Top 5 Reasons to Read Shakespeare

Well, after a brief hiatus I am now returning to the virtual world of The Blog.  My limping excuse is that, in the equally virtual world of Academia (ooh, did I just say that?), I don’t receive grades for The Blog, thus it loses that coveted first spot on the To Do list.  In fact, any task on my To Do list without immediate rewards (i.e., balancing the checkbook, big procrastination projects, taking a shower) loses ground so fast you have to haul it back out with a rope ladder and a pickaxe.  Don’t ask.

You'd look grumpy too if your collar was that tight.

Anyway, today, instead of a specific book, we are looking at a series of books by a ridiculously famous person.  Everyone has heard of this person.  If you live under a rock, you can still buy the Pocket-Sized versions.  Maybe even with glow-in-the-dark print.  I wouldn’t be surprised… (Actually I googled it and all I came up with was Glow-In-The-Dark Flesh Eating Zombie Action Figures.  Takers, anyone?)

Sorry, getting a little carried away here. Without any further rabbit trails, we now present:

The Top 5 Reasons to Read Shakespeare:

5.  Impress your friends.  Destroy your enemies. (Mwahahahaha….)

Nothing says “I’m in charge” like quoting a good passage of Shakespeare.  You have several options:

“What a piece of work is a man,” you can say, with either serious philosophy or sarcasm.

When given quizzical looks because of clearly superior wit, “Et tu, Brute?” Said with wry dejection, this is impressive.  If you can manage to look wry and dejected simultaneously, that is also impressive.

When all else fails, strike a noble pose, find an exit route, and declare dramatically, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!”  Use preselected exit route to sweep off quickly, before some smartaleck finds a comeback and ruins your scene.

4. It will expand your vocabulary.  Example:

FELL. F-E-L-L. “For Oberon is passing fell and wrath”.  Definition: of terrible or evil ferocity; deadly.  Use-in-a-sentence:  “It was a fell day when little Timmy, he falled down the well.”  (I didn’t say Shakespeare would correct your grammar now, did I?  They hadn’t invented grammar yet.  When Beowulf was written they hadn’t even invented the alphabet, so we should probably be grateful.)

Shakespeare’s vocabulary is enormous and highly inventive.  A good portion of the words he uses were made up on the spot.

3.  It will grant vast insight into the English language.

Did you know that Shakespeare is gave more phrases and idioms to the English language than any other person?  (This is not a contest you want to compete in; I think you have to be dead to win.)  Right after Shakespeare is the Bible, and third is the nautical world (three sheets to the wind, a shot across the bows, stuff like that).

This doornail has been thoroughly killed.

Phrases like “It’s Greek to me,” “as dead as a doornail,” “at one fell swoop,” and “band of brothers” are all either coined by Shakespeare or popularized by him.  Not to mention the vast number of allusions people make to his plays.  (Count how many times people reference Romeo and Juliet alone.  We could start with Taylor Swift or that new movie coming out–with, what are they? lawn ornaments?)

Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, we move on to the second-best reason for reading Shakespeare:

2.  It will introduce you to “real life”.  Or at least life outside of Disneyland.

Shakespeare wasn’t afraid of killing off his characters, I’ll tell you that.  Nothing like getting the audience attached and then ripping their hearts out.  I’m a little bitter.

That’s because when I was eight I came across a Wishbone (the TV show) book retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet.  I read the whole thing until I got to the last chapter, where the boy and the girl, who truly loved each other (because really, when you’re eight, that’s all there is), –both of them died. They died!  On purpose.  It was horrible.  I think I cried all over the paperback.  I had thought all stories had to end happy.  Well, Shakespeare burst that bubble pretty quickly for me.  Thus we have the cynical people-hating person I am today, scarred for life.

