Shakespeare In Other Art Forms

After the legendary actor-manager David Garrick introduced bardolatory to mid-18th-century England, artists quickly followed his lead by painting scenes from Shakespeare’s plays as well as portraits  of prominent actors in dramatic poses. Reproduced as prints, works by William Hogarth, Henry Fuseli, William Blake and later, John Everett Millais helped to enshrine Shakespeare as England’s great poet. Soon, French Romantics like Delacroix, Chasseriau and Moreau were also depicting key moments from Shakespeare’s plays. Yet be the end of the 19th century the fashion for Shakespeare in art had run its course.

More lasting has been Shakespeare’s association with music. A few symphonic works, like Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet remain popular, but Shakespearean operas have proven more sucessful. Purcell’s 1692 Fairy Queen, based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was among the first, but the golden age for opera inspired by Shakeseare was to come later. Of some 200 written in the 19th century only Verdi’s Macbeth, Othello and Falstaff were masterpieces, while Bellini’s I Capuletti e I Montecchi (based on Shakespeare’s source for Romeo and Juliet), Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Ambriose Thomas’ Hamlet are also regularly performed today. From the 20th century Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream stands out, although compsers are still drawn by Shakespeare: Philippe Boesmans recreated The Winter’s Tale as Wintermarchen, Salvatore Sciarrino adapted Macbeth and Thomas Ades The Tempest.

Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (1859; oil on canvas, Louvre)

Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (1859; oil on canvas, Louvre)

Undergoing still greater transformation, many of Shakespeare’s plays have also been turned into musical comedies, although only three have become Broadway hits. The Comedy of Errors gave Richard Rogers and Lorenzo Hart their story for The Boy from Syracuse in 1938, while a decade later Cole Porter borrowed from The Taming of the Shrew to write the musical Kiss Me Kate. Still more popular was the 1957 hit West Side Story, in which Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim adapted Romeo and Juliet to the world of warring New York gangs.

Rumble's a coming in Westside story...

Rumble’s a-coming in Westside story…

It has been left to cinema, however, to carry Shakespeare to a wider public. In the three decades after Henry Beerbohm Tree first filmed the dying scene from King Lear in 1899, scores of silent Shakespeare movies were made, including 17 versions of Hamlet alone. With the arrival of ‘talkies’, Shakespeare films incorporated dialogue, music, large crowd scenes and realistic locations. Audiences intimidated by the idea of going to the theatre were suddenly given easy access to Shakespeare. Thanks to the draw of film stars, Shakespeare on screen also proved easily exportable.

Laurence Olivier’s patriotic Henry V, filmed during the Second World War, was the first adaptation to exploit the screen’s full potential. Olivier followed up with Hamlet, Richard III and Othello. Orson Welles matched him with Macbeth, Othello and Chime at Midnight built around Falstaff. Hollywood presented star-studded versions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Non-English films won critical acclaim, notably Kozintsev’s Russian Hamlet and King Lear, and Kurusawa’s Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well and Ran, his Japanese versions of Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear.

Lawrence Olivier on-screen as Richard III

Lawrence Olivier on-screen as Richard III

Shakespeare has also reached large audiences through television, with some of his plots even adapted for series like Star Trek. Movie directors also continue to explore fresh ways of presenting Shakespeare. Al Pacino’s 1996 Looking for Richard shows a group of actors discussing and rehearsing Richard III. Oliver Parker’s Othello and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing combine period dramas with modern cinematography. Other plays have also been updated: Baz Luhrmann set his Romeo + Juliet among American drug gangs, while Richard Loncraine’s Richard III had a facist Richard ruling 1930’s Britain.

Curiously though, the most sucessful film in many years – John Madden’s Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love – is not based on a play, but is a fictional romp about the young playwright and his mistress. Yet this is proof enough that, four centuries after he made his name in London, the Bard remains a global celebrity.

Plagiarizing Shakespeare

plagirising-shakespearePlagiarism was not an issue for Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, and there wasn’t even any such concept. Writers collaborated on plays without there being any fuss about whose intellectual property the final play was. They also used the stories and even the words of other writers in their plays and that was entirely acceptable at the time.

If any writer did that today he or she would very soon have a major lawsuit to contend with. We have seen several cases of that and some writers have had their reputations destroyed by having been found out.

