Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare turns 456 on 23rd of April 2020. His birthday is celebrated in thousands of places around the world every year. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, along with the other major English Shakespeare institutions like the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre will, of course, be celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday.

As we look back on the four and a half centuries since Shakespeare was born we cannot but be overwhelmed by the influence he had on the world – in so many ways. Philosophically, poetically, linguistically and even, yes, morally – when you consider the meanings of his stories – he was unparalleled.

But in 1564, the year the baby William was launched into the world, there were other giants already here. Queen Elizabeth 1 was about to mount the throne of England. And on the day Shakespeare was born her great mariner, Francis Drake, 22 years old, was on his first voyage to the Americas, sailing with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, on one of the fleet of ships owned by the Hawkins family of Plymouth.

Martin Luth died during that year, after transforming the world, and John Calvin died almost exactly a month after Shakespeare was born.  But it’s far more pleasant to think about another Englishman, Christopher Marlowe, and the Italian Galileo, both born in the same year as Shakespeare and who had a more positive effect on the world than the two religious reformers. Or the fact that Michelangelo himself overlapped briefly with Shakespeare, dying just a month after Shakespeare was born. (See our post on the famous people who share a birthday with Shakespeare.)

The world was growing fast when Shakespeare and his fellow little giants were being born. The voyages of discovery were pushing the borders of geography and thought and imagination further every day. In 1654 the French Huguenot explorer, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere sailed from France to establish Fort Caroline, now Jacksonville, in America. Meanwhile, voyages around the Cape at the tip of Africa were becoming routine as a means of carrying out the spice trade with India.

And so, Shakespeare, happy birthday. For you’re a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny.

Strange to think of the big birthday celebrations that we honour Shakespeare with, considering that birthdays weren’t celebrated during his time. In the Elizabethan era many people didn’t even know the date of their birth and, indeed, we don’t actually know Shakespeare’s birth date – only the date he was baptised.

Perhaps the aristocracy marked their birthdays back then, but there is very little of that recorded. I have unearthed one mention of an Elizabethan birthday party, however – that of thirteen-year-old Mall Sidney.

Mall grew up to become the famous writer, Lady Mary Wroth, Countess of Pembroke. She was the daughter of Robert Sidney, the brother of the illustrious poet and soldier, Sir Phillip Sidney. They were a very high ranking family. Lady Mary was the first English woman author to write a sustained work of prose fiction. Like Shakespeare, she also wrote a sonnet cycle. The American biographer, Margaret Hannay, produced a biography of Mall in 2010: Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth. She reports: ‘On 18 October 1600 Whyte came to Penshurst, no doubt along with other guests, to celebrate Mall’s thirteenth birthday.’ (p. 77) Unfortunately, Margaret Hannay doesn’t describe the party so we still don’t know how even those who did mark birthdays celebrated them.

There is no indication that even monarchs celebrated their birthdays. Everyone had a saint associated with their birth dates, though, and sometimes they would pay their respects to their saints on their birthday.

Perhaps the best confirmation of the lack of birthday celebrations is the fact that we don’t find much mention of them in Shakespeare’s works. There are references to a birthday only twice in his plays, although not in any way that indicates the kind of attitude that we have to birthdays today. For example, in Julius Caesar, a few moments before Cassius and Brutus engage in battle with Antony and Octavius Caesar, Cassius, feeling his imminent death upon him, says, ‘this is my birthday; as this very day was Cassius born.’ There is no more about it, just that wistful statement, that comes out of the blue.

In Antony and Cleopatra, though, we see Cleopatra grasping the opportunity for an unexpected celebration on her birthday. Antony has just had Caesar’s messenger whipped. He’s in a foul mood but somehow gets a new wind and calls for the servants to fill the bowls for some late-night drinking. Cleopatra who has been feeling lonely and rejected is delighted with this change in mood. She says: ‘It is my birthday. I had thought to have held it poor,’ meaning that she had not expected anything for her birthday. But now she has something – not her birthday, though – to celebrate: Antony’s change of mood.  ‘Since my lord is Antony again,’ she says, I will be Cleopatra.’

