore, people are supposed to believe I’m a highbrow guy with refined tastes and a serious literature collection. Actually, I like to eat tater tots and watch Star Trek. But if I put Shakespeare quotes in the beginning, everyone will think I’m the kind of guy who really ought to have a job here.

Should I have said that in an interview?

I love it.