One of the first things that newly arrived university students are told is that plagiarism is an expelling offence. They are warned that their essays are run through plagiarism software. High school students are usually able to get away with a warning rather than expulsion but plagiarism is nevertheless seriously regarded in schools.

When I was a university student, long before the age of plagiarism software, a high living friend was threatened with not being allowed to take the exam because he had failed to hand in the last three essays. He begged me to lend him my three essays to help him, which I did, but unknown to me he simply copied them. They were good essays, which I had worked hard on, achieving around 80% for each one. My friend had a different tutor so it seemed safe to copy mine. However, his tutor knew that he was almost completely uninterested in anything academic and had missed most of the lectures and tutorials. He knew what my friend was and was not capable of and knew that he could not have written them. The essays came back with an average of 29%. The fact is that the tutor, knowing him, had not been fooled. He did not know who the original writer was but he knew it wasn’t my friend. And he was determined to fail him.

My friend survived and went on to have an illustrious career as an ambassador to several major countries.

As a teacher I could immediately tell when a student’s essays were not written by him or her. I did not have to run them through the software, but I did, only to provide evidence to his or her parents that their child had copied passages from the internet.

There are several companies – like – offering custom essays on the internet. They assure potential clients that the essays are written especially for them and none of it is copied from anywhere. Most important, however, they warn their clients of the seriousness of plagiarism and make it clear that they offer only templates that will help students who have fallen behind for some reason to gain some insights that their writers’ work will provide, and warn them not simply to hand them in as their own. (Learn more here.)

Such study aids are widespread and schools and universities know they exist, so it comes back to how well the teacher knows the student’s level of ability, how she expresses herself and so on. The teacher’s experience is key to this problem. One cannot blame the essay-writing companies for anything – the issue is between the student and the teacher.

Ironically, in the 21st century Shakespeare’s texts are widely being run through plagiarism software. That is not to prove that he copied things, which we already know he did, but to find his hand in the vast body of dramatic writings of his time. As a result of that we have a valuable insight into how Elizabethan and Jacobean writers worked, which was mainly collectively.  Scholars have discovered a network of collaboration among them, and even more exciting, that Shakespeare is present in a great number of the plays credited to other writers, that were being performed in the London of his time, something that we had not previously known.

When Shakespeare copied the stories, ideas and text of other writers he always transformed them into his own immortal work. He changed words here and there, improved them and fitted them into his own themes. We have to be grateful to those writers who gave Shakespeare the ideas and stories that we so enjoy and value today. Those from whom he copied will not be remembered but Shakespeare’s texts will live forever.

‘I Swear I’ll Make Heaps’… William Shakespeare Anagrams!

peek-clam-and-make-anagramsWe very happily stumbled across the wonderful AnagramGenius website this week, which truly does have some genius anagrams – including a range of Shakespeare anagrams from the ridiculous to the sublime.



‘William Shakespeare’ is an anagram of:

‘Hear me as I will speak’

‘I swear I’ll make heaps’

…and perhaps our favourite, ‘We shall make a pie sir!’


‘William Shakespeare, The Bard of Avon’  is an anagram of ‘Abrasive alpha male of the worse kind’


‘The Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare’ is an anagram of  ‘This admirable writer shall make a poem’


‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ is an anagram of  ‘Pick Marlowe, ask if he wrote all these poems’


And playing around with Shakespeare’s hometown ‘Stratford-Upon-Avon in Warwickshire, Britain’ gives: ‘Harp a visit in our known, a terrific bard’s town’


That’s the pick of Shakespeare anagrams from AnagramGenius. What do you think of these Shakespeare-related anagrams – could you do any better? Let us know your ideas in the comments below.