It’s doubtful whether Shakespeare gave a second thought to his own birthday, even if he knew what date it was. But we can imagine, on that day, John and Mary Shakespeare gazing down on the new member of their family, eyes tight shut, sleeping peacefully in the cradle at the foot of their bed. How could they know that the tiny creature they had just produced was going to be one of the greatest writers who had ever lived and was not to be outdone for at least four hundred and fifty years? It’s a sublime thought, isn’t it?

Shakespeare – A Wounded Genius

Scholars, critics and other writers have been commenting on Shakespeare’s plays for four hundred years and, it seems, there is still something to say. Every generation invents Shakespeare in its own image and so the commentaries will never end. Sometimes, though, there are commentators who seem determined to ‘catch’ Shakespeare out, to jeer, and suggest that he is less of a genius than he is generally taken to be. Some, as we all know, are even Shakespeare deniers, insisting that the plays were written by someone else.

Recently there were some newspaper reports of an Australian Shakespeare expert who has done some research into Shakespeare’s language and found that some of the ‘original’ phrases attributed to Shakespeare predate their appearances in his work. Among those newspaper reports is one by the British newspaper, The Telegraph, that uses a mocking heading for its report, misrepresenting both the Bard and the Australian professor with the headline:  “Stop saying Shakespeare invented so many phrases – he cribbed most of them, Australian academic claims.”. No doubt the Australian academic, Professor McInnes,  would not go along with the mocking tone of The Telegraph’s article.

Of this I will only say that, of course, there is almost nothing new to be found anywhere, including in the use of language. And as Professor David McInnis himself points out, in the cases he cites, it is Shakespeare who has made those idiomatic phrases – such as ‘it’s Greek to me’ and ‘wild goose chase’ – universal by using them. Other phrases that have been adapted from previous writers have been recast by Shakespeare, with the words or their order changed to fit into a passage of verse, such as ‘the better part of valour is discretion.’ Shakespeare’s reworked versions are more memorable than those of the writers who first used them, and have thus become the idiom.

I would like in this connection to demonstrate something about Shakespeare’s method in his choice of words and phrases. It is not so much the raw words – words that are available to all of us – as the way Shakespeare uses words – that makes him the genius he is. He often virtually copies passages – even long passages – from other works and they end up being some of his most memorable and brilliant chunks of verse. Shakespeare’s main source for his Roman plays was Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. In North’s version there is a description of Cleopatra in her barge:

‘She disdained to set forward otherwise, but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poope whereof was of gold, the sailes of purple, and the owers of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sounde of the musicke of flutes, howboyes, citherns, violls, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of her selfe: she was layed under a pavillion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddesse Venus, commonly drawen in picture: and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretie faire boyes apparelled as painters doe set forth god Cupide, with litle fannes in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her. Her Ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were apparelled like the nymphes Nereides (which are the mermaides of the waters) and like the Graces, some stearing the helme, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge, out of the which there came a wonderfull passing sweete savor of perfumes, that perfumed the wharfes side.’

In Antony and Cleopatra Antony’s general, Enobarbus, visiting Rome, describes the woman Antony has fallen in love with. This is what he says:
‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar’d all description: she did lie
In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,
O’erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended her i’ th’ eyes,
And made their bends adornings. At the helm
A seeming mermaid steers: the silken tackle
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands
That yarely frame the office. From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs.’

One may say that Shakespeare copied it, which he did, of course. And with North’s passage in front of him he reworked it, not only into one of the most miraculous pieces of poetry, but something that fitted into his idea of what the play was, for him, about. One could write a whole book about this passage but I will just make a few points.

Very briefly, then, the first thing to notice is that while North’s is a prose passage Shakespeare’s is verse: he has manipulated some of North’s words into his scheme of iambic pentameter, beautifully constructed to sound like everyday speech but with great depths of meaning produced by the poetic techniques he uses.

