Today we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. We do this even though historians are not quite sure this is his date of birth. What we do know is that he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Normally newborns were baptized three days after being born. He died on April 23, 1616, so April 23 is dedicated to the Bard. And what better way to celebrate his work than with lists? Polonius asked Hamlet, “What do you read, my lord? … Hamlet replies “Words, words, words. You my dear readers are going to read lists lists lists!
Harold Bloom, the great philosopher and Shakespearean critic, once said, “Shakespeare invented the human”. I would not go so far, but I would say Shakespeare invented how the West looks at the human condition. His characters are mirrors in which we can all look into and see a part of ourselves. Here is a quick list of some of his more famous humans:
Hamlet has been called the man who could not make up his mind. He is tasked to avenge his father’s death, yet, while having no qualms about killing his traitorous friends, and lashing out with a sword in a murderous rage, he hesitates when it comes to killing Claudius. Hamlet doubts his own existence, and wonders what’s the use of it all? He is hesitant when it comes to suicide. He cannot decide whether this is a good idea; anymore than he can decide if killing Claudius is the right thing to do.
In the end all of his doubts just give Claudius time to plan Hamlet’s death. Every major character dies because Hamlet cannot make up his mind. We may never contemplate such drastic deeds, but how often have opportunities past us by because we cannot make up our minds? Sometimes we feel we have no control over our lives, but it may be that like Hamlet, we hesitate and allow fate to dictate what happens to us.
Lady Macbeth wants more out of life than a mere drafty castle in a Scottish outpost. She and her husband plot to kill King Duncan and take the crown by force. After the deed is done she quickly regrets her actions. The horror of what they have done seeps into her conscious like the king’s blood seeps onto the floor. “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him”. She begins to sleep walk and tries in vain to wash the blood from her hands. “Out damn spot, out!” She cannot live with what they have done and takes her life. I first read about Lady Macbeth in high school and the two lessons I took from her were:
Be careful of what I wish for. I am not be able to handle it.
Never do anything that will leave a stain on my soul.
Henry V is a man of action, but it is his words that we hear (we never see the battle of Agincourt) that compel others to war and love. He talks his troops into war and he talks the French princess into falling in love with him. He is a reminder that words are just as powerful as action and that we should be wary of men with silver tongues.
Words Shakespeare gave us.
Shakespeare invented 1700 words.. Shakespeare has been credited for inventing single words that normally would have taken several to mean the same thing. I won’t list them all, but here is partial list of words we use today:
- control (noun)
Some of my favorite Shakespeare quotes:
Brevity is the soul of wit
To thine own self be true
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose
All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts
Et tu, Brute
My personal favorite books on Shakespeare:
Shakespeare, the invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
Shakespeare’s World by DL Johanhak
The Book of William, How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins
Shakespeare, the world as a stage, by Bill Bryson
Shakespeare by Michael Woods
A Readers guide to Shakespeare, by Joseph Rosenblum (I have ben lucky enough to learn at this man’s feet. He is a master when it comes to understanding Shakespeare).
And thanks to No Sweat Shakespeare we can end on a list of fun Shakespeare facts:
Shakespeare is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.
Shakespeare is always referred to as an Elizabethan playwright, but as most of his most popular plays were written after Elizabeth’s death he was actually more of a Jacobean writer. His later plays also show the distinct characteristics of Jacobean drama.
Almost four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death there are 157 million pages referring to him on Google. There are 132 million for God, 2.7 million for Elvis Presley, and coming up on Shakespeare’s heels, George W Bush with 14.7 million.
All Uranus’ satellites are named after Shakespearean characters.
Among the 80 languages Shakespeare’s works have been translated into, the most obscure must be the constructed language of Star Trek’s Klingon. Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing have both been translated as part of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project by the Klingon Language Institute.
Happy Shakespeare Day!