Top Love Quotes By Writers

Love quotes by writers

Love quotes by writers

Whilst there’s no doubt Shakespeare could always write a great quote about love, many famous writers down the years have done the same. In this blog post we’ve pulled together the top love quotes by famous writers, whether written or spoken:


“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
Victor Hugo

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

“True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen.”
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“A woman knows the face of the man she loves as a sailor knows the open sea.”
Honore de Balzac

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”
A. A. Milne

“If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.”
Michel de Montaigne

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”
Charles Dickens

“I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved.”
George Eliot

“I was about half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty… you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are.”
J. D. Salinger

“We loved with a love that was more than love.”
Edgar Allan Poe

“Life is the flower for which love is the honey.”
Victor Hugo

“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.”
Henry Miller

“I believe in the compelling power of love. I do not understand it. I believe it to be the most fragrant blossom of all this thorny existence.”
Theodore Dreiser

“How absurd and delicious it is to be in love with somebody younger than yourself. Everybody should try it.”
Barbara Pym

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”
G. K. Chesterton

“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I’.”
Ayn Rand

“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”
George Eliot

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
Oscar Wilde

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Lawrence Durrell

“The richest love is that which submits to the arbitration of time.”

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”
Henry David Thoreau

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
Victor Hugo

“The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.”
Leo Tolstoy

“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
W. Somerset Maugham

“Love: the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”
Mark Twain

“To love someone is to see a miracle invisible to others.”
Francois Mauriac

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
Anais Nin

“Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species.”
W. Somerset Maugham

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”
Hermann Hesse

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.”
George Sand

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”
Charles Dickens

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”
Oscar Wilde

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Orson Welles


What do you think of this list of love quotes by famous writers – any more quotes we should include?

Drunk Shakespeare, NYC Style!

drunk_shakespeareEver get into Shakespeare discussions at your local after a pint or two? The New York-based Drunk Shakespeare crew – who recently came to our attention – take things to the next level with their unique take on the Bard’s work.  Each night, one of their cast members drinks at least 5 shots of whiskey and then attempts to perform in a Shakespearean play to the assembled crowd… what could possibly go wrong?!

Far from a druken free-for-all, the Drunk Shakespeare show combines song, dance, improvisation, and puppets, with much of Shakespeare’s wit and words, and was recently nominated for an Off Broadway Alliance Award for “Best Unique Theatrical Experience”.

Here’s a little taster, and if you’re in New York go check them out!

Shakespeare’s Longest Play: Hamlet

When the curtain goes up for a performance of Romeo and Juliet Chorus steps on to the stage. He tells the audience the whole plot and says that it ‘is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage.’

Two hours was the audience expectation for the performance of an Elizabethan play. It was the average length of a performance, and just long enough to allow the audience to leave and get home before darkness fell. Making one’s way home through London in the dark could be a dangerous thing so those who produced plays took that into account.

Shakespeare's longest play...Hamlet

Shakespeare’s longest play…Hamlet

Romeo and Juliet falls nicely into that average length bracket. In fact, however, modern performances of the play take three hours. There are three thousand lines and the rule of thumb in modern theatre is a thousand lines per hour. Modern productions make a great deal of the swordplay, for example, where time passes without words, which may not have been the case in Elizabethan performances. Then there is Capulet’s party, where modern producers can’t help showing the spectacle of it. Perhaps the Elizabethan theatre productions didn’t do that. And maybe the Elizabethan actors spoke faster. We don’t know. What we know is that Elizabethan performances lasted about two hours.

Hamlet is quite a bit longer than the average, and at 4,000 lines it is Shakespeare’s longest play. If you go to a matinee performance of Hamlet starting at 2 p.m  you’ll be sitting (or maybe standing with the groundlings at the Globe) until 6 p.m! Even in the Elizabethan theatre it would have taken three hours. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play.

Why did Shakespeare launch such a long play knowing that it would stretch audience attention limits? It’s possible that he couldn’t make it any shorter, considering how deeply he was exploring, and that he felt that it would hold the audience’s attention and make them forget about the dangers that lurked as they made their way home in the dark.

And he was right. Four hundred years later Hamlet is still his most performed play, and still regarded as his greatest. In that play he goes very deeply into the human soul – deeply deeply – in a way that has never been done by any writer either before or after him. It is a long play but it holds audiences spellbound, and when the curtain comes down they walk out into the fresh air having experienced something very special.

The Shakespeare Tavern

Hold your breath in disbelief as you read this: There is no “Shakespeare Tavern” in Stratford-upon-Avon!

It would seem such a natural thing, wouldn’t it, to have a great number of places in England called “The Shakespeare Tavern?”