Just kidding, of course.  Maybe someday I’ll take my own advice and read the original version, which I still haven’t touched since Wishbone crushed my rose-colored glasses.  But you too can have this heartwarming experience, all for the low low cost of a library card and a box of Kleenex.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And finally…

1.  Reading Shakespeare is really the only way to appreciate this wonderful Hugh Laurie skit.  (Maybe this whole list is just an excuse to link to this video…)  Enjoy:

Tell us what you think! What are your opinions on Shakespeare?  Do modern interpretations–movies, Wishbone, Taylor Swift–desecrate Shakespeare or give him some new depth?

And if you’re interested in the history of idioms or Shakespeare’s invented words, I found these two websites really interesting:

http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/resources/shakespeare-words.htm (For lists of invented words)

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html (Practically every English phrase ever, with history, explanations, and interesting facts)

 

…Oh, and I almost forgot:  the answers to the last post’s riddles!

1.  Why is a raven like a writing desk?  Lewis Carroll never answers this in the book, but later he said, “Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!”   Heh heh heh.

2.  (This is the long one which I won’t repeat, but you can find it here.)  The answer?  An oyster.  Clever clever…

Happy reading!

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9 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons to Read Shakespeare

  1. WOW!!! I checked out the first website. I had no idea that these were “Shakespeare invented” words. Or so many. How credible is this website? Are there no examples of these words in pre-Shakespearean literature? Words like amazement? assassination? dislocate? What words did people use before then? I realize that you may not know the answer but certainly an interesting question. Hugh Laurie is wonderful in this video. I encourage any one to check it out. And yes, I do wonder if you wrote this just to connect this link. Ok by me 🙂
    Re: the rest of your questions, I’ll bow out (hey…I’ll bet that is a Shakespearean phrase).
    What’s on the agenda next? Maybe I could be more prepared to sound insightful and might provoke thoughts….hmmmm. 🙂

    • Well, no, I don’t pretend to be a Shakespeare scholar-historian, but if you’re interested, here are two other resources I found–a website: http://www.pathguy.com/shakeswo.htm (with a list of more specific word origins ) –and a whole book dedicated to word-inventing fun: Coined By Shakespeare by Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain.
      Thank you for your confidence…not sure what's next–any suggestions? 🙂

  2. It looks I probably should have paid more attention to Shakespeare in school now that I am trying to write. being he didn’t talk about fishing much I kind of looked for pictures instead to no avail.

    • Haha, yes, Shakespeare IS worshiped as probably the greatest writer ever. Of course, at the time, he had no reputation, so his teachers probably ripped his work into tiny shreds with their teeth.
      I say this to make myself feel better. It doesn’t really work.

  3. That riddle about the writing desk… it makes so little sense that it irritates me. Of course, it greatly irritates others as well, so now I feel better. But in all honesty, I was floored when I learned how many words Shakespeare created. If he couldn’t think of the right one, he just made one up. Wish we could do more of that today!

    • Oh, I like the writing desk riddle very much; it’s clever. But I’ll grant it’s irritating.
      And yes, I would prefer to make up words. I suppose that privilege comes with credibility. Though I think it was maybe easier when English wasn’t such a big, sprawling language.

  4. Lovely work, my dear! The history aspect is incredible (thanks for your studious research), and the Hugh Laurie skit had me in stitches! (My roommate thought I made quite the spectacle rolling around on the floor in hysteric giggles.)
    In regards to modern Shakespearean interpretations, I do believe they have their place. My introduction to Shakespeare was also a Wishbone episode, and in today’s media-saturated culture, it is more difficult to capture readers with the written word. They need a song or a movie to “draw them in”. However, nothing can replace pure, lovely Shakespeare, especially on stage. I recently saw a production of “Hamlet” at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis–incredible! The beauty of the anguished performances, nuanced words, hidden meanings, puns, dramatic irony…it makes my little English major heart smile.

    • Wow, I would LOVE to have seen that!! I heard of someone who decided to see every Shakespeare play in person by the time he was thirty. Sounds like a great goal to me! And yes, the gnomes…I haven’t seen it yet, so I shouldn’t make fun of it–but, just when I thought things couldn’t get weirder… 🙂
      Thanks for reading!

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