Antony and Cleopatra is a miraculous play. It’s a great story for a start (not invented by Shakespeare but taken from history and adapted for his purposes) but the language is a major part of its meaning and its effect. Throughout the play both Antony and Cleopatra are seen as being out of their depth, resulting, when looked at superficially, in failure. But they are drawn in terms of the elements – earth, water, air and fire and the structure of their use in the text tells a different story. Antony is a soldier but chooses to fight Caesar on the sea. He is defeated, but spiritually, he has moved up an element, from earth to water. Cleopatra’s basic element is water but during the play we see her moving up through air and fire. The language of the text plays with those elements. As she dies she says: ‘I am fire and air, my other elements I give to baser life.’ It is a spiritual journey they are both engaged in, a journey that, through their love, takes them beyond mortal life to eternity. Their worldly failure is inconsequential in the face of the eternal life they have found in love. It is a Christian idea.

And so, we see in Shakespeare’s passage, images of fire – miraculous fire, burning on water – air in the form of flutes and wind from the boys’ fans. Shakespeare retains the image of a mermaid, a creature of both the elements of water and of air, and draws special attention to it by repeating it. The text has repeated images of creatures of two elements, dolphins, birds, etc., creatures operating in two elements simultaneously.

There is a great deal more that can be said about this passage that would reveal Shakespeare’s synthesising genius, his invention of sublime poetic phrases and his adaptation of other writers’ language to his purpose.

It is all very well for a journalist writing in a second rate British newspaper to misrepresent a scholar’s work and sneer at Shakespeare for being a diminished writer because he used material from the works of other writers, but he has wholly missed the point. Shakespeare used appropriate material wherever he found it. We can only shrug and wish the journalist good luck in earning his living by writing such nonsense.

Shakespeare Wades Into The UK EU Referendum Debate…

…according to the Daily Mail. Great piece from A.N. Wilson looking at Shakespeare’s take on Europe – and vice versa – in response to two polititians trading Shakespeare quotes in relation to the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership.

Earlier this week European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “To be, or not to be together, that is the question.” In response, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, a long-time Eurosceptic, alluded on the Guardian website to Macbeth: “So much sound and fury, so little outcome.”

shakespeare-referendum

 

There are no doubts… about Shakespeare’s credentials as one who spoke for England. Strangely, though, his greatest admirers in European history, and those Europeans who claimed to be inspired by Shakespeare, saw him not as a petty patriot but as a great liberator of the human spirit. Johann Goethe, Germany’s universal genius, tells us that when he first read Shakespeare in the 18th century the first page “made me his for life. I stood like one born blind, on whom a miraculous hand bestows sight in a moment”. 

Victor Hugo, in the following century in France, literally started a riot at La Comédie-Française, the theatre in Paris devoted to classical drama, when he staged his supposedly Shakespearean drama Hernani in 1830. The Battle of Hernani was seen not merely as a revolution in literature but as a prelude, later that year, to the revolutionary collapse of the Bourbon monarchy.

Continentals saw Shakespeare not as a little-Englander but as a liberator, one who belonged to all mankind. Hugo even went so far as to think the British had not really ever understood their national poet. “It took 300 years,” he wrote, “for England to catch those two words that the whole world shouted in her ear — William Shakespeare.”

Exit, Pursued By A Bear

‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ is generally considered to be the most famous of Shakespeare’s stage directions – leading up to the off stage death of Antigonus in The Winter’s Tale.

And so Dr Who and BroadChurch star David Tennant’s days with the Royal Shakespeare Company came very in useful when he was asked to talk for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation on the topic, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, for the Radio 4 program Just A Minute.

In fact, David Tennant managed the feat on his first outing, becoming the most successful debut in the show’s 50 year run. Calling Shakespeare’s direction  ‘the most famous direction in theatrical history’, he spoke at length with some considerable understanding of Shakespeare’s staging of plays. Listen to it here:

exit-pursued-by-a-bear

For performances at the Globe in Shakespeare’s time it’s not known whether Shakespeare used a real bear from the London bear-pits, or an actor in bear costume. The mystery remains, but we do know that , 400 years after Shakespeare wrote The Winter’s Tale and the stage direction ‘exit, pursued by a bear’, the line is still providing entertainment!