Perhaps the answer lies in the meaning of the word “tavern.” A tavern is a place where people go to eat and drink but in earlier times, and during Shakespeare’s lifetime, there were two distinct places where people could do that. You would go to a tavern if you wanted to drink wine – and to eat, of course – or, if you wanted beer or ale with your food. If you wanted somewhere to stay for the night you went to an inn. There were far more inns than taverns as a tavern was a kind of restaurant, where the better-off went, while an inn was where ordinary people went to drink the cheaper ale. And if you were traveling you went to an inn, of course. So the inns were always full. As time went by both inns and taverns became public houses, while some of the inns became hotels. The public houses became known as pubs in England, and that’s how we know them today. Even if they carry the name “tavern” we still refer to them as pubs.

In London, there are no more than three or four pubs called “The Shakespeare Tavern.” There’s one in Victoria, another in Kilburn and one in Westminster. There are none in the area of London associated with Shakespeare, around Southwark and the Southbank. Around the rest of England, too, there are not many, although there is one in Bristol and one in Durham.

There are “Shakespeare Taverns” in Australia – one in Melbourne and one in Sydney; and there’s one in Auckland, New Zealand.

Shakespeare Tavern AtlantaProbably the best known place called “The Shakespeare Tavern” is in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. It isn’t a pub, however – it’s a theatre. It’s an Elizabethan playhouse, built, like the Globe in London, on the model of an actual Elizabethan theatre. It’s the home of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and it offers, not only an authentic Elizabethan audience experience but also English pub food and drink before each performance. Its official name is “The New American Shakespeare Tavern.”

Shakespeare Tavern NYCThere is one very interesting “Shakespeare Tavern” which, alas, doesn’t exist anywhere but in the history books about New York. It’s Thomas Hodgkinson’s “Shakespeare Tavern,” which opened in 1808 on the corner of Nassau and Fulton streets. What makes it interesting is that it was the hang-out place of the Lads of Kilkenny, a group of young writers, actors and politicians – prosperous, professional young men interested in literature, some of whom wrote as a hobby rather than a career. The enthusiastic young man who emerged as their leader was none other than Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkel, who ruled there for many years.

Love Quotes By Poets

Love quotes from poets

Whilst the Bard of Avon himself was one of the world’s finest writer of love quotes, many other poets through the years have written some immortal words on live. In this blog post we’ve pulled together the top love quotes by poets whether written or spoken, some of them short verses, others a well turned one-liner:


“I love you
because the Earth turns round the sun
because the North wind blows north
because the Pope is Catholic
and most Rabbis Jewish
because winters flow into springs
and the air clears after a storm”
Nikki Giovanni

“As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.
As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.”
King Solomon

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Come live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.”
Christopher Marlowe

“Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to Love.”

“Ah love is bitter and sweet,
but which is more sweet
the bitterness or the sweetness,
none has spoken it.”
Hilda Doolittle

“Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty, add a hundred more:
A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on,
To make that thousand up a million.
Treble that million, and when that is done,
Let’s kiss afresh, as when we first begun.”
Robert Herrick

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!”
Omar Khayyam

“Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.”
Ben Jonson

“And given you in earnest words I flung in jest.”
Edna St.Vincent Millay

“O, my Luve is like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve is like the melodie,
That’s sweetly played in tune.”
Robert Burns

“Before you kissed me only winds of heaven
Had kissed me, and the tenderness of rain—
Now you have come, how can I care for kisses
Like theirs again?”
Sara Teasdale

“With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and their change, all please alike.”
John Milton

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”
Matthew Arnold

“Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!”
Emily Dickinson

“If things on earth may be to heaven resembled,
It must be love, pure, constant, undissembled.”
Aphra Behn

“At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.
At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.”
Li Po

“Grow old along with me
the best is yet to be.”
Robert Browning

“Through all eternity to thee
A joyful song I’ll raise,
For oh! Eternity is too short
To utter all thy praise.”
Joseph Addison

“Love doesn’t make the world go round,
Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“With the earth and the sky and the water,
remade, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms
a rose in the deeps of my heart.”
William Butler Yeats

“Her gesture, motion, and her smiles,
Her wit, her voice my heart beguiles,
Beguiles my heart, I know not why,
And yet, I’ll love her till I die.”
Thomas Ford

“I wish I could remember the first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me;
If bright or dim the season it might be;
Summer or winter for aught I can say.
So, unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was i to see and to forsee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom, yet, for many a May.”
Christina Rossetti

“Her voice is low and sweet
And she’s all the world to me
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me down and die.”
William Douglas

“Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love, thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:”
Lord Tennyson

“How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
William Butler Yeats

“Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes its meaning from the nobler part,
And but translates the language of the heart.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“I love thee as I love the tone
Of some soft-breathing flute
Whose soul is wak’d for me alone,
When all beside is mute.”
Eliza Acton

“Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.”
William Blake

“I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.”
John Clare

“He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples:
for I am sick of love.”

