In a letter to his brothers, Keats expressed admiration for what he called Negative Capabilty:
"I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."
The modern interpetation of Keat's idea seems to be that the poet (or playwright) negates his/her own persona to inhabit that of the character. This is probably a good thing for a playwright. Certainly one can wander forever through Shakespeare looking for him in his characters.
But I don't think that's what Keats was getting at. I think he meant that sometimes art is messy. You can't quite pin it down; it keeps shifting. And not in a postmodern way, in the act of interpretation (or lack thereof), but in an epistemoligical or even ontological way, in that you are trying to say something that can't yet be said. Or maybe it's the recognition that world is messy and can't be contained by ordered Aristotlean unities.
I have been thinking about negative capability recently, because I am considering writing a follow-on book to my novel The Marriage of True Minds. At the end of the book, my principal characters are facing one another at a lakeshore, one kneeling on the water proclaiming his love for the other.
Apparently some readers would like to know what happens to these characters. I know this because they have asked me, or complained to me. I think it's great that they care. And honestly, I'm fond of these characters. So I would to like to know myself what happens next. And the only way to know is to write it. Right?
But I also like thinking of them there, suspended forever at that lake, in that moment. That uncertainty, that Mystery, seems right. Seems true, to them, and to me.
But do I have the negative capability to leave them there?
What would Shakespeare do?