Tag Archives: william 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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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

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