Tag Archives: shakespeare

Eternal Lives

I can’t not mention Shakespeare this week. This Saturday will be the 400th anniversary of his death.


So its sonnet 18 that comes to mind. Yes, he’s using May and not April, but still, 400 years is getting on eternal lines. It’s not Beowulf, let alone Gilgamesh, but it’s nothing to sneeze at!

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Once more unto the breach


DeriDolls William Shakespeare

DeriDolls William Shakespeare

Today is the sort of traditionally celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. We don’t know the exact date. We know he was baptized on the 26th of April 1564, and that he died on the 23rd of April 1616. I’m not sure when it became a tradition to celebrate his birthday on the day of his death.

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Dissembling Nature

I managed to pull my back something awful and even though I probably just look like a tall person with back pain I feel like an Igor or Quasimodo. Or, since I’m having gallery issues and in a vile mood, perhaps like Richard III. (At least, I feel like Terry Jones’ playing Richard III rather than the historical Richard III.) Not as eloquent though…


Act I, scene i


Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;

Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;

And now, instead of mounting barded steeds

To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;

I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

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Problematic Portraiture

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)



Today William Shakespeare was baptized and officially became William Shakespeare. Huzzah!


I will admit, I really don’t like Romeo and Juliet, it’s right down there with As You Like It for ones I Don’t Like! But they’re oh so quotable. Like the seven ages of man speech:


All the world’s a stage,

 And all the men and women merely players,

 They have their exits and entrances,

 And one man in his time plays many parts,

 His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

 Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

 Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

 And shining morning face, creeping like snail

 Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

 Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

 Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

 Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

 Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

 Seeking the bubble reputation

 Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice

 In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,

 With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,

 Full of wise saws, and modern instances,

 And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

 Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

 With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,

 His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,

 For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

 Turning again towards childish treble, pipes

 And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

 That ends this strange eventful history,

 Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

 Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

As You Like It (II, viii)



Cameo based on the Chandos portrait

So, another piece of information we don’t have about Shakespeare is- what did he look like? It cracks me up when people use the ‘it doesn’t look dashing, romantic, clever, handsome, poetical, whatever enough’ to really be Shakespeare argument against the most likely portraits. Seriously? (You could even argue that the more low level official looking a guy was the better he’d have to be at sonnets!)


This pendant is based on the Chandos portrait. (It was on wrappers from chocolates I got in England so was handy and a good type of paper to use with the sealant! Esteemed history, I know…) It is claimed to be a portrait of Shakespeare painted from life between 1600 and 1610. There is no concrete evidence that the portrait is indeed Shakespeare, bit this far it is believed to have the best claim. Partially because it generally agrees with the Droeshout engraving.


The Droeshout engraving for the First Folio

The Droeshout engraving was for the cover of the First Folio, and was vouched for by Ben Jonson. The biggest argument against it is the poor artistic quality of the engraving (which is a weak argument, I doubt many of the most artistically beautiful portraits look much like their sitters!) and the fact that Jonson wouldn’t be the first person to okay something without actually checking it out first. But both that image and the one at his graveside were at least created while people who knew him lived, and they were certainly intended to be him.


There’s a Hilliard portrait some believe is meant to be Shakespeare, but the man in the portrait appears to be of a significantly higher social status. But it is a gorgeous painting.


I also used the Chandos portrait in a helmmail charm bracelet I made for myself awhile ago. Every other image is from a play, and each charm refers to a specific quote. See how many you can catch.


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Happy Maybe Bard’s Birthday

Sonnet 130

William Shakespeare



My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

     As any she belied with false compare.



This is one of my favorite sonnets. I just like how the woman in question is made very human, and all the hyperbole saved for one final punch. It keeps it grounded, almost slightly mocking of love poems, until in the end it caves.


“…he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron–forever there and not there.”*


A Charles Vess illustration of Shakespeare with Titania and Oberon looking over A Midsummer Night's Dream.

No one knows the exact date of Shakespeare’s birthday. He was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was probably born on the 24th or 25th. Tradition holds it to be April 23rd, because that was the day he died in 1616 and would have a wonderful sort of symmetry. But it would be highly unusual for a family to wait three days for a baptism, especially in a time of such high infant mortality.


We don’t know much about William Shakespeare’s life. He existed, married an older woman, had three kids, went to London, acted, wrote, went home a reasonably prosperous gentleman, and died.


This dearth of information has led to a lot of crazy conspiracy theories. (Yes, I did research them, and decide they were all B.S. In high school. Which is why their persistence drives me nuts. And when it comes up at work I can’t even engage in debate with people who espouse it. Here’s a great article about this phenomenon by the very charming Joe Nickell.


The thing is, he lived a long time ago. We’re lucky we have as many of his writings as we do, for this we owe his colleagues dear. Only one or two have been lost. Those of us English geeks are lucky there’s a grave to visit. 400 years may seem like nothing in human history, but think of the sheer number of people who have lived (and pushed and thrown out paper!) in that time. We know more about him than we do about any of the other major dramatists of his age.


