‘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.

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 […]

“What Is Love?” Shakespeare’s Take On Love: Sonnet 116

what-is-loveWhat is love? Philosophers down the centuries and millennia have frequently asked the question. 

There are plenty of examples of great quotes on love from Shakespeare’s works, but his definitive response to the ‘what is love’ question is as deep and profound as any philosopher’s could be, expressed in the most beautiful language. Sonnet 116 is a full and complete examination of love in verse – the most concentrated form of language – and he manages to get it all into just fourteen lines. Here it is in full:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
 I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

The sonnet is an examination of the problem of what is love, pinned down by looking at it from several angles. Love doesn’t change as the circumstances around the lovers change, and can’t be altered by any temptation they may experience.

He is saying that he cannot accept that real love has any imperfections.

He gives us a definitive, knowing ‘Oh no!’ Love is forever stable and fixed, like a star that looks down on storms without itself being affected. It’s there like the star that sea captains use to navigate: they don’t know what the star’s made of but they can depend on it to help them find their way.

Lovers change – they age, and lose their looks, but the star doesn’t – it is always there, forever unchanging: it is unaffected by time.

Love, Shakespeare tells us, isn’t something that wears itself out over weeks, months and years, but remains firm right throughout the lives of the lovers and doesn’t even end with their death but continues until the world ends.

Shakespeare ends his poetic essay answering the ‘what is love’ question by telling us that he knows that he’s right and he will bet on his reputation as a writer that no-one will be able to prove him wrong.

So when you’re next out for a romantic dinner for two with your beloved take a good look at him or her, and if you know that nothing can change the way you feel tonight and you will always be faithful  – even if your lover loses his hair and his teeth, if her face eventually crumples with wrinkles, if you fall on hard times or are tempted by the  attentions of another person – then you love that person sitting opposite you. And remember, Shakespeare told you that’s what love is!

Shakespeare’s Christmas Play: Twelfth Night

shakespeare-12-days-of-christmasThis post discusses Elizabethan play naming conventions…and Shakespeare’s Christmas play, Twelfth Night.

The Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, in heavy competition with each other, and pressurized by the need to fill the theatres, wrote fast so that new plays would be coming off the assembly line in quick succession.

As people walked past the theatres they encountered posters with the plays’ titles, and the names of the actors, many of whom were famous, as actors are today. Potential audiences would browse the posters and decide what they wanted to watch. The titles of the plays were eye-catching: they were an important selling device. They were important, as they are today. Sometimes they have a meaning, referring to a play’s theme, and sometimes they are just eye-catching. Sometimes they are both.

Ben Jonson’s titles are intriguing: A Tale of a Tub, Bartholomew Fair, The Magnetic Lady and The Devil is an Ass would be some of the titles that would assail the browser. Let’s face it, it would be hard to resist going in to see a play about the Devil or a magnetic lady.

Other titles that would beckon you in were such titles as Webster’s A Wife for a Month and The Wild Goose Chase; John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Broken Heart, or The Roaring Girl by Middleton and Dekker.

Master Shakespeare’s plays were the most popular in London. There was no need to pull the audiences in: they didn’t care what the play was – it was the author’s name that filled the theatre. Indeed, there is hardly an interesting title among his huge body of plays. Most of them are named by the main character. It’s as though he gave the plays working titles as he was writing them and they never got changed. It’s as though, in writing Othello, he just jotted the general’s name down and when writing about a Venetian merchant he just stated that – The Merchant of Venice. Imagine this: he could have called Othello something like Brought Down by Jealousy, or Macbeth, The Over-reacher Reaches Too Far.

And then the flippant As You Like It, saying call it whatever you like. And Twelfth Night. He doesn’t come anywhere near bothering with a title for that play. It’s simply called Twelfth Night just because it was written to be performed on the twelfth night of Christmas.

Think about the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. We sing it quite happily at Christmas time without really knowing what it means. In our busy modern lives we have Christmas then we pack up and get back to our everyday lives. For the Elizabethans Christmas was a major festival, lasting twelve days. On the last night of the festival – the twelfth night – they had a big party then went back to work the next day. We do still have the remnants of the twelve day festival: it’s considered bad luck to take the Christmas tree down before or after the 6th of January. That’s the twelfth day – the end of the holiday.