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”
Oscar Wilde

“Love does not dominate; it cultivates.”

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

“Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”
Robert Frost

“Absence – that common cure of love.”
Lord Byron

“Everything is clearer when you’re in love.”
John Lennon

“It is difficult to know at what moment love begins; it is less difficult to know that it has begun.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen.”
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“For not many men, the proverb saith, can love a friend whom fortune prospereth unenvying.”

“Love is the only gold.”

“For Mercy has a human heart, Pity, a human face, And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress.”
William Blake

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“Soul meets soul on lover’s lips.”
Percy Bysshe Shelly

“All love that has not friendship for its base, is like a mansion built upon the sand.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.”

“Hearts are not to be had as a gift – hearts are to be earned.
William Butler Yeats

“Love can excellent convince.”


What do you think of this list of love quotes by poets – any more quotes we should include?

Shakespeare & The Ancient Game Of Tennis

shakespeare-tennisAlthough Shakespeare was very familiar with tennis, if he had gone to Wimbledon this week he would not have recognised the game. He would have gasped at the lightness and speed of the ball for a start. The tennis balls he knew were made of wood, or, in some cases, leather stuffed with grains of wheat.

He would have been more comfortable with Centre Court than with the others as tennis in his time was an indoor game. You needed walls as you had to play the ball off them, including the alcoves and the sections that jutted out, and the scoring was related to where the ball travelled, what it bounced off, how many times it bounced and so on.

The game was known as ‘real tennis.’ The Queen’s father, Henry VIII, built a tennis court at Hampton Court. The original burnt down but another one was built later. It is still there and one can visit the house and see the tennis court. There is a real tennis club whose members play in it.

The game, popular among French aristocrats, spread around Europe. It had originated in mediaeval Italy where it was a leisure activity of monks. They played with wooden balls which they hit with their hands. The French used leather gloves at first, which they later attached to sticks, and there you had the first rackets.

Outdoor tennis came very slowly as the balls could be played only on a hard surface – lawns would be destroyed by the large, solid balls. It was only when rubber came into use that tennis was played on the lawn and the modern game was born. And so… Wimbledon!

Shakespeare has a great scene in Henry V (Act 1 scene 2) where tennis is the central metaphor. It’s perfect, as it always is, in Shakespeare, as a way of talking about something: in this case the relationship between two countries at war, with words like ‘balls,’ and ‘hit’ and ‘court.’ The French ambassador comes to Henry’s camp with a gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin. Henry interprets that as a threat and he issues his own threat.

‘We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have match’d our rackets to these balls.
We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
Tell him, he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturb’d
With chases.’


It’s a beautiful piece of writing by any standard – one of Shakespeare’s finest passages. It also makes a good scene visually and can be amusing, with tennis balls rolling around the stage.

The term ‘rally’ in modern tennis, refers to the knocking of the ball between the players: it was ‘bandying’ in Elizabethan times. There’s a lovely line in King Lear where Goneril’s servant, Oswald is insolent to Lear. Lear says: ‘Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal?’ How perfect a description is that?

Tennis is referred to several times in Shakespeare’s plays. In Hamlet Polonius refers to ‘falling out at tennis.’

Yes, Shakespeare would find a day at Wimbledon very interesting. He would also enjoy the early summer weather, the beauty of the surroundings and the strawberries and cream.

Shakespeare & The Beautiful Game

shakespeare-footballWhen William Shakespeare was a teenager he probably played football with the other village boys in Stratford, even though the game’s legality was a grey area – or more accurately, a banned game that wasn’t being policed.

