We all know William Shakespeare. The “Bard of Avon” (or the Poet of Avon) is so well known that Microsoft Word does not underline Shakespeare in red, even with its superfluous “e’s.” Of all the pieces of literature in the world, I personally have read not one, but three plays of William Shakespeare and countless of his poems before beginning college. He spawned a sonnet and numerous words, including “swag,” a word popular even now. He probably had a gay lover on the side and spent only little time with his wife. His work is riddled with innuendos and painstaking puns (formally known as “word play”), and for this, and all of his oddness, we revere him.
“If we wish to know the force of human genius we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning we may study his commentators.”
We may say we admire Shakespeare’s beautiful language and tragic love stories, but who does not pick up the many-times-repeated story of Romeo and Juliet (Gnomeo and Juliet is my favorite recreation) to read Mercutio say- “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man”- after being stabbed, or reads through the complex plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to follow the hilarity of a character being turned into an ass. William’s vulgarity is the cause of his success. Many white men have written pretty things but only succeeded in frustrating a room of high school sophomores when they read through his poem (pointed look at Ralph Waldo Emerson), but few captivate the common folk- the ones who laugh at fart jokes and cuss in the hallways.
“Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish!”
– Henry IV, William Shakespeare
Our best insults stem from Shakespeare. Does “Villain, I have done thy mother”- Titus Andronicus sound familiar?Shakespeare proves we have been insulting mothers since the 16th century, we just used “thy” instead of “your.” When my freshman English teacher introduced Shakespeare, she started with Shakespearian insults to loosen us up; we threw the words around the classroom. This man, probably the most highly regarded writer in society, was the master of good burns. Ice packs could’ve been passed out at his plays, the fire was so hot. And we love it. We even added some of the words he used to the dictionary, allowing us to tease each other in ornate language for centuries to come.
“When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder that such trivial people should muse and thunder in such lovely language.”
-D. H. Lawrence
No other writer I know has been so successful in convincing the aristocratic to revel in the dirt. His theater was said to be filled with pristine dresses and rags more holes than cloth (the latter standing room only). He wrote for the masses, sprinkling in sophisticated plot and language to appeal to those who can pay to watch, surpassing the bullshitting levels of a college student, Red Bull in hand, writing a ten-page paper on music theory the night before.
“The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good – in spite of all the people who say he is very good.”
The greatest writer didn’t even write his name consistently. There are about 80 documented spellings of Shakespeare, including “Shaxberd,” my personal favorite. Whether this decision was from laziness or for comedic effect, it is definitely quirky. In further quirkiness, he wrote a poem cursing anyone who touches his body after he died on his tombstone and died a wealthy man, uncommon for the times. Of these riches, he gifted his beloved wife only a bed in his will. He married his wife at 18 when she was three months pregnant and eight years older than he. This man was in no way the polished, aristocratic man typically imagined by the youth but rather a man of dirt, of winking eyes and whistles, of cracked cobblestone streets and worn shoes.
“We can say of Shakespeare, that never has a man turned so little knowledge to such great account.”
Will I still study Shakespeare? Of course. Will I revere him as a prolific writer? Indubitably. I will gather his works in my room and read them over my winter breaks when the brisk air and fallen snow keep me indoors. If I ever make my way to England, I’ll stop by his theater on my way to Platform 9 ¾. I’ll buy the pencil pouches with his face on it, watch the plays, write him an ode. I will relish in each word, each insult, each pun, each phrase and plot line, every character and turned page to learn all I can from the great “Bard.”
“Facts about William Shakespeare.” Biography Online, https://www.biographyonline.net/poets/facts-shakespeare.html.
“Quotes About Shakespeare: Top 20 Quotes on Shakespeare.” No Sweat Shakespeare, 16 Apr. 2017, https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/quotes/quotes-about-shakespeare/