Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!


Verily! It be talketh like Shakespeare day, in honoUr of the birth of the Bard of Avon. Or the supposedeth birth thereupon, yea, verily. The records they keepth be of great uncertainty. Thou must knoweth that.



This day be-eth the Bard 450 years young. Surely he looketh not one day beyond four hundred and forty-nine years, so supple iseth his skin, so dark, curly and shinethy his hair.

This getteth annoying most quick. Truly! It is so.

Let me endeth this torture with a few words writteneth by the Bard himself. Eth. Words with which he hath madeth his trade, paideth his bills and supportedeth fair Anne, the spring of his loins and many a harlot or gent. It art of no consequence.

And so it were:


A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.
King Lear (2.2.14-24)


BAM! Taketh that!

Verily, verily happiest of birthdays, Mr. Shakespeare.


Ah, this is better. God bless the 21st century and its lazy English.

My own relationship with the Bard has been spotty, at best. In high school we read ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ possibly ‘Julius Caesar’ as well. I mix up the syllabus of that class with the entire course dedicated to Shakespeare I endured took while pursuing my undergraduate degree in English literature, a course of questionable educational merit, consisting of listening to various plays of Shakespeare via old, scratchy albums. As I recall, there was the occasional quiz but no instruction beyond the soporific experience of hearing the plays drone on and on. No tests, no productions to watch, no anything. Just an ancient nun (it was a Catholic college, mea culpa), her prized record collection and tendency to doze during class. She was tiny, she was sweet but she should have retired long, long before.

I did appreciate the language I heard but without the framework of instruction it was absolutely useless. No contextual literature, no textbook, no anything but printed copies of the plays, so we could follow along, giving us something to do. It was an easy A but I regret the wasted time.

As an adult, post-children, I read a couple plays and sonnets on my own. ‘King Lear’ and ‘Hamlet’ blew my mind and, like most people, Sonnet 166 forever makes me weak in the knees:


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.


I’ve seen at least two adaptations of ‘Hamlet’ as well as the ubiquitous 1968 film of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Likewise, Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and part of ‘King Lear’ on PBS. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was well done in 1999 and I saw a live production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Surely I’m forgetting others but overall my Shakespearean education is not formal or thorough.

I appreciate his language and occasionally his humor – what I can understand, at least. Political context and societal jabs are largely lost on me, save some history involved in ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ His sonnets are of varying interest. Not a romantic in most senses of the word, only a few resonate very deeply.

Presented with the opportunity, I would study Shakespeare formally. I have read about him, what little is known and what’s speculated, more than works by him. My feeling is largely shame on that front, possessing a degree in English literature with so little knowledge about an iconic figure, but a B.A. is a general degree. With so much to cover, I know a little about a lot of things, a lot about little: the proverbial “wise fool.” As Alexander Pope said (in more or less these words) “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” In this instance, it gives the false impression of knowing more about literature than someone earning a B.A. generally does. So no, I am no Shakespeare expert but “I know what I like…”

Dismal, isn’t it? I had a full course in Chaucer, an actual course in which we read the Tales in excruciating Middle English, took grueling tests and had to memorize and speak a few lines from the Prologue, some of which I can still recite:


Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;


Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale fowles maken melodye,


That slepen al the night with open yë,

(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

(And palmers for to seken straunge strondes)

To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;


And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The holy blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.


I question the benefit of memorization but ah, well. I do feel I know Chaucer’s works better than Shakespeare’s, which seems odd. Depends on the fickle finger of fate, I suppose, what opportunities there are and which are taken. It is what it is.

Happy Birthday, Bard of Avon. Perhaps we’ll butt heads again, preferably via a professor more knowledgeable than the sweet but senile Sr. Mary Something or Other, in heaven now, hopefully with her record collection. No more need to jerk awake when the record needs turning, she should be getting along rather well. Bless her sweet soul, so much larger than her stature – all 4′ of her. Who knows, maybe she chats with Shakespeare. Likely not, all my sense and rational beliefs tell me, but he’d no doubt find it fascinating his words made it onto those strange, plastic disks, not to mention his words enduring more than 400 years. From the Rose Theatre to God’s own feet. I suppose stranger things have happened.

After all: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in (my) philosophy.




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