What would you save: the works of Shakespeare, or an anonymous human being?

You run into a burning building, and have the chance to save only one thing: the last copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare, or an anonymous human being. Which do you save?

Rules: There are no outs. I.e., because of your choice, either a human being will die, or the works of Shakespeare will be wiped from the face of the earth. There is no way both will make it. Don’t save the person, for example, only because you are sure that enough people have Shakespeare memorized that his plays could be reconstructed. Nope: if you choose the person, the only thing humanity will know is that Shakespeare was one of the greatest writers and thinkers in history, and his works are gone forever.

The human being is not someone you know, and not someone who would or will have an effect on your life. You are not rescuing another Shakespeare, or, for that matter, another Hitler (or to take it down a notch, a Nobel laureate or a serial killer). It’s an average, essentially unexceptional person - maybe a little smarter or a little dumber, a little richer or a little poorer, but basically a regular member of society.

Everything else in this alternative-universe scenario is the same: ie, do not assume it’s a post-apocalyptic world because there is only one copy of Shakespeare left. If you choose Shakespeare, the plays and sonnets will be immediately reprinted, performed, studied, and appreciated in exactly the same way they are today.

Finally, there is no legal aspect to your choice: if you choose Shakespeare, you will not be charged with allowing a person to die. You will have the choice of finding out the identity of that person if you want to, but you do not have to.

So what do you choose and why?
Follow on questions:
Did you have to think at all about your answer?

Regardless of your own answer, how would you want another person in that situation to respond?

If you answered “no”, is there any other concrete work of art or human thought (Beethoven’s symphonies; the periodic table; Euclid’s geometry; the Bible) that would make you answer “yes”, or at least give you pause?

Disclaimer: Yes, this question is taken from some '90s-era Woody Allen movie whose title escapes me at the moment. Also, I’m sure this type of question has been asked here before, but I can’t find previous examples, and anyways, I think it’s been a while.

Not only is human life worth more to me than words on paper, but I’d be hailed as a god by nearly every high school student on the planet. Not a moment’s thought.

Everything ends. Every work of humanity will have a last copy destroyed eventually. Humans only get so much life.

If it weren’t for the germans we’d have no idea who Shakespeare even was and it would give Ben Johnson a chance to shine.

From behind my computer screen it’s easy for me to say that the works of Shakespeare are priceless and that they are far more important than the life of any one person. But if you were to put me in a situation where I actually had to choose, I would save the person’s life. I couldn’t live with myself if I were to let someone die like that.

Not only would I sacrifice someone else to preserve the works of Shakespeare, I’d sacrifice myself.

There are billions of human beings. If I die, there are plenty of people who can take my place. But Shakespeare is irreplaceable.

But they’re not. They’re fun stories that are told well but there’s no reason why they deserve to chosen over the life of a human. Would you save a faberge egg over a human? The Mona Lisa? The Colossus at Rhodes? No, of course not. After all, “*n them, nature’s copy’s not eterne.”

I might sacrifice myself ( maybe, dunno if I’m that altruistic or not when it comes right down to it ), but I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice another.

If the world is at a point where destroying the last copies of the manuscripts means they are gone forever - that no one remembers them enough to be able to reconstruct them - then the works themselves are pretty meaningless at that point in time anyway.

I don’t know how to explain it except as “people are special.”

I pretty much copy this. I’d even venture that certain cultural artifacts can be worth more than the life of one person… which sounds pretty heartless I suppose… But, when push comes to shove, and I have the compendium in one eye and the person in another, I don’t think I could condemn the person to death. A failing of conviction, or a common sense of decency. Potato Potatoe, haha.

I didn’t have to think, and my answer stands even if the choice is between someone whose guts I hate and the complete works of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Quevedo, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett and Robert A. Heinlein.

I’m kind of horrified, at this point, by the highish proportion who’d save Shakespeare rather than the person.

Remind me not to get trapped in a burning building with any of you guys.

I’d save the person, no contest.

I’ve never understood what made Shakespeare such a popular author.

I’m actually surprised that Human Being is winning. Not because it’s the wrong choice, but because I often feel like this place is some kind of moral twilight zone where the normal rules don’t apply.

Anyways, Shakespeare didn’t write anything special that would not already have been absorbed by the culture and saved in other works. We’re not going back in time and making it not exist. The fact that there’s only one extant copy suggests that we’ve moved on. A reprinting would just be a nostalgia trip.

Plus, there’s that, if you have the opportunity to save someone without hurting yourself, you are morally responsible for that person’s death. We as a society have already made the decision that person’s life is worth more than any printed word. Do you really think you’d get a larger sentence for stealing and destroying the Shakespearian work than flat out killing the guy?

I sort of feel like the point of having read and loved Shakespeare was to make me the kind of person who would save an anonymous human being.

I would not sacrifice myself to save the works of Shakespeare (much as consider them valuable - I really do), so I would not sacrifice someone else’s life for them, if ever the most unlikely and mandatory choice had to be made (I don’t feel the need to fight the hypothetical here either)

I hate to be “that guy” (the TV Tropes page would call it The Dio) who shows up in hypothetical threads and says its a stupid question, but this is a really stupid question.

There are millions, probably billions, of copies of Shakespeare’s works in print (let’s assume, in your scenario, that we’ve regressed to some S.M. Stirling-like world, so computers are out). They are so plentiful, that people antique copies like this of his complete works are worthless.

If there’s only one copy of Shakespeare’s works left, saving the anonymous person may mean saving the last other person on Earth.

I had to read the explanation: I originally read the question as ‘save the works of Shakespeare or (the works of) an anonymous human being’. In which case the choice is obvious: Shakespeare. But choosing between saving the works of Shakespeare or the life of someone, the answer is equally obvious: save the life.

No question about it: Shakespeare.

But only because his words have given (and will give) so many people so much, much more joy and insight and happiness for such an long, long time. That average Joe could never spread so much happiness, ever.

I would sacrifice myself for Shakespeare, as well.

Not my baby son, though. That’s just biologically impossible for me to do.

I’d save the anonymous human being. I don’t like the works of Shakespeare anyway.