He certainly was familiar with the game as he refers to it in his plays. But the sport that is now the world’s most popular goes back much further than Shakespeare. The earliest mention of it is in 2,500 B.C. in China where it was played as part of the celebration of the Emperor’s birthday. It’s mentioned frequently in ancient Greek and Roman Games from 300 B.C. and it comes to England from Italy.

The game was banned by King Edward II in 1314. He  called it a ‘mob game:’ at the time that young William was kicking about with his friends it had not been unbanned. They used a blown up pig’s bladder filled with beans that made a rattling noise as it was kicked about. Later, they tied leather around it. Little did William Shakespeare and his team mates know of how big and universal the game would become and how it would fire up even more passion than can be found in all the plays that William was going to write put together.

Ball games were not the most popular games in Shakespeare’s time – the Elizabethans preferred shooting or throwing things at targets, from push ha’penny to archery. The ball games were tennis and bowls – two gentle, refined games. Football was feared by the authorities because it caused far more injuries than other games and, worse, riots… something that it still has the power to do today.

It wasn’t the beautiful game in Elizabethan England – it was the deadly game.

There were no rules and no fixed number of players per team, and anyone who wanted to joined in. It was a rough and tumble sport and the players tackled each other with everyone piling on. In a seventeenth century book,  Anatomie of Abuses, Phillip Stubbes wrote:  ‘As concerning football playing, I protest unto you it may rather be called a friendly kind of fight, than a play or recreation; a bloody and murdering practice, than a fellowly sport or pastime….. sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their legs, sometimes their arms, sometime one part thrust out of joint, sometime another, sometime their noses gush out with blood, sometime their eyes start out.’

He went on to describe its effects and we realise when reading that that not much has changed in the past half millennium: ‘envy, malice, rancour, choler, hatred, displeasure, enmity and what not else: and sometimes fighting, brawling, contention, quarrel picking, murder, homicide and great effusion of blood, as experience daily teacheth.’

A fifteenth century headmaster, Richard Mulcaster,  wrote, on his retirement in 1508, about the value of football in his schools: ‘the football strengtheneth and brawneth the whole body but it is now commonly used, with the thronging of a rude multitude, with bursting of shins and breaking of legs’

When Shakespeare went to London and began his writing career he probably didn’t have the leisure to play football and then, of course, he became too old for such pursuits. But as with all his early experiences and observations, he used football to make the images that fill his pages. In King Lear (act 1 scene 4) his daughter Regan’s servant is being insolent to Lear. Lear’s protector, Kent, strikes him and when he protests and says ‘I’ll not be struck, my lord,’ Kent trips him up and says, ‘nor tripped neither, you base football player.’ He’s acting out the rough play that Shakespeare experienced in games of football.

In The Comedy of Errors when the servant Dromio complains of his treatment by his masters he puts it like this:

‘Am I so round with you as you with me,
That like a football you do spurn me thus?
You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither.
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.’ (Act 2, Scene 1)

Although Shakespeare would not recognise the highly structured game if he could come back and see it this week, he would recognise the passion. He would be surprised by how universal it was and possibly shocked by how tame it had become.

Want more Shakespeare football chat? Check out our round up of Shakespeare’s plays and characters as World Cup teams >>

Speaking Shakespeare’s English

Did you know that you talk Shakespeare’s language every day? Even if you had never heard of him, which is unlikely, you would use phrases coined by him in most conversations you have with friends or family.

Let’s take two friends having a conversation. One is very sad as she’s just broken up with her boyfriend. The conversation might go something like this:

‘He just left: all of a sudden. Without rhyme or reason.’

‘Well, good riddance, I say.’

‘I know. I was living in a fool’s paradise.’

‘The world’s your oyster now.’

‘But he’s made a laughing stock of me.’

‘I say again, good riddance. He was eating you out of house and home, for one thing. You should have sent him packing long ago.’

‘Just gone: in the twinkling of an eye.’

‘Well, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. He was enough to set one’s teeth on edge.’

‘Thanks. You’re a tower of strength. A heart of gold.’

‘You really are a sorry sight.’

‘I know, I haven’t slept a wink.’

‘What did you see in him? It’s Greek to me.’

‘Well, you know. Love is blind.’

‘Where is he now?’

‘I don’t know. He’s vanished into thin air.’


That may be everyday language, but the incredible thing is that almost all the phrases were introduced to the English language by Shakespeare.