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Brush up on your Shakespeare, celebrate his 458th

Posted on April 17, 2022

OpinionColumnsLife
Scholars believe beloved playwright and poet William Shakespeare grew up in this Stratford-upon-Avon house, which has been restored and now operates as a museum called Shakespeare's Birthplace. The Bard of Avon's birthday is celebrated on April 23.

Stock photo | Pixabay

Scholars believe beloved playwright and poet William Shakespeare grew up in this Stratford-upon-Avon house, which has been restored and now operates as a museum called Shakespeare's Birthplace. The Bard of Avon's birthday is celebrated on April 23.

Sanda Baucom Hight

Sanda Baucom Hight

Most of us have some knowledge of William Shakespeare, the “Bard of Avon” and probably the most well-known writer in the English-speaking world.

Although much of his life is shrouded in mystery, we do know a few facts.

Scholars believe he was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, not far from London. We know that he died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford on his birthday.

He is believed to have written 37 plays, although some scholars suspect other writers might have collaborated with him on some of them.

Shakespeare wrote a series of 154 sonnets and several longer poems, but his plays do the most to keep his legacy alive.

Even those who are not Shakespearean scholars are familiar with some of the following quotations.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”  (“Julius Caesar”).

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (“Hamlet”).

“O Romeo! Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” (“Romeo and Juliet”).

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time” (“Macbeth”).

“All that glitters is not gold” (“The Merchant of Venice”).

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (“As You Like It”).

“Now is the winter of our discontent” (“Richard III”).

“Beware the Ides of March!” (“Julius Caesar”).

“But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at” (“Othello”).

“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (“Richard III”).

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on” (“The Tempest”).

“Et tu, Brute?” (“Julius Caesar”).

“Lord, what fools these mortals be” (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”).

“But, for my own part, it was Greek to me” (“Julius Caesar”).

“I cannot tell what the dickens his name is” (“The Merry Wives of Windsor”).

If you use the following phrases, thank Shakespeare for popularizing them, even though he might not have been the first to use all of them:

• “dead as a doornail.”

• “eaten out of house and home.”

• “Mum’s the word.”

• “in a pickle.”

• “send him packing.”

Shakespeare’s plays range from jolly, rollicking fun to the deepest passions, temptations and burdens of the human heart. There are few emotions that are not represented somewhere in the 37 plays.

The series of 154 sonnets is unsurpassed in beauty, technical skill and variety, and they, too, are still quoted and enjoyed.

Two of the most famous sonnets are “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” and “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun.”

No matter how much we know about the “Bard of Avon” and no matter what we think of him and his writing, he is all around us, and he sets a high standard for drama and poetry.

In his plays, he wrote about love, deceit, war, family rivalry, power, corruption, death and many more conditions of human life.

Why is Shakespeare still relevant?  His themes are universal to humanity.  After all, “West Side Story” is based upon “Romeo and Juliet.” “10 Things I Hate about You” is based on “The Taming of the Shrew.”

“The Lion King” has similarities to “Hamlet.” “A Thousand Acres” resembles “King Lear.” “Forbidden Planet” is much like “The Tempest.”

Shakespeare’s acting company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men and later called the King’s Men, charmed Elizabeth I and James I and their court with performances, providing a boost to the careers of the playwright and his associates.

William Shakespeare, the actor, poet, playwright and businessman, is still with us, interjecting his art into modern times.

On April 23, remember “Will’s” birthday and death day, and impress someone with knowledge of his ever-present art, now that you have brushed up your Shakespeare.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County.

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