Things change gradually, then suddenly. Last year, it might have seemed an interesting thought-experiment to consider what implications Large Language Model AIs might have for human creativity. That’s no longer a hypothetical question. What would it mean if an AGI could write poetry to rival that of Shakespeare: the universal, timeless poet; the poet, above all, of the human? Is that feasible? And if so, would that diminish, or enhance, the meaning of Shakespeare, whose work we use as a sort of map of what being human is?
Sunday’s Dead Poets Live show at The Coronet Theatre was a conversation between two actors acclaimed for their Shakespeare work, Rory Kinnear and Tamsin Greig, set in a garden in London and taking place today. It covers Shakespeare’s ‘invention of the human’, his fascination with automata – things that only appear conscious – his alertness to moments of radical social upheaval and his profound understanding of the limits of language as a tool for human expression.
Our title – If This Be Magic – comes from The Winter’s Tale, Act V, Sc. 3, as Leontes sees what he thinks is the statue of his dead wife begin to move and refers to a suggestion that this apparent miracle must be ‘assisted by wicked pow’rs’. ‘If this be magic,’ says the astonished Leontes, ‘let it be an art / Lawful as eating.’ Let us hope so, too.