Royal Family Split Over Shakespeare Authorship Debate!

charles-phillipIf you have ever wondered what Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh and his son Charles Prince of Wales talk about we now have an insight…

Is it about great affairs of state? Is it about imperial history, about their great ancestors? No, apart from horses and shooting on their country estates and what to wear under their kilts, it’s the Shakespeare authorship debate.

The Duke of Edinburgh has weighed in on the debate. He is of the view that Shakespeare did not write the plays. Against all the evidence he insists on that. His candidate for the authorship is Henry Neville, a diplomat who was imprisoned in the Tower for his part in the 1601 rebellion.

Fathers often embarrass their sons and that goes all the way into the Palace, to the heart of British society. How embarrassed must Prince Charles, the President of the Royal Shakespeare Company be then, when his father displays such ignorance on this particular subject?

And so, the two princes have debated this issue. Charles cheated though, and possibly thinking he was on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, he phoned a friend. He asked Stanley Wells, leading Shakespeare expert and champion of Shakespeare in the authorship issue, to present him with a set of arguments with which to confront his father.

Better still, Wells actually spoke to the great nonagenarian in person. He said: ‘I crossed swords with Prince Phillip.’ Prince Phillip was not impressed with Welles and his arguments. Wells asked him whether he was a heretic on the subject and Phillip responded in his usual gruff I-don’t-suffer-fools-gladly tone: ‘All the more so after reading your book!’

We don’t know what Her Majesty thinks about it. It would be nice to have a two out of three verdict to settle the matter once and for all.

Shakespeare…A Woman?

sweet-swan-avonMary Meriam writes in her blog in the women’s magazine, Ms Magazine “I find it extremely inspiring to think of a woman as the true author of Shakespeare, turning patriarchal literary history on its head and forever, completely and entirely, justifying the value of women writers.” She is referring to Robin P Williams’ book ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’ and she quotes Katherine’s feminist speech at the end of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak;
And speak I will; I am no child, no babe:
Your betters have endured me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break,
And rather than it shall, I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.

As discussed in this piece on potential candidates for Shakespeare’s plays, one of the  serious contenders for the authorship is Mary Sidney – the subject of Williams’ book. And I agree…not. Here is more evidence supporting the notion that ‘Shakespeare’ was a woman, in the form of various quotes of hers/his:

“frailty, thy name is woman!”

“A woman, naturally born to fears”

“Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!”

“unconstant womankind!”

“Relent! ’tis cowardly and womanish.”

Whilst Robin P Williams puts forward some interesting ideas on the Shakespeare authorship debate, these lines alone are pretty convincing evidence to me that the writer of Shakespeare’s plays was a man!

Reasons We Know Shakespeare Wrote His Plays

“Daisies pied and violets blue and lady-smocks all silver-white”

The distinguished Shakespearean actor, Dame Janet Suzman has just  published a book entitled Not Hamlet,  about the treatment of women in theatre. One of the chapters addresses the Shakespeare conspiracy theory/authorship debate.  She takes the traditional scholarly view that it was one Master William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon who wrote the plays.

In her book Dame Janet has attacked two other distinguished Shakespearean actors, Mark Rylance and Sir Derek Jacoby for, as she puts it, ‘giving succour’ to conspiracy theories that someone else wrote the Shakespeare plays. Rylance has suggested that de Vere was the author because of his intimate knowledge of Italy, a country where several of the plays are set. Jacobi was more forthright, positively identifying de Vere as the author. The film, Anonymous, in which both Rylance and Jacobi appeared, presents the case for de Vere being the author. Dame Janet accuses the film’s producers of wasting their money in making it and calls the production ‘a far-fetched film …. with no facts to back it up.’

All this shows how fiercely the debate still rages.

