Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. A ripe, old 451 years of age, the Bard still resonates in readers’ souls in a way that few can. What is it about Shakespeare that makes his work still so relevant? For me, it’s how he illustrates the human condition and, of course, his gorgeous language. How about you?
To commemorate his birth, here are 10 facts I love about William Shakespeare and his work.
1. Shakespeare wrote strong female characters at a time when women were second-class citizens in England. Many are not overwhelmed by the men in the plays. In fact, Rosalind from As You Like It fights to overcome the limitations placed upon women of the time. Generally, Shakespeare’s women are better female roles than most parts available in Hollywood now.
Fun fact: Rosalind has the most lines of any woman in his plays.
|Katy Stephens (Rosalind) in As You Like It. Photo by Ellie Kurttz. Photo courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.|
2. Pianist Andre Tchaikowsky donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 for use on stage. It was used sparingly in rehearsals (creeped people out too much) until 2008, when David Tennant played Hamlet and the skull appeared as Yorick. Too cool! To read the full story, click here.
|David Tennant stars as Hamlet in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. Photo courtesy of BBC News.com|
3. Did you know the 27 moons of Uranus are named after characters created by Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, including Puck, Cordelia, Desdemona, Juliet, Prospero, and Cressida.
|The moons of Uranus. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.|
4. Shakespeare was not only a playwright, but a good businessman as well. He made shrewd investments, built The Globe theater, and knew how to cater to audiences. He was quite wealthy when he died.
|Shakespeare's grave. Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner.|
5. He wrote 154 sonnets and several narrative poems.
|Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.|
6. Shakespeare’s works are the second most-quoted in the English language behind the Bible.
|Shakespeare statue in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner.|
7. He added 3,000 words to the language.
8. PBS’s fantastic Shakespeare Uncovered delves into the plays and discusses their relevancy in today’s world through interviews with actors, scholars, and directors. It examines where the stories may have originated, what were the major political, cultural, and religious influences at the time, and how the plays been interpreted throughout the years. Truly magnificent, this is one of my favorite shows on television, and it features such luminaries this season as Hugh Bonneville (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Morgan Freeman (The Taming of the Shrew), Joseph Fiennes (Romeo and Juliet), and Christopher Plummer (King Lear).
9. King Lear, the greatest tragedy of all-time. There’s something about a pompous, arrogant, aging father who descends into madness after casting off his kind daughter that hits home with me.
|Ian McKellen as King Lear. Photo courtesy of The Dobbyn Digest blog.|
10. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington is a treasure trove of information. I still have mine from my college Shakespeare class, which was taught by one of the first female graduates from Oxford. Pure magic.
Happy Birthday, sweet Master Shakespeare. May your work and legacy live on to further delights audiences of all ages.
What is your favorite thing about Shakespeare? Do you prefer the plays or the poems? How many of the plays have you seen?
“Bequeathed skull stars in Hamlet,” BBC News.com
“William Shakespeare,” Biography.com