April 27, 2014

Shakespeare Had A Skullet & Other Observations About the Bard on His Birthday.


To be or not to be.

All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players.

William Shakespeare’s birthday was celebrated on April 23.

Maybe you’re like I used to be, envisioning Shakespeare as the stuffy writer, the guy who says “thou” and “thee.” In school, I’m pretty sure we all just blanked out, fearful that we’d be called upon to know what the heck he’s saying.  And then I’d turn around and use my new-found knowledge in my social group, to impress someone, a boyfriend, or the professor.

But the truth is, Shakespeare influenced modern day literature and the English language in more ways than I can imagine.

People say he’s the most quoted writer of all time.

Of the 1,700+ words he invented (yes, invented) here are 10 of my favorites:

Swagger, Moonbeam, Puking
Frugal, Laughable, Madcap
Obscene, Rant
Lackluster, Gossip

Here are a few movies and TV shows that I’ve seen that have been influenced by Shakespeare:

  1. The Lion King is really just Hamlet in animal form.
  2. 10 Things I Hate About You. Take Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and Heath Ledger in a teenage rom-com, and there you have it.
  3. West Side Story. Replace the Shakespearean dialogue with the street slang of 1950s New York, add music and dancing, and Romeo and Juliet just became Tony and Maria.
  4. My Own Private Idaho. Apparently one of Gus Van Sant’s final rewrites had so much Shakespearean language that it was described as a literal restructuring of the plays.
  5. Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation borrowed heavily from Shakespeare. (Two of Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into Klingon:  Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing.)
  6. The Simpsons uses visual cues, and Zombie Shakespeare made an appearance in one episode. Nice.

book shakespeare play

Some random facts that bring Shakespeare off of his podium for me, and make him more approachable (and likeable):

» Shakespeare was 18 when he married Anne Hathaway. She was 26 (!) and pregnant (!), having their child six months after their nuptials—scandalous.

» Shakespeare had twins—a boy and a girl, Hamnet and Judith.

» When the Black Death spread across England, public places were closed (ie. The Globe Theatre), so he wrote poems and sonnets rather than plays, and published his book of sonnets when he was 29. Resourceful.

» During his time he was known as an actor and a writer, but mostly an actor. Unlike the often solemn, highbrow atmosphere that I often experience going to the theater today, going to see a Shakespeare play was much like a visit to an urban movie theater today, where everyone talks back to the screen, and an occasional peanut might be thrown at the stage if something happens that you don’t like. Bawdy.

» He has no descendants—his only granddaughter died childless in 1670. Tragic.

» Nobody knows Shakespeare’s true birthday. It’s celebrated on April 23rd—three days before his baptism which was recorded on April 26th, 1564. However, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, what was April 23rd during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3rd according to today’s Gregorian calendar. Mysterious.

» Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays. They are known today only because two of his fellow actors—John Hemminges and Henry Condell—recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name ‘The First Folio,’ which is the source of all Shakespeare books published. A man of his time.

» The US has starlings because of Shakespeare! In 1890 someone who was obsessed with Shakespeare (yes, there’s a word for it: a bardolator) wanted to ensure that every species of bird that was mentioned in the works of

» Shakespeare were found in the United States. Eugene Schiffelin released two flocks of 60 starlings into New York’s Central Park. Inspiring.

» According to many different sources, Shakespeare got very creative with the spelling of his name, but never actually spelled it William Shakespeare. Over 80 variations are in existence, so if you spell it wrong, just tell whoever edited it that you were being clever. Call him “Willm,” “Wiliam” or “Wm”. Call him “Shaksp,” “Shakespe,” “Shakspe,” “Shakspere,” and “Shakspeare.” William Shakespeare, a man of mystery.

It’s hard to believe that he lived so long ago because his presence is still so palpable.

The literal connections are so evident and the subtle ways he steered how I frame literature and life. His works remain so relevant today because what he addressed still exists today, the same human problems, the same archetypes. He’s never been easy, but he’s always worthwhile.”


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Pixoto/Melinda M., Flickr/Tonynetone

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