At first glance, this line from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” suggests that history repeats itself. This view is written in stone – literally – on the base of the National Archives’ sculpture. The Harvard Gazette and the University of Chicago Magazine use this quote in articles about the ways history determines the present. A closer look at Shakespeare’s line, however, suggests a different interpretation. It’s spoken by Antonio, who is trying to convince Sebastian to kill the sleeping king. In this context, the past is merely a prologue that sets the scene for a much better future – a choice, not destiny.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin, 1974. Act II, Scene I, p. 1621.