Shakespeare Hits the Books

I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book. Groucho Marx

Bet you’re wondering how Will got so smart. Smart enough to write all those plays. Shakespeare had a hobby. He read books. When he was just knee-high to a grasshopper, he got hooked on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He was smitten with words so much so that he read everything he could get his hands on. If Abe Lincoln had been around, Will would have given him a run for the money in the reading department.

When it came to books, his daddy, Ol’ John Shakespeare, told Will to “just say no”. The “Just Say No” campaign had worked well with Good Queen Bess. That’s what her daddy, Henry 8, had told her when it came to marriage. So Ol’ John figured it would work on Will. It wasn’t that Daddy Shakes was against reading. It was reading at night under the covers by candlelight. He was afraid Will would set the house on fire. In those days, there was no Smokey the Bear to put out the fire. On top of that, Will was going blind from all that reading. John was getting to the point where he couldn’t afford the cost of glasses.

Now you would think his dad’s lectures would work with Will. That and the other kids calling him Four-Eyes all the time. But Will was a stubborn cuss. He was going to read and nobody was about to stop him. Besides he kept telling anybody who would listen that he wanted to grow up and be a playwright. Thing was that nobody believed him . They didn’t even know what a playwright was. It was going to be up to Will to grow up and invent the word the way he invented a lot of other words.

When his dad said “Just say no”, Shakes would say, “Get with it, Dad.” You see, reading was the latest craze in the sixteenth century. Books were the iPads of that age. It was all started by Henry 8. Seems he had gotten an email from some guy named Gutenberg. The email said, “Have I got a deal for you.” Before you can say 3-D printer three times backwards, King Henry had gone all out and bought shares in Gutenberg Press stock. To make sure Gutenberg didn’t go bankrupt, Henry ordered enough printing presses from the company to stock every English town with at least one press.

It was a very wise investment. Sixteenth century England became the readingest country ever. To celebrate, Henry wrote his own version of “Greensleaves”. It was a hit. With that kind of encouragement, the English wrote and wrote, then they wrote some more. They wrote plays. They wrote essaies. They even wrote poetry.

To be a Somebody in Elizabethan England, you wrote poetry. Phil Sidney wrote poems. Ed Spenser wrote poems. John Donne wrote poems. Poems were the blogs of the sixteenth century.

The English became so literate they no longer read stain glass windows for their Bible stories. They actually read the Bible. Until that time, there had only been Latin Bibles. No one was about to be caught dead with Martin Luther’s German Bible. He had left some stuff out. In fact, it was against the law to even possess one of “Marty’s ditties”. If caught, you’d be made dead. Believe me. A roast was no fun in those days. Especially if you were the roast.

Speaking of dead, Latin was a dead language. That is why nobody, but nobody read the Bible in Latin. People wondered why it had not been buried long before. In Sunday school, the teacher would ask, “Anybody know John 3:16?” His students answered, “It’s all Latin to me.” If anybody was going to translate the Bible, it would be King Henry or one of his minions. Before you know it, the English had their very own King James Bible. Now every inn room in the land got its own Gideon’s Bible.

And they got their own prayerbook too. The Book of Common Prayer. Pretty soon just about everybody could pray. Gave God something to think about. He’d never heard so many prayers asking to win the lottery.

So, as you can see, the English were readaholics. And Will Shakespeare was the readingest of them all. He read everything he could get his hands. He read Holinshead’s Chronicles and wrote his two Henriads, “Richard III” and “Macbeth”. Geoffrey of Monmouth gave him “King Lear”. He read Ariosto and gave the world “Taming of the Shrew”. He read the Italian, Cinthio, and made “Othello”. He read Ovid and wrote “Titus Andronicus”. He read Plutarch, then scribbled down “Julius Caesar”, “Coriolanus” and “Antony and Cleopatra”. Arthur Brook provided the framework for “Romeo and Juliet”. “The Decameron” and “The Canterbury Tales” were the inspiration for several of his comedies. “Gilligan’s Island” gave him the idea for “The Tempest”.

As far as “Hamlet” is concerned, don’t blame it on the rain. It was Saxo Grammiticus and Tom Kyd’s play and wallah, “Hamlet”.

Makes me wonder what kind of play Shakespeare would have written after reading “Gone With the Wind” or  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

Scarlett: Why, Ashley Wilkes, you are the winter of my discontent.

Later Rhett: To Scarlett or not to Scarlett, that is the question. This is the long and the short of it.

Still later Rhett to Scarlett: God has given you one face, and you make yourself another, Scarlett.

Scarlett:”What’s in a name? That which we call a Yankee by any other name would smell like a Yankee.”

Rhett (aside): Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

Rhett (to Scarlett): Something is rotten in the state of Tara.

Scarlett: Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear of you, Rhett Butler.

Rhett:All that glisters is not gold.

Scarlett: But it is, Rhett, it is.

Rhett: Frankly I don’t give a damn. (Rhett leaves.)

Scarlett (tears rolling down her face): I suppose tomorrow is another day. Yet to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

Mammy (Voice over); This was a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

If Shakes could do this with “Gone with the Wind”, just think what he could do with “Fifty Shades of Gray”.

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13 thoughts on “Shakespeare Hits the Books

  1. Way to use analogy to bring all that stuff into a modern context. Books were the iPads of the sixteenth century indeed. And, reading under the covers by candlelight- ha ha ha! I think if Shakespeare had opened Shades of Gray and got through a page or two, he would have tossed it into the fire to warm his hands and write his next classic. (at least, that’s what I did with it) The Scarlett/Rhett dialogue is too fun, and particularly apt, since I live with a teenager named Tara, and something is certainly rotten there…particularly in the northwest corner of her bedroom.

  2. Brilliant ability to merge Gone With The Wind with Shakespeare. Sounds like poets were the celebrities of yesteryear. If that was the case today, society would be a lot smarter. Many more aspiring Robert Frosts than Justin Beibers.

  3. Gwahahahaha!!!! Brilliant post! I absolutely loved the Scarlett/Rhett repartee… wonderful stuff, and you actually made me laugh out loud. No, really, REALLY out loud! Love it, Don. Your best work so far… even if I haven’t the foggiest idea what 50 shades was all about. I only get the gist that it is pretty rude… 🙂 But then, so was a lot of Shakespeare’s stuff. And don’t even get me started on Chaucer! *blushing violently*… I can’t believe they still have kids read that smut in school… shameful, really. xx Mother Hen

  4. Reblogged this on Rachealizations and commented:
    This piece of writing gave me the most delightful chuckle this morning! Of course, it also made me feel a little dumb, because I admittedly have not read several of the stories. Nonetheless, I had to share this great piece of writing.

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