Curiousities of Shakespeare

The lives we lead are more influenced by the Bard than we probably know. And this doesn´t just entail people who are702px-Shakespeare born with English as the first language, but anyone who during his or her life span learn English, which at least in the western hemisphere include the absolute majority of us.

William Shakespeare invented 1 700 English words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.

Among the words you can thank Will for, you´ll find “birthplace” (Coriolanus, act IV), “jaded” (King Henry VI, act IV), “outbreak” (Hamlet, act II ) and many, many more. Do you even remember how often on an average week you hear the word addiction? Shakespeare used it first, and he did it in the play Henry V, act I.

Shakespeare's_family_circleWilliam Shakespeare had three children with his slightly anonymous wife Anne Hathaway, Susanna, born in 1583 (that fatal year in English history) and the twins Judith and Hamnet, born in 1585. Hamnet died at the age of 11 in 1596, and it´s maybe inevitable that some people have drawn a connection between Hamnet and the play written three years later by the presumably grieving father, Hamlet. Some Shakesperean scholars have also claimed to have found traces of the lost son in the plays King John, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar.

And why not?

When and how do you, regardless if you´re a playwright or a peasant, let go of and forget a child who died before you. If you´re a parent, and maybe even if you aren´t you know that the loss of his son stayed with William Shakespeare for the rest of his days.

Very little is known about young Hamnet, other than he and his sister are believed to have gotten their names from friends of their parents, the baker Hamlette and his wife Judith Sadler.

It is believed that Shakespeare some time in the summer of 1596 would have been reached by the disturbing news that his son was ill. It is now known if Shakespeare was in London or on tour when the news reached him, or if he was able to return to say good bye to the son he had basically left in the boy´s infancy as Shakespeare did not return to spend too much time with his family after having his breakthrough in London. Shakespeare is sometime elusive. Some will even claim that this elusiveness even include his very existence and that we don´t really know who he was. I have already stated my standpoint on this particular subject, but the elusiveness can be found in relation to the loss of his son as well. While, as I mentioned above, some scholars claim to find traces of Hamnet in a number of plays, it is also in the four years following the death of his boy that Shakespeare writes some of his most cheerful plays; The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and apparently some have chosen to interpret that as the playwrights grief to be brief at best, but as Stephen Greenblatt points out in the article to which there is a link at the bottom of this post, there are moments of the deepest loss even in these seemingly carefree plays.

As for the plays, it is commonly perceived that the absolute triumph of an actor is to be allowed to play the part of OthelloHamlet. Whether that has something to do with the number of lines anyone blessed with this part has to learn by heart, I cannot say, but fact is that this is the one character of Shakespeare with the most to say. Hamlet has 1 500 lines to memorise, while, for example, Othello has only 887 lines which, in the terms of lines itself, makes it a smaller role than Iago in the same play, who beat Othello with the amount of 1 098 lines. The largest female part in any of the bard´s plays has Cleopatra with 668 lines.

While there is a huge number of actors who have lent themselves to the characters to the plays of William Shakespeare, far too many to be listed here, there are some that absolutely should be mentioned: Sir John Gielgud who has been called the most distinguished Shakespeare actor of the 20th century and who played Hamlet at the age of 26, Sir Laurence Olivier, who fittingly made his debut in Stratford-upon-Avon. Kenneth Branagh who in his role as a director/actor brought Shakespeare to maybe a younger audience and Sir Ian McKellen who did a marvellous portrayal of Richard III in modern setting.

Sources:

Shakespeare-online.com

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2004/oct/21/the-death-of-hamnet-and-the-making-of-hamlet/ (Stephen Greenblatt, New York Review of Books)

The Guardian/Essential Shakespeare Handbook – Alan Riding

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