Happy 450th Birthday, William Shakespeare


Hello, dear readers.

I'm taking time out from Bibliophiles 3 to pay tribute to the great William Shakespeare today on this, the 450th anniversary of his birth, and, coincidentally, the 398th anniversary of his death as well. But, let's concentrate on the positive. Happy Birthday, Master Shakespeare!

The first time I encountered the Bard was in first grade. Finished with all of my required reading, my teacher sent me to the library to find something useful to do. There I watched a filmstrip, Shakespeare for Children: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Magical, the language danced in my ears and ignited my soul.

Many years later, my family and I were fortunate to see As You Like It, a delightful comedy set in the woods of Arden, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. Witnessing Forbes Masson's "Jaques" deliver the famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech sitting not far from Shakespeare's house or the place of his grave is a moment I shall never forget.

As You Like It
By William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene VII


All the world's a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players: 
They have their exits and their entrances; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. 
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, 
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad 
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier, 
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, 
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, 
Seeking the bubble reputation 
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice, 
In fair round belly with good capon lined, 
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, 
Full of wise saws and modern instances; 
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts 
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon, 
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, 
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide 
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, 
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes 
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history, 
Is second childishness and mere oblivion, 
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

As much as I enjoy the comedies, my favorite Shakespearean plays are the tragedies, with King Lear standing above the rest. Years ago, sometime in the late 1980s, I saw it done by Chicago Shakespeare Repertory in the tiny and extremely intimate old Ruth Page Theater before they became the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and moved out to Navy Pier. Pulled in by every scene, from "Pluck his eyes out!" to Lear's devastation, the play had so much meat to it, I could scarcely breathe. I had studied it in college several times, even wrote a small scene of my own set while Cordelia is packing to leave with France after her father banishes her, but nothing compared to watching it unfold before me. Pure genius.

Oh, the language! The insults! No one can throw a verbal dagger like the Bard. Once, I started playing around with some barbs of my own to free my writer's block. 

Insults Written in the Style of Shakespeare by Karen Wojcik Berner

Oh, foulest wretch
Crawling in filth
Thine underbelly coated with rot

Excrement is your brow
Worthless, corrupt, foul beast

Oh, wonton succubus
Whore of empires
Love of none.

Copyright © 2014 by Karen Wojcik Berner. All rights reserved.

Man, that felt good to get out. Try it sometime. I'm sure it will bring you great satisfaction.

On that note, I must get back to writing. 

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a lovely day as we remember and celebrate a true master of language, plot, and wit — William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.
(Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)


Thanks for the tribute, and the reminder! I always love a moment to think of Shakespeare. I read him at various times during school, but it wasn't until about five years ago that I really grew to love him. My favorite is Othello, and the Battle of Agincourt scene of Henry V. Doesn't get any better!
Kelly Hashway said…
As an English major, I own all of Shakespeare's works in a huge book that is so heavy. lol
Chrys Fey said…
Shakespeare is timeless. This was a great tribute, Karen. :)
Jessica: Thanks for stopping by. Glad you came around to the Bard. :)

Kelly: Me, too, Kelly. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" edited by David Bevington? Love it!

Chrys: Timeless indeed, Chrys. Thanks.
Claudine G. said…
Love the insults, Karen. I was introduced to Shakespeare's works when I was 15. Studied 'Macbeth' and it remains my favourite play.
Thank you, Claudine. "MacBeth" is a great piece of literature.
This RSC effort requires, and deserves, several careful viewings. Nuance is the order of the day, from a heavily Christianized Duncan to a Macduff who (silently) assumes the role of chief caretaker and bodyguard to Duncan.

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