We at NoSweatShakespeare agree with Dame Janet. Quite simply I accept all the arguments in favour of Shakespeare’s authorship and reject those opposing it (and the people put forward as writing Shakespeare’s plays). Two reasons, in addition to those arguments, convince me.

The first is somewhat oblique – not a reason for Shakespeare having written those incredible plays, but a reason why it’s not improbable. The argument has been made that Shakespeare came from an illiterate family, had an inadequate formal education, and that Stratford-upon-Avon was a cultural backwater, unable to germinate such wonderful literature. My reply is that genius is something we don’t understand: it’s something we just see from time to time and it springs up in unexpected places. Yes, Beethoven’s father was a musician, allowing his son to grow up in a musical environment, but he was small time, mediocre and never sober. But the genius of his son, Ludwig, is seriously unbelievable. Monet’s family had contempt for art – his father was a businessman, artistically illiterate – and he actually disowned his son because of his lack of interest in the world of business and his unsuitable marriage to a woman considered to be beneath him. Where did Monet’s artistic genius come from? We will never know.

One could cite geniuses forever but it wouldn’t help us to understand what genius is or where it comes from. One doesn’t usually find that the artists or writers or scientists who stand out in history as giants in their field come from fathers or mothers distinguished in the areas where their child becomes immortal. Moreover, it’s very rare for one of the giants’ children to become renowned as a genius. Geniuses of the Mozart, Michelangelo, Shakespeare kind are rare, unusual and inexplicable. That’s my first reason for dismissing the arguments against the Shakespeare authorship.

My second reason is more specific and, to my way of thinking, utterly convincing. To me it’s inconceivable that the plays could have been written by anyone growing up in an aristocratic environment, surrounded by tutors and classical books. It’s also inconceivable that they could have been written by anyone growing up in an urban environment. They could have been written only by someone who was surrounded by countryside and knew it intimately. And, more specifically, the Warwickshire countryside, where Shakespeare grew up.

Let us return to the subject of genius for a moment. There are two English geniuses who stand out above most of the others. They are William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin.

The two men have one distinctive mental quality in common. Darwin used his unusual powers of observation to tell us how life itself works: Shakespeare used those same powers of observation to create some of the most beautiful poetry ever written in the English language. As he was growing up the young William wandered around the Warwickshire countryside, taking note of plants, animals and insects, observing them closely, taking a detailed interest in  the way bushes, trees, fruit and flowers developed and grew, what they looked like and how human beings interacted with them. Like Darwin was to do, he observed birds and insects closely – how they flew and crawled, their colours and their behaviour.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, plays and, indeed, all his other poems, are full of poetry made from those observations. Notice the detail in such a passage as this one from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight.”

The Bard seems to have particularly loved violets – Warwickshire is covered with them.  He drew on his love of the flower again and again throughout his work: “Daisies pied and violets blue and lady-smocks all silver-white;” “Like the sweet sound, that breathes upon a bank of violets;” “Welcome my son: who are the violets now that strew the green lap of the new come spring?” and “From her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring!” are just a few examples of the violets that infuse his verse.

He also encountered some of the less pleasant things that lived in the Warwickshire countryside.

“You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blindworms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy Queen.”

The author of the plays was familiar with country sports:

“As wild geese that the creeping fowler eye, Or russet-pated choughs, many in sort, rising and cawing at the gun’s report, sever themselves and madly sweep the sky”

The insects that inhabit Warwickshire fill the poetry:  Such things as “the shard-born beetle with his drowsy hums” and the famous insult, “Thou art a saucy beetle-headed boar-pig!” are everywhere in Shakespeare’s poetry. And what would we do without the phrase “beetle-browed?”

Country people, too, fill Shakespeare’s pages, from the rural constabulary, gravediggers and ploughmen to the harvesters – “sun-burnt sicklemen and sedge-crowned nymphs.”

