Gimbling in the Wabe – For the Love of Shakespeare



Although this will post the day after William Shakespeare’s birthday, I’m writing it on the anniversary of the day that we assume he was born, so I feel like just grabbing all sorts of wonderful things about the Bard and posting them in one place.  Why?  Because I can, and, well, because it’s William Shakespeare, and it’s his birthday.  He would have been 451 today, but you know, he’s going to live forever.

I mean, even his birth and death are beyond the realm of imagining.  We assume that he was born on April 23, 1564, not because we have any record of his birth anywhere, but we do have a record of his baptism occurring on April 26, and children at that time were typically baptized when they were three days old (apparently enough children died in their first few days of life that it wasn’t really feasible to be baptizing them before they were three days old… an interesting and disturbing thing in and of itself).  And if indeed he was born on April 23, in Stratford-upon-Avon, then it’s extremely poignant that he also died on April 23, in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1616.  He was only 52, which wasn’t so young back then, but seems awfully young to me today.

And yet… despite not traveling far in his lifetime, despite not having a lot of experience with women (that we have any evidence of), despite living in a time where his options were pretty limited, he turns out to be one of the most complex, most amazing, most fantastically talented people this world has ever produced (assuming he is what we popularly believe him to be; today, on his birthday, I’m not entertaining notions of his being a fake, or a front, or a forgery, or a combination of people – although I might entertain that he had access to a Tardis, or something mind blowing like that…)

I mean, do you even realize just how much of our language today is beholden to William Shakespeare?  He brought into usage or invented over 1,700 of our words – common words.  Words such as grovel, moonbeam, equivocal, frugal – and generous! – madcap, swagger, summit, addiction, advertising… Eyeball!  Gloomy!  Cold-blooded, bloodstained, obscene, torture, assassination.  But also majestic, tranquil, amazement, radiance… Fashionable.  Zany.  Elbow!  Skim freekin’ milk.  (Okay, so the “freekin’ ” part was mine, but he coined “skim milk”.  And buzzer.  And blushing.  And birthplace…)

Plus, there are so many phrases that we used without thinking about them, that came from Shakespeare.  Sure, we all associate “To be or not to be” with him, or “This above all, to thine own self be true”, or even “… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  But these also came from the Bard:  “too much of a good thing”, “laughing stock”, “the clothes make the man”, “as luck would have it”, “one fell swoop”, “green-eyed monster”, “pitched battle”, “good riddance”, “mind’s eye”, “it’s Greek to me”, “heartsick”, “break the ice”, “naked truth”, to “breathe one’s last”, “fair play”, “fancy free”, “eat out of house and home”, “the game is afoot” and “the game is up”, “method in his madness”, “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve”, “melted into thin air”, “lackluster”, “heart of gold”, “strange bedfellows”, “catch a cold”, “wild goose chase”, “housekeeping”, “refuse to budge an inch”, “dead as a doornail”, “foregone conclusion”, “to give the devil his due”, “love is blind”, “for goodness’ sake”….

Thanks, Will!

And then, there are the insults.  Oh, those glorious, wondrous insults!  Insults such as:

“Thou art as loathsome as a toad.” (Troilus and Cressida)

“I had rather be a tick in a sheep than such a valiant ignorance.” (Troilus and Cressida)

“Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.” (Troilus and Cressida)

“Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit, for I am sick when I do look on thee” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.”  (The Merchant of Venice)

“Beg that thou may have leave to hang thyself.”  (The Merchant of Venice)

“There’s many a man hath more hair than wit.” (The Comedy of Errors)

“She’s the kitchen wench, and all grease ; and I know not what use to put her but to make a lamp of her and run her from her own light. I warrant, her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter. If she lives till doomsday, she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world.” (The Comedy of Errors)

“No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip, she is spherical, like a globe, I could find out countries in her.”  (The Comedy of Errors)

“You talk greasily, your lips grow foul.”  (Love’s Labour Lost)

“A most pathetical nit.”  (Love’s Labour Lost)

“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” (Julius Caesar)

“Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough to mask thy monstrous visage?” (Julius Caesar)

“You kiss by the book.”  (Romeo and Juliet)

“She hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults.” (Two Gentlemen of Verona)

“You, minion, are too saucy.” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)

“Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.”  (King Lear)

“Thou are the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.” (King Lear)

“Think’st thou, though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell?”  (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Away, you three inch fool.”  (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous.” (As You Like It)

“‘Tis such fools as you that make the world full of ill-favour’d children.” (As You Like It)

“I do desire we may be better strangers.” (As You Like It)

“Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” (As You LIke It)

“Thou cream faced loon.” (Macbeth)

“Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy.” (Macbeth)

“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” (Macbeth)

“A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)

“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)

“Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)

“To say nothing, to do nothing, to know nothing, and to have nothing, is to be a great part of your title, which is within a very little of nothing.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)

“Thou poisonous bunch-back’d toad!” (Richard III)

“Thou art unfit for any place but hell.” (Richard III)

“Thy mother’s name is ominous to children.” (Richard III)

“Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!”  (Henry IV Part 1)

“That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?” (Henry IV Part 1)

“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!” (Henry IV Part 1)

“Thou leather-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch.” (Henry IV Part 1)

“Peace, ye fat guts!” (Henry IV Part 1)

“You are as a candle, the better burnt out.” (Henry IV Part 1)

“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” (Henry V)

And my personal favorite:  “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!” (Henry IV Part 2)

They almost make me wish I could get mad enough at someone to use these!  Alas, I tend to live and move amongst those that I hold in higher esteem than these insults warrant.

But then…. ah, but then, we can always return from the silly, from the fleeting, from the snippets of fun and fancy, to the sublime.  To the real reason why Shakespeare is such an icon.  To the plays.  To the sonnets.  To the words, words, words.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I have no idea if William Shakespeare was a happy man; I hope he was.  I have no idea if he knew just how good he was; if he really knew or if he just blustered that he was, or if his talent isolated him.  I wonder if he had doubts, if he looked to the sky and despaired of his place in the universe, or if he often found himself transcendently happy.  In the end, all we have is his words, those words that have touched so many of us.

And all I have left, is gratitude. “I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks, and ever thanks.” Twelfth Night

So, thanks, Will.  And thanks, and ever thanks.

Happy birthday.

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