Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shakespeare Changed Everything, Including Pete

How Shakespeare Changed Everything
Did you know the name Jessica was first used in The Merchant of Venice?

Or that Freud's idea of a healthy sex life came from Shakespeake?

Nearly four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare permeates our everyday lives: from the words we speak to the teenage heartthrobs we worship to the political rhetoric spewed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle.

In the pages of this wickedly clever little book, Esquire columnist Stephen Marche uncovers the hidden influence of Shakespeare in our culture, including these fascinating tidbits:
  • Shakespeare coined over 1,700 words, including hobnob, glow, lackluster, and dawn.
  • Paul Robeson's 1943 performance as Othello on Broadway was a seminal moment in black history.
  • Tolstoy wrote an entire book about Shakespeare's failures as a writer.
  • In 1936, the Nazi Party tried to claim Shakespeare as a Germanic writer.
  • Without Shakespeare, the book titles Infinite Jest, The Sound and the Fury, and Brave New World wouldn't exist.
Stephen Marche has cherry-picked the sweetest and most savory historical footnotes from Shakespeare's work and life to create this unique celebration of the greatest writer of all time.

Read an excerpt here.

Pete says:
"I remember sitting in my freshman Shakespeare course when our weary instructor looked up from his desk and said something to the effect of  'This class is without a doubt the worst class I've ever had the displeasure to teach.'  I can't speak for my fellow students but I wish I had been a more adept student for our poor teacher, and I think I would have been had I had a book like How Shakespeare Changed Everything My teacher was correct in saying that when you're dealing with Shakespeare you're dealing with a topsy-turvy world. But what he couldn't quite convey, and what the author of this book reminds us, is that Shakespeare is supposed to be...fun.

Shakespeare's own life was as ghostly as some of his characters. For such a prolific writer he left very little of himself behind. There's no exact birth date. Maybe a marriage to an older woman or maybe not. Five or six signatures but none of them match. A couple of portraits may be of Shakespeare, but for all we know they may be portraits of his kid brother, Kevin (Note: Most Shakespearean scholars have long disputed the existence of Kevin Shakespeare.). 
So how did this mysterious literary figure changed everything? For starters he coined hundreds of new words such as auspicious, abstemious, and sanctimonious, and some words nobody can quite figure out, such as a scamel. What's that? He also gave us the name Jessica, the daughter from The Merchant of Venice.  His numerous plays have circled the globe from stage to screen. In New York City in 1849 there was even a riot between rival Shakespeare performances that left 20 dead and
hundreds injured. Over Shakespeare? Talk about much ado about nothing.  In one humorous aside the author brings Shakespeare to a modern day food court where he sits pondering a store called The Gap.  There are also mistakes to consider. In some versions of Hamlet the very first scene has Bernardo saying Francisco's line and Francisco saying Bernardo's  (though I've seen other versions where the scene is cleaned up a bit). When it comes to Shakespeare it truly is a topsy-turvy world and therefore maybe no mistake at all. I believe I'm almost ready for Shakespeare in the park now, for he really did change everything -- even me."

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