The play was written to be performed on that last night. During the final party the Elizabethans obeyed several traditions. Cross dressing was one, drinking and carousing, another. Inversion of social roles was another, where masters waited on their servants and servants lorded it up. And lots of music and singing. The next day they woke up with hangovers and staggered off to work for another year.

And Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night? Well – a woman dressed as a man, the drunken revelry of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, the songs and the music – remember the opening line, If music be the food of love play on – and the pretentions of Malvolio, the servant who has the delusion that he could become the master. It’s all very much in accordance with the themes of the twelfth night festival.

Perhaps Shakespeare’s ‘working’ titles have more to them than meets the eye?

Why Did Shakespeare Set So Many Of His Plays Abroad?

The Rialto Bridge, Venice. Setting for part of The Merchant of Venice

The Rialto Bridge, Venice. Setting for part of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

We recently mapped the locations of all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays. The most interesting thing about looking at the map is just how broadly Shakespeare cast his creative web across different cultures and languages inthe search for suitable material for his dramas.

In fact over three quarters of Shakespeare’s plays are set outside of the UK, with a geographic spread north to south from Denmark to Lybia and west to east from Spain to Syria. Some of those are set in Shakespeare’s own time, some in Medieval Europe and some in ancient Europe. The Greek and Roman Empires feature in many of the history plays, with action taking place in north Africa (Lybia and Egypt) and what we now refer to as the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria & Turkey).

Of the plays that are set in the UK (England, Wales and Scotland – none in Ireland) only one is set in Elizabethan England – The Merry Wives of Windsor. Looking at the content of that play may give a clue as to why Shakespeare’s plays are set either abroad or in the distant past. The Merry Wives is pure comedy – farce, actually – and has nothing to say about politics, other than sexual and family politics. It can’t in any way engender any feelings in monarchs or other powerful political figures other than to make them laugh.

Most of the other plays are seriously political. Shakespeare lived in very dangerous times – in times when to criticise powerful rulers could mean imprisonment at the very least and execution at worst. But think about it: how can you write something on a political theme without doing criticising power? The answer is to set your play either in a foreign country or in the distant past. You can then criticise your own monarch, who is disguised as a foreign ruler in the play. The same goes for the plays set in historical Britain – you can give those historical kings some of the villainous ways of your own monarch, thereby pointing to those villainous ways without too much danger.

You still have to be careful though. For example, King James was James VI of Scotland and James I of England at the same time, hence the united kingdoms. Shakespeare made his Scottish king, Macbeth, a tyrant and a butcher. He balanced that by reference to the English king who is described in terms of holiness and saintliness, and who sponsors the military overthrow of Macbeth. King James, who certainly saw the play, would have been sitting back with a feeling of saintliness himself.

If Shakespeare had set political plays in England in his own time we would never have seen them – nor would the Elizabethan audience, as the plays would have been banned by the censors. But there are a couple of other reasons why so many of Shakespeare plays are set in Europe.

The first is a very simple one: Shakespeare rarely bases plays on stories that he has himself made up – almost all the stories come from somewhere else. He takes them and works his themes on them, changing and developing them in the process, introducing new characters into them, and so on. He almost always leaves the stories in the settings in which he finds them. Some of the stories are very famous, such as the very old story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which there was no way he could have set anywhere other than Denmark. The same goes for Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and the other plays set in the ancient world.

The second reason so many of Shakespeare’s plays were based abroad was to do with the strong prejudices and expectations that  Elizabethan audiences had, particularly around Italy. In Shakespeare’s time, if the public saw that a play was set somewhere in Italy and the characters were Italian they immediately sat up and took notice. They knew that the action would be extremely violent and there would be extreme passions that would sweep them up emotionally and hold them in that intense world for a couple of hours. Because of this Shakespeare uses Italy as a backdrop (at least in part) to 14 of his 37 plays.

So although it’s a hotly debated topic just how much travel Shakespeare did – and, indeed whether he ever made it to Italy, or any other countries he based his plays – there are at least 3 good reasons as to why so many of Shakespeare’s plays are set outside of the UK:

1. He could’t get away with writing plays which critisized Kings and rulers in his own country and time.

2. Many of the plays Shakespeare wrote came from traditional stories, and required a specific setting outside of the UK.

3. In Shakespeare’s time Italy in particular had a reputation for violence and passion that would pull in the Elizabethan punters.