Not one of the other contenders for the authorship of the Shakespeare plays grew up in Warwickshire: they were all men who had enjoyed the more sophisticated pleasures of the educated and wealthy than the simple country wanderings of the boy who eventually grew up to write the plays.

So rather than go into the arguments for and against the Shakespeare authorship I ask you just one question – the author of the Shakespeare plays was someone who grew up in a village in the heart of Warwickshire. And which of the contenders was that?

Who Wrote Shakespeare? The Authorship Candidates

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Learning Shakespeare
Learning Shakespeare

Learning Shakespeare

I recently came across a story I wrote some time ago: it was in an anthology of  short stories intended for study by GCSE English students in the UK. It was a strange feeling to see it there, accompanied by questions about it and points for discussion. That a story, written for the pleasure and entertainment of its readers, asking only that they should make a personal emotional response to it, had been turned into the subject of an academic exercise seemed somehow ridiculous. I felt that it had demeaned the story, which had become a cold object, not the thing I had written.

“Learning” Shakespeare, poems, plays and works of fiction is a relatively new phenomenon.  We study those works now and our teachers award us marks for the things we have learnt about the works we study. We go further as well – we study Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas, written for performance only, as though they were works of literature. Shakespeare’s plays fall into the category of literature now, whereas there was probably nothing further from his mind as he turned them out for performance on a stage. He had a go at writing poems: there are the sonnets and a few epic poems, and he probably aspired to being a poet as writing poetry was one of the marks of a gentleman and that’s probably how he wanted to be regarded. But the cold reality is that Shakespeare was basically a hack and all his energy went into the urgent and exhausting job of making plays.

When he arrived in London he found himself in the middle of a blossoming theatre industry and he probably just fell into writing plays, as that’s where the money was – and it was big money, given London’s insatiable appetite for that particular form of entertainment.  He worked furiously at it, turning out several plays a year. He wasn’t able to supply the demand for the theatres with which he was associated singlehanded, and there were scores of writers, all crafting plays. Some of their work has lasted but there were many more who were never heard of again. Shakespeare was just one of them, grinding away in a play factory. Indeed, we would not even have heard of him if it hadn’t been for a couple of enterprising actors who redeemed his plays and collected them in the famous First Folio. And he wrote twice as many plays as those we know about. Unfortunately many of his products have been lost forever.

Although the public loved watching plays the men who were associated with the theatre were regarded as a low form of life. The Jacobean poet, John Donne, has given us some remarkable dramatic poems but he never tried writing a play. He was a poet and a gentleman and would never have dreamt of involving himself in such a disreputable activity. The same is true of Edmund Spencer and Sir Philip Sydney, both gentlemen. They were producing ‘literature:’ Shakespeare and his colleagues were making plays – which were all disposable after they had been performed. The big thing was to keep new plays coming: there were no revivals of plays that had been discarded and that’s one of the reasons that so much of the ‘golden age’ of English literature has been lost. The plays were something like the pop songs of today – performed, some of them becoming hits, and then disappearing, never to be heard again. Thrown away. Except that we record them with our modern technology so those who want to hear them at a later time can often have access to them.

But Shakespeare is now ‘literature.’ We ‘learn’ him and get marks for writing about his plays. They are on the English syllabus of the schools in almost every country in the world and in very many they are compulsory items. Every Chinese child has to ‘study’ Shakespeare. Just think about that! The plays are in all the universities and even available in distance learning schemes, where you have to read them alone and in silence. It’s highly improbable that Shakespeare ever imagined anyone reading one of his plays. Such an idea was unknown. The only Elizabethan who ever read a play was the stage manager, or prompt, whose job it was to stage the play. Even the actors saw only their own lines, cut out of one of the two copies that there were. One was cut up for the actors and the other was used by the prompt, the man who had to have an oversight of the text, and that was it.

With all the things Shakespeare imagined, all the insights he had, which still guide us in our lives today, something he would not have imagined was that he would become an enduring  giant of ‘literature,’ his disposable plays read and studied by millions of students each year.

Can a Monkey Write Better Plays Than Shakespeare?

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