This exploration began ten years ago when I encountered a quote in a book by an eminent Jungian analyst that resonated with me, “No prisons are no confining than those of your own mind”. He identified the play as Twelfth Night but it was not until some time later that I had reason to question his citation.
I decided to use the quote in a blog I was writing but as dislike using secondary sources I decided to source the reference on line. To my surprise the only allusion I could find was to the Jungian analyst and his book. There was absolutely no indication of Shakespeare ever writing such a quote.
I was puzzled. Was it possible that such an excellent quote from Shakespeare had never been added to the world wide web? Somewhat resigned to what seemed an ordeal I committed to reading the play. I have a reliable reference book The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare and when I reached the scene where Malvolio is confined to jail I became optimistic but there was nothing even close. So I repeated the process and again nothing.
Was I so unobservant that I had missed it on both occasions? I was bemused but decided that it was from an alternative play. I was not sufficiently intrigued to read through all of his 41 plays so let it go. However it was only when I met the great man himself at a seminar he was giving in Vancouver that I was motivated to pursue the matter once more.
It was four years later. I know that because I approached him during a break to get a book signed that was a gift for my 69th birthday. As he kindly inscribed his good wishes I mentioned I had been trying to find the quote. He interrupted me, “You didn’t find it did you?” Then confessed he too had failed.
He was still convinced that it was a true Shakespearean quote so I embarked on a personal crusade to track it down. Initially I could find nothing that was not a direct quote from him but maintaining my zeal like an old fashioned prophet I soldiered on. I encountered something similar in Anthony and Cleopatra “Make not your thoughts your prisons” which indeed was close and that Franklyn Roosevelt once said something almost identical – “Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” I reported back suggesting that he may indeed be the original author of this precise quotation but he was convinced not. I surrendered and let it go.
Another six years passed and while reading his latest book, that I came across a similar quotation.. It was slightly revised “no prisons are more confining than those we know not we are in” and this time was not attributed to a specific Shakespeare play.I decided to write and ask if he ever been able to find the original source of the quote and he replied to say he thought it was the Tempest and provided a link https://www.azquotes.com/quote/882496
When I looked it up; it was cited from The Tempest Act 5 Scene 1. “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine. There is nothing more confining than the prison we don’t know we are in” Not quite as eloquent as the one in the book but close enough. Satisfied I breathed a sigh of relief that I had resolution to a question that has troubled me for ten years. I did feel a tinge of concern that I had come across none of these citations only six years ago yet now there were 203 entries substantiating the quote as being from the Tempest. So I thought I should at least check the reference.
Back to my trusty Signet Classic Shakespeare and looked up the Tempest. What I found astonished me. Act 5 scene 1 contains Prospero’s summation at the end of the play. He is talking about Caliban and says, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”. Period. There is no line about prisons. In fact in the context of Caliban, a monster in the play, the lines would make no sense.
So where does this quote originate? It is now listed on a number of quotation sites as being from the Tempest – azquotes, quotemaster, pinterest, citatis to name but four. Google identifies 203 entries affirming this as a genuine Shakespeare quotation. none of which existed only six years ago!
So how does a false quote achieve so much traction? It even has the act and verse of a real play together with a real quote added to increase its legitimacy. Is this deliberate or is it a technological screw up that can occur when many people quote and requote a statement. How does anyone determine fact from fiction anymore? Don’t these sites that claim to offer quotes verify their sources?
I feel perhaps wiser and more sceptical; I need to be more discerning and cautious about attributing truth to any claim that crosses my path. I was going to conclude by a quote by Aldous Huxley “The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free.” However further research indicates that it too is a hoax. What a bizarro world we live in!