All the Trivia You Ever Wanted to Know About Shakespeare

I picked up a little gem at the Stratford Festival Gift Shop called The Shakespeare Miscellany.  It is filled with all the trivia you ever wanted to know about Shakespeare.  Authors David Crystal, internationally known expert linguist, and his son Ben, a Shakespearean actor, have compiled an exhaustive collection of insights, quotes, obsolete usages, historical context, and witty anecdotes.  By way of a preface, the authors begin by explaining that the word miscellany (actually miscellanea) was first used by the Bishop of Exeter, William Alley, in 1565 on the title page of his book The poore man’s Librarie.  For the next Wednesday or two, it is my plan to share my favourites here.  My top 10 so far:

1.  There are 1035 instances where Shakespeare is the first of several people using a word, in one or more senses, but the later usages do not occur until at least twenty-five years later, making it likely that [Shakespeare] introduced the word. (p.64)

2.  No one can convince me Shakespeare didn’t make up words just to upset the actors.  (Jack Lemmon, on trying to learn his lines for his part in Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet, 1996) (p. 172)

3.  In the old days, the Globe Theatre was more like a Palace of Varieties. As you went in they gave you rotten fruit to throw at the actors, sort of audience participation, which they enjoyed. (p.48)

4.  In Roscius Anglicanus (1708), John Downes records that Romeo and Juliet was given an early revival by Sir William Davenant’s company (in 1661). It was evidently turned into a tragi-comedy by James Howard, ‘preserving Romeo and Juliet alive; so that when the Tragedy was Reviv’d again, ’twas Play’d Alternately, Tragical one Day, and Tragicomical another; for several Days together’.  (p.24)

5. Seeking insight into his own character, Ian McKellen asked Trevor Nunn, ‘He;s Nixon isn’t he, Macbeth?’
‘No, no, he’s not Nixon, he’s Kennedy.  It’s the golden couple; everyone loves the Macbeth’s’ Judi Dench, With a Crack in her Voice, p.145, on the 1976 production of Macbeth at the Other Place) (p.13)

6.  False friends: bully
Modern sense:  tyrannical coward who terrorizes the weak
Obsolete sense:  dear friend; sweetheart; fine fellow
There is something of the ‘Hail fellow, well met’ tone about it, for it is used
* by a drunken Stephano to Caliban” ‘Coragio, bully-monster’ (The Tempest, V.1.258)
* by the braggart Pistol about the King: ‘I love the lovely bully’ (Henry V, IV.1.48)
* by the rustics to the overpowering Bottom:  ‘Bully Bottom’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, III.1.7)
Originally used to people of either sex, it was later restricted to men.  Shakespeare usually uses it as a kind of honorific prefix to a man’s name. (p.173)

7.  There was no scenery in Elizabethan theatre, and the word ‘scene’ did not automatically mean ‘different place’.  Many scenes take place without any clear indication of where the characters are.  When it is important to know, it is the words which tell us.  ‘This is Illyria, lady’, the Captain tells Viola — and the audience — at the beginning of the second scene of Twelfth Night.  ‘This is the forest of Arden’, likewise, Rosalind tells Celia (As You Like It, II.4.12).  And the Chorus opens Romeo and Juliet with the words ‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’.  (p.151)

8.  There are twenty-three . . . cases in the plays, where one character tells another to ‘look where’ someone is coming.  They might seem to be unnecessary remarks, until we remember the large dimensions of the Elizabethan platform stage, thrusting out into a yard with spectators all around.  It would not be difficult for an audience — inattentive as they often were — to miss an entrance from one of the doors at the very back of the stage.  Remarks like these reduce that risk.  (p.150)

9.  Missing Persons:  There are several missing people in Shakespeare’s plays — Queen Lear, Lady Polonius, the children of Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.  Some Shakespearian scholars have as a result questioned Shakespeare’s opinion of women, but the real reason may well have been practical: there were fewer wonmen’s parts written because women weren’t allowed to act on stage, and few younger roles because there were only a couple of boy actors in the company at any one time. (p.135)

10.  No Delete:  With most plays the lines do stick until the run’s over and you can lose them — you just press ‘delete’.  Apart from Shakespeare, which stays forever.  (Michael Gambon, The Daily Telegraph, 17 Feb. 2004) (p.102)

Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did!

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About mysm2000

Having taught elementary school for more than 25 years and been involved in many amazing technology and curriculum projects, I find I've developed a myriad of interests based on literature I've read and music I've heard. I've followed The Wright Three to Chicago, Ansel Adams to Colorado, The Kon Tiki Expedition to Easter Island, Simon & Garfunkel lyrics to New York City, Frank Lloyd Wright to Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, and have only just begun.
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