Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Bard Turns 450!

The venerable bard, William Shakespeare, was baptized on April 25, 1564, traditionally assumed to have been two days after his birth, in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Many of us were introduced to Shakespeare with high school readings of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, or Hamlet. We may have later wandered into A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Othello, or found ourselves enjoying modern retellings of Shakespeare's classic stories through Ten Things I Hate About You or Kiss me Kate (The Taming of the Shrew), My Own Private Idaho (The Henry cycles), She's the Man (Twelfth Night), Forbidden Planet (The Tempest), or West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet). No matter how we were introduced to the Bard, his plays and poetry have become an integral part of literature, culture, and even vocabularies.

While we don't know much about his personal life - that he was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway (no, not that Anne Hathaway) worked as an actor and writer, and had three children - Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith, and died in April of 1616.

Much more of what we know can be gathered from his 40 plays and hundreds of poems most of which were written from 1589-1613.

Shakespeare's plays are typically divided into three categories: Tragedies (such as King Lear and Coriolanus), Histories (Richard II and King John) and Comedies (Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors). Although his tragedies are very commonly read in schools, the comedies make up the bulk of his plays by number. Two of his longest poems, The Rape of Lucretia and Venus and Adonis, were written from 1592 through 1594 when theaters were closed due to the plague.

Modern English (as opposed to Old or Middle English) had just taken root during Shakespeare's time. This gave the remarkable opportunity for new words enter the language.
Among words coined by Shakespeare:
Addiction: Othello Act 1 Scene 2
Dwindle: Henry IV Part 1 Act 3 Scene 2
Manager: A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 5 Scene 1
Uncomfortable: Romeo and Juliet Act 4 Scene 1
Find more words we owe to William Shakespeare at

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare can also be found online!

Come to the next Bards and Brews at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and share your favorite sonnet or soliloquy!

Learn more about William Shakespeare, his world, and his works at BPL.

The England of William Shakespeare / Michael Justin Davis ; photographs by Simon McBride.
Shakespeare's Heroines on the Stage / by Charles E.L. Wingate.
Will in the World : How Shakespeare became Shakespeare / Stephen Greenblatt.
 How Shakespeare Changed Everything / Stephen Marche.
The Friendly Shakespeare : a Thoroughly Painless Guide / Norrie Epstein.
Shakespeare's Kings : the Great Plays and the History of England / John Julius Norwich.
Reinventing Shakespeare : a Cultural History/ Gary Taylor.
Soul of the Age : a biography of the mind of William Shakespeare / Jonathan Bate.
The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's Poetry / edited by Patrick Cheney
Contested Will : Who Wrote Shakespeare? / James Shapiro
Shakespeare after All / Marjorie Garber
Shakespeare : the Invention of the Human / Harold Bloom

Allie Graham
Arts, Literature, Sports
Central Library

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