Shakespeare & Stephen King, my Sunday musing

Sunday morning musing
Sunday morning musing

While giving a lecture or engaging one-on-one with people who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare the question, “Why should I like Shakespeare?” always pops up. My standard answer is “You probably already do” which then leads me to an explanation of Shakespeare’s influence on pop-culture. In fact this question is a great starting point when talking about the continued fascination with work that is over 400 years old.

Most of you already know that Shakespeare’s influence can be found in modern movie plots (think Lion King to 10 things I hate about you), book titles, operas, classical music, advertising, and over used, some times badly quoted idioms. This may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I’d bet that every writer including journalists, speechwriters, and novelists have tried at least once to sneak a quote or two into his or her work.

I pay close attention to Shakespeare’s influence on our world in order to be able to answer the above question with fresh and surprising answers. Last week I heard two quotes from MSNBC pundits used to address the current political news cycle. Chris Hayes wondered if Donald Trump’s campaign is little more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. The answer to this is yes. Chris Matthews quipped, “Is this much ado about nothing?” in reference to the FBI’s findings on Hilary Clinton’s e-mail “scandal”. The answer to this is, who the hell knows since the FBI and CIA cannot agree on what was classified and what wasn’t, and no one has adequately addressed the difference between her private server and other government officials’ private servers. But I digress. My point is that Shakespeare is all around us, even if we don’t know it.


Shakespeare can be found in some surprising places. Right now I have Hotspur Ale in my refrigerator and an Ophelia chardonnay in my wine collection. You may snicker, but the ale is one way to get my step-dad to appreciate Shakespeare, and the wine is a good way to drown a week’s worth of stress.

On Friday’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host asked one of his guests, “We think of the Danes as morose, do you think this is because of Hamlet?” The guest did not seem to find this question amusing and noted that the Danish people were a happy lot.

I’ve heard Shakespeare quoted and referenced in so many ways over the last year that little surprises me. Sometimes I giggle, sometimes I just sigh but mostly I just note it for later use. I’ve come to expect it from writers and those looking to make a “smart” point. But this morning I came across a reference, at least I think it’s a reference, that took me by complete surprise.

Child Rowland to the dark tower came;
His word was still
Fie, foh, and fum!
I smell the blood of a British man. (Edgar, King Lear)

I was looking at Lear in order to find a quote for this morning’s hashtag game #ShakespeareSunday. I’ve read and heard these lines many times, but for some reason it wasn’t until this morning that I made a modern connection to them. And I will admit, I could be completely wrong, but it’s worth musing over, don’t you think?


The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about I point you to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and his hero Roland . And to make this musing even more relevant ( or amusing if you wish) is the fact that some American fans of the book series are up in arms over the casting choice of Roland in the upcoming movie adaptation; a British black actor will be playing the lead character. Some of these nutters are calling for his blood.

As  stated above, I admit I could be completely wrong about the connection between Shakespeare’s Rowland’s dark tower and Stephen King’s Roland’s dark tower as I’ve only read the first three books and never thought “Lear”, and from what I know of Lear it would be hard to make a good argument for a close connection between to the two. But then again…Both men are outcasts who find purpose in protecting someone and something important to his sense of self.

In Lear Edgar utters these random lines (actually he sings them) as while disguised as Poor Tom, (poverty and madness personified) after being rejected by his family and society. Edgar has lost everything and is forced out into the wilderness where he encounters harsh weather and unnatural forces that bring him back into contact with his father. I could break down the plot involving Edgar and his father, but I promised myself this would be a short post, (and I suspect most of you know the plot already) so suffice to say that Edgar is reunited with his now blind and helpless father after they both become victims of unjust revenge and circumstances beyond their control.

Stephen King begins his series with what is called one of the greatest lines in all of modern literature, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”. The novel tells the story of Roland the gunslinger, who is forced out into the desert (wilderness) to chase the man in black and becomes involved in circumstances that are wildly out of his control. Like Edgar, Roland encounters unnatural forces and is confronted by a sense of helplessness by many of the people he encounters. Readers of the book are never blatantly confronted by a “mad” Roland, but his brand of justice and his single minded quest to find the man in black does make one wonder if he isn’t just one step from the edge…

Anyway, this is my Sunday musing. It’s been on my mind all morning and I am sure it will continue to haunt me all day. This is where you come in. Tell me, do you find these lines of Edgar as a possible influence on King, or am I making much ado about nothing?

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

6 thoughts on “Shakespeare & Stephen King, my Sunday musing”

  1. I don’t know the Stephen King take on the Childe Rowland folktale but I do know that other writers took inspiration from it, for example the one I reviewed here:

    I agree with the tenor of your post, Sari, Shakespeare’s influence is more pervasive in English-speaking countries than many realise (possibly more popular in US culture than the UK’s). I’d be really interested in how he affects other cultures’ languages and idioms. We know the German Romantics took to Shakespeare in a big way, and he was later equally popular in the Indian subcontinent. Have Shakespearean words phrases entered these languages in translations to the same degree?


    1. Thank you Chris for the reminder of folktale. Your post was a splendid take on it. I now wonder if it was the folktale, not Shakespeare that may have inspired King’s story. He says he starting writing the novel in college and being an English major may have read Browning’s poem. The two fit better than King and Lear.
      As for your question, I have to be honest and say I don’t know. I cannot think of any scholarly work on the subject and sadly my knowledge of language and influence is sadly deficient. I know that his work has been translated into almost every language, including Klingon, but can’t say for certain if non-western countries have absorbed his work into common sayings.
      As for the Romantics, I know they have their detractors, but we can thank them for bringing back his original work and demanding that theater let Shakespeare be Shakespeare. Before the Romantics came along it was acceptable and preferable to have his work end on a happy note. And thanks to the Lambs, all the “naughty bits” weeded out. The Romantics as we all know, thrived on tragedy, and so feel in love with Shakespeare. Thanks to the Romantics there was a renewed interest in his original work that has not let up. Most notably Lear’s Cordelia now continues to die even as it breaks our hearts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My own tribute to Shakespeare a while back was to sneak at least two quotations from “The Merchant of Venice” into each chapter of the middle section of a serial novel. Why the middle section and why “Merchant?” Because the lead character in the middle section is an ex-cop vampire whose father was an actor who named all three of his children after Shakespearean characters, in this particular case Shylock. (It could be worse: his brother was named Iago.) Being a vampire, “Therefore be o’ good cheer, for truly I think you are damned,” and “He sleeps by day, more like the wildcat.”

    Liked by 1 person

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