Now, as most people also know, I am a Shakespeare “nut.” I suspect that this is at least partially a product of the fact that old Will got a lot of mileage out of clever use of language. You can’t get very far in any of his works without running into some interesting use of language. That’s certainly not a profound observation on my part, people have been talking about that for a long time. It is even widely believed that Shakespeare was unusually inventive in terms of creating new words, as well as coining new expressions.
When Maggi (my younger daughter) and I were in England in 2009, she bought a poster entitled “Quoting Shakespeare” by Bernard Levin in the shop at Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstruction of the theatre on the South bank of the Thames, just across from the old city of London. (It’s actually quite close to the original site of the Globe Theatre, but much of the actual original site is under the approaches to Southwark Bridge, so it couldn’t be built there.)
Anyway, I should have bought a copy of the poster for myself, but I decided to just get a copy of the Shakespeare timeline which I had in my office at WCU from my return until I retired. It’s currently in my “office,” not far from my desk, and near the bookshelf which holds my “Shakespeare Collection” of books which relate to what I suppose could be called “Shakespeare Studies.” That collection currently numbers about 116 books and does not include collected works, single scripts, recordings, or videos.
In any event, the Levin poster reads as follows:
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare it’s Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied -- a tower of strength -- hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows -- made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play -- slept not one wink -- stood on ceremony -- danced attendance on your lord and master -- laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift -- cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise, why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare. If you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think t is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out, even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge at one fell swoop -- without rhyme or reason, then to give the devil his due if the truth were known for surely you have a tongue in your head, you are quoting Shakespeare. Even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a doornail, if you think I am an eyesore -- a laughing stock-- the devil incarnate-- a stony-hearted villain -- bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then --by Jove -- O Lord -- tut, tut -- For goodness’ sake -- what the dickens! -- but me no buts -- it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
I’ve indicated quotes in italics, although the actual poster separates the Shakespeare quotes from Levin’s insertions by the use of color, but I think the point is pretty clear.
Others have also noticed how many expressions used by Shakespeare have become commonly-used and have produced posters (and other stuff) celebrating this fact. A while ago, I saw a poster on the web site of the Folger Shakespeare Library shop (I really have to get there some time, it’s on my “bucket list.”) which listed a few of the same ideas as Levin, but some others, as well. It reads:
When you say. . .
budge an inch
a laughing stock
a tower of strength
too much of a good thing
in a pickle
for goodness sake
vanish into thin air
your own flesh and blood
dead as a doornail
stood on ceremony
as luck would have it
without rhyme or reason
as white as driven snow
seen better days
hold a candle to
not a mouse stirring
one fell swoop
you’re quoting Shakespeare!
Shakespeare is often credited with being the first to use these words.
The words were, of course, more decorative than this and used a variety of colors to make the poster more attractive, but, again, I think the point is pretty clear: a fair amount of what makes up standard, educated English these days comes from Shakespeare. I know that there are people who claim to have studied the question who will argue that the vast majority of Shakespeare’s language (Early Modern English), which so many students claim is so difficult to understand because it’s so old, is actually composed of the same words with the same meanings as are used today by educated people. I suppose that if your idea of language usage is limited to tweets and texts, it might pose some difficulties, but I would also argue that that sort of language usage provides a pretty poor standard for the language.
Oh well, I suppose that texts (and even tweets) have a place in the world, even if I don’t see them as being adequate for all but the simplest usage. I wonder how the Bible would read in “text/tweet” speak? Would the Lord’s Prayer begin, “Our Pop, who’s upstairs, his name has pull”? I hope we never find out. I still like the Early Middle English of the King James version a lot better.