Today may be the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death – but it’s also (widely regarded as) his 452nd birthday.
So to celebrate, I’m taking part in the Simply Shakespeare Blog Hop
It’s impossible to overestimate the influence this one man’s work has had on English language, literature and culture. Not only has he given us a whole phrasebook of common sayings, his plays are still relevant – and open to reinterpretation for the needs of a modern audience – today.
This is all the more remarkable considering how the English language – and how it it spoken – has changed since Shakespeare’s time, leaving some of his cleverest (and dirtiest) puns to fall sadly flat to the modern ear – see: http://www.vox.com/2015/4/23/8479871/shakespeare-dirty-jokes
Some things never change, though:
Titus Andronicus: Act 4, Scene 2
Thou hast undone our mother.
Villain, I have done thy mother.
Yep. It’s a “your mom” joke. From the fifteenth century.
And that, I think, is one of the secrets of Shakespeare’s lasting appeal: he didn’t just create sweeping dramas, with lyrical language showcasing a wider vocabulary than any other writer ever; he also knew just how much we all, secretly, love a low-down dirty joke.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Played!, my rather heavily Shakespeare-influenced novel of amateur dramatics. In this scene Tristan (a professional actor) is helping the object of his affections, Con, to rehearse a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Con is to be Bottom:
Con looked supremely uncomfortable. “Dunno. Never really done any.”
“Excellent. Just remember, this is supposed to sound bad.” Tristan took a moment to berate himself for his epic failure of nerve, then another to breathe in the character of Nick Bottom. A puffed-up idiot who utterly failed to live up to his own expectations.
No, that wouldn’t be too far a stretch of his abilities right now. Tristan began singing in a nasal monotone, clapping his hands to the beat.
“The ousel cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill,”
He broke off for a moment, a thought striking. “You could go for the laughs with cock and little quill, but remember you’ll be in full ass’s regalia then, so any subtle expressions are likely to be lost.” Tristan frowned. He never had had that conversation with Heather over Bottom’s costume. “Do we know yet what you’re going to have in the way of headgear? We should find out sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah. It’s just gonna be this sort of hood thing—Hev reckoned it’d be funnier. And, well, cheaper, than a full ass’s head.”
Tristan nodded. “No, that’s good—we could work with either, but it does make a difference. How about a tail?”
Con blinked. “Dunno. Is that in the play? I thought it was just his head that got changed.”
“Oh, you mustn’t underestimate the efficacy of a tail. One can do all sorts of things with a tail.” Remembering his goal, Tristan smiled flirtatiously and added a little of a leer for good measure.
Con, predictably, flushed.
“Ah, well. Onwards and tupwards, as the saying goes.” Con was frowning, but Tristan ignored it. “You, dear boy, are about to be seduced by a fairy. Are you ready?”
“I’ll be the fairy. Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed.” Tristan patted the sofa impatiently until Con sat, perching upon the edge like a very large, very nervous bird preparing to take flight. Beaming, Tristan continued with both words and actions. “While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, and stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head, and kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.”
Con swallowed audibly. “Uh, that was my real ear you just kissed.”