As someone once pointed out his life is more of a mystery to us than a drama. But we gained some beautiful poetry and plays, and some words and phrases that still linger in the English language. To “vanish into thin air,” a “foregone conclusion,” to lose everything in “one fell swoop”


*Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. HarperCollins 2007. p 9


Filed under Historical Facts and Trivia, Poetry

Lord, what fools these mortals be! Or Happy Maximum Tilt Day…

The image that first got me hooked on Arthur Rackham and his Shakespeare illustrations.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends


Puck’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, scene i


In honor of the summer solstice (and to pair with my previous Tempest post) I decided to be a little bit brave and post an old poem I wrote in college in response to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I don’t remember what the assignment was, but I chose to play with Titania’s character. I always felt kind of bad for her at the end of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. All she was trying to do was take charge of the child of an old retainer and yet her husband chose to make an absolute fool of her.


Titania’s Promise

(a response to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Malicious sprite, darkly dancing,

shadow cast under a quicksilver moon.

Oh yes, these shadows have offended.

Spiky foxgloves stand and hiss.

Whispering falsehood and deceit

from full, rainbow-spotted throats.

Beware, beware. Capricious Robin

plays with truth, and breaks his toys.

He knows his herbs and potions—

houndstongue and hellebore,

wolfsbane and rosemary,

the bitter bite of wormwood—

He serves his lord and master well.

He made me a fool before my court,

My ladies laughed behind their hands.

He bathed my eyes in purple poison—

made me love unwillingly

and waste my favors on a hairy beast.

My eyes were cleansed,

I see truly now.

Do they?

I can wait, I shall bide my time.

I can counterfeit a proper wife.

In their arrogance they believe,

that I, like some green willow,

would bend my will so easily.

Playful Puck, Oberon’s steward,

Robin not-so-Goodfellow,

though it take me centuries,

I will be avenged.

Like The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is believed to have been written to celebrate an important wedding and is a mostly original story. (The play within a play is based on Greek mythology, as are the names of the rulers.) The super short version of the story is “Mix-and-match couples in the woods near Athens.” as Shakespeare for Dummies puts it! It’s a play about many things but basically all the ways love messes with people’s heads.


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Something rich and strange

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell

Ariel’s song from The Tempest Act I, scene 2

Creepy, but beautiful images all the same. And the English-geek reason why I love using pearls and fossil coral elements together.

I finally found a copy of Rackham’s illustrated Tempest! I found a lead online in the wee hours of the morning and sped out on the hunt the next day. Found a great bookshop, oggled many books, picked up a few. I enjoy the old fairytale illustrators a great deal more than I do their contemporary storytellers… Hence the hunt for Shakespeare editions from those eras.

I read The Tempest my senior year in high school after my teacher vetoed every other option I’d put forward. (This was after we got into an argument over the meaning of Frankenstein- she insisted that I missed the point and that it was all about Shelley’s anxieties attending motherhood; I thought it was more a fear of science outpacing humanity’s ability to deal with it…)

I remember discussing the play with a woman while we were waiting in line at a book signing. She told me how it was sometimes considered a problem play, since it didn’t fall into the normal divisions of histories, tragedies and comedies. The Tempest is fantasy and romance with elements of tragedy and comedy as well.

It was fun my freshman year in college, because all of my English major friends were having serious issues with the play and I was able to help them. (And lend out my Shakespeare for Dummies book-those scorecards were useful.)

The Tempest is terribly quotable. You can practically trip over references to it. I’ve a print of the painting by Amy Brown called Something Rich and Strange, there’s a beautiful comic towards the end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman using The Tempest as a chance for Shakespeare to look back at his life. Gaiman also uses it more subtly in his short story Sea Change.

“Those are pearls that were his eyes:” Pearls are one of the birthstones of June, so this part of the Tempest seemed particularly appropriate. Pearls are one of the few organic materials considered to be gems. They’re formed when something gets into a mollusk and it secrets a fluid called nacre to coat the irritant. The traditional example is a grain of sand, but more commonly pearls form around internal damage or parasites sucked in during the mollusk’s feeding. The more (and thinner) layers of slightly translucent nacre, the better the sheen and color of the pearl. Luster and iridescence are created by light breaking up as it goes through or bounces back on the layers of nacre. Most pearls nowadays are cultured, with large irritants being ‘seeded’ into species most likely to produce pearls. So they are yet one more thing that is quite beautiful, but a little creepy upon closer examination…


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Beware the Ides of March

Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a mob of senators on this day in 44 B.C. He was warned of the conspiracy against him by a petitioner on his way to the senate meeting at the theatre of Pompey. Supposedly he died still holding the warning, unread. It has recently been argued that he was not unaware of the machinations, but that he might even have manipulated them.

Short version, the complex politics of Rome had a kept a tenuous balance and a semblance of a Republic by weighing the different influential players against one another. With the death of Pompey and their partner Crassus (yes, this is the origin of the word crass), Caesar was the only one left standing and consolidated power. He was named dictator for life. The conspiracy against him was intended to return power to the senators and ensure the continuation of the Republican status quo. Instead, it led to a series of brutal civil wars and began the era of the Roman Empire.

Morbid trivia:

Caesar’s was one of the first autopsies in recorded history.

Only one of the 23 stab wounds inflicted by the senators was fatal.

Caesar never said the ‘Et tu, Brute?’ that Shakespeare gave him. Historians aren’t sure he said anything. Some reports have him saying something along the lines of ‘and you my son,’ possibly in Greek, some have him saying nothing and merely curling in on himself under his robes at the sight of Brutus in the fray.

The conspirator Cassius on Caesar:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great?

This is my favorite passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Act I, scene ii. Never good for accuracy, but always good for words. This was the passage I chose to memorize in high school. On a good day I can still do most of it.

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