Thank you, Will.
You created some of the most unforgettable characters ever to grace a stage.
You taught us that the English language could sing to rival any other, and you invented more than 1700 words that we’re still using today (‘bloodstained’, ‘premeditated’, ‘impartial’, ‘tranquil’, and – would you believe, anyone? – ‘puking’, to name just a few).
You held up a mirror and you showed us ourselves, in all our shame and in all our glory.
You died four hundred years ago today, and we will never forget you.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,The insolence of office, and the spurnsThat patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,When he himself might his quietus makeWith a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,To grunt and sweat under a weary life,But that the dread of something after death,The undiscovered country from whose bournNo traveler returns, puzzles the willAnd makes us rather bear those ills we haveThan fly to others that we know not of?Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,And thus the native hue of resolutionIs sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,And enterprises of great pith and momentWith this regard their currents turn awry,And lose the name of action.
– Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1
If you want to find out more about Shakespeare, the best thing to do is to go see one of his plays. Summer Shakespeare festivals are coming up; ours in Edmonton is the Freewill Shakespeare Festival. This year they’re doing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Love’s Labours Lost’, and festival passes are on sale now.
There are many excellent editions of Shakespeare’s ‘Complete Works‘. I actually own two – a very old edition with just the text, and a big monster with excellent supplementary notes. I enjoy them both, for different reasons.
If you want an entertaining biography, my favourite is the one by Bill Bryson, ‘The World as Stage‘.
Here’s my favourite Shakespeare quote, from Portia’s speech to Shylock in Act IV, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.