(This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Paper Jam, and was edited in May 2021)
Bill Shakespeare, what is there to say about him? His birthday is coming up! April 23 - let’s throw a literary party. How do you imagine him? Partially bald? Puffy pants? Large, white collars? Did you know this man wore an earring? Yes, an earring; a gold hoop earring in his left ear to be exact. During his lifetime, wearing an earring in Elizabethan and Victorian England was the hipster thing to do. Would Bill have had a man-bun? All the dude-hipsters seem to have one. How peculiar. William was a distinguished man and a surprisingly tall human. It has been speculated that he stood at 6’4”. Not bad for a poet and playwright.
He was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, and died there on his birthday in 1616 at the age of 52. William’s life turned into a Dr. Phil episode when he got married at the age of 18. He married Anne Hathaway (no, not that one, the other one) and she was 26 years old at the time. The drama really went down when William and Anne’s neighbors complained that, perhaps, they really didn’t have grounds for marriage. What does this mean? Maybe, “He only married her because he got her pregnant.” Scandalous. Six months after they were married, little Susanna Shakespeare is born. Coincidence? That’s for you to decide. Two years later, the Shakespeares welcomed twins, a brother and sister named Hamnet and Judith.
A legend claims that when he was in his late 20s, he was quite mischievous. The story goes that William trespassed on the property of Thomas Lucy, all because he was poaching for deer. Hunting? Bill, do you also like a cold tea on a Friday night? A pair of puffy pants that fits just right? He had to flee town so he wouldn’t get into trouble, but in order to take revenge, he wrote a salty ballad about Thomas. That’ll teach him a lesson.
Historians and other scholarly people aren’t exactly sure when Shakespeare began his writing career, but it is known that his first plays were on stage in 1592 when he was 28. You’re probably familiar with or have heard of his most popular works; how many of these titles do you recognize? Hamlet, Macbeth, As You Like It, A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, amongst many others.
His works are also very quotable, for example, “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1), “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2). “All that glisters is not gold.” (Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 7), and one of my personal favorite excerpts, “What, you egg! (stabbing him) Young fry of treachery!” (Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 2).
Shakespeare is regarded for his deep quotes that stir thoughts and emotions, but during his time, several of his plays were infamous because of their naughty nature. Oh, Shakespeare, your use of innuendos makes the audiences burst into laughter.
This renowned playwright, this esteemed man of literature, the inspiration to generations of writers alike practically created the “Your Mom” joke. Here’s the proof:
CHIRON: Thou hast undone our mother.
AARON: Villain, I have done thy mother.
(Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2)
Oh, Shakespeare, you cheeky devil.
Also, random tidbit, but during his lifetime, it was illegal for women to act in theater, so guess who had to the female roles in Shakespeare’s plays? Yes, men. Lovely Juliet Capulet? Played by a dude! Ophelia from Hamlet? A dude, but I digress.
There’s also some speculation that Shakespeare not only had multiple affairs with women but also that he was bisexual. Remember one of his most popular lines, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate..” (Sonnet 18). Well, that was written for a young man. However, some authors deny his bisexuality by claiming that same-sex friendships during the Renaissance were quite affectionate, so affectionate, that by today’s standards it would be considered romantic.
If Shakespeare was around today, you can probably imagine him as a hipster. He’d wear a plaid shirt, have a lumber-beard, sport a beanie, khakis rolled up to boast his loafers or whatever you call those things. He’d be a struggling English major who’d write his best papers in the corner of a Boba shop as he’d snack on organic seaweed chips and listen to the chill vibes of an indie-folk artist you haven’t heard because the mainstream scene is just too commercial. Yet, on weekends, he’d go out with his fellow English majors and a couple of undeclared guys, and drop “Your Mom” and “T'was she spoketh” jokes throughout the night.
He wasn’t very famous during his lifetime, though he was respected by his audiences. He’s one of those greats who weren’t really appreciated until after they died, like other writers and artists. His stories captured romance, humor, and tragedy and have been passed down and performed for generations. His quick-wittedness and at times, flirtatious lines entertain audiences and readers until this very day. He is still studied in high school, and universities dedicate entire courses to analyzing his works. He was a unique man with unique problems, but these things worked in his favor.
He lived his famous line from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true” (Act 1, Scene 3). He was true to himself, and no author of today can be compared to him because there is only one William Shakespeare.
I’ll leave you with this literary food for thought. Which one applies to you? “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5).
Happy Birthday, Bill.
David Tennant discussing the importance of Shakespeare
What would it be like to see Shakespeare direct his play? A scene from Good Omens.