The Oddballs and Odysseys of Charles Portis

Casey Cep at The New Yorker:

It was a source of some annoyance to Charles Portis that Shakespeare never wrote about Arkansas. As the novelist pointed out, it wasn’t, strictly speaking, impossible: Hernando de Soto had ventured to the area in 1541, members of his expedition wrote about their travels in journals that were translated into English, and at least one of those accounts was circulating in London when Shakespeare was working there in 1609. To Portis, it was also perfectly obvious that the exploration of his home state could have been fine fodder for the Bard: “It is just the kind of chronicle he quarried for his plots and characters, and DeSoto, a brutal, devout, heroic man brought low, is certainly of Shakespearean stature. But, bad luck, there is no play, with a scene at the Camden winter quarters, and, in another part of the forest, at Smackover Creek, where willows still grow aslant the brook.”

Everything about this grievance is pure Portis. There’s the easy erudition—knowing that an English translation of de Soto’s journey was published in Shakespeare’s lifetime—and the sly allusion, relocating Gertrude’s lament for Ophelia to a tributary of the Ouachita River.

more here.