I added a board of notable quotes to my new Pinterest site this week, all part of a homework project for my social media marketing course. As I sifted through possible choices, I was once again struck by how many quotable phrases owe their origins to the renowned playwright, William Shakespeare. It is quite remarkable to see the effect that a man who was born 450 years ago — Stratford-upon-Avon will be hosting birthday celebrations this year — has had on the English language.
In his 52 years, Shakespeare produced about 38 plays, more than 150 sonnets and a couple of long narrative poems. His prolific output has provided many lines that have made their way into our day-to-day conversation, sometimes humorously – who among us hasn’t put a hand to forehead and dramatically proclaimed, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” mimicking Hamlet’s famous soliloquoy? Some have become the stuff of refrigerator magnets and posters, but are no less powerful as a result. Twelfth Night’s “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” is a perfect example.
Other quotes have become the stuff of common wisdom, oft quoted as commentary on the general travails of life and love. Shakespeare’s words from As You Like It ring most true when we’re feeling cynical: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” The advice contained in Hamlet to “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend,” is as applicable today as it was in Shakespeare’s time, and the words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” still ring true.
There are those who argue that William Shakespeare never actually existed, that his plays were actually written by the Earl of Essex or Sir Francis Bacon. Let’s leave that for the scholars to ponder. The fact is that whoever the author of the work attributed to Shakespeare might be, he was a prodigious talent and one whose gift for language and his understanding of the human condition resonates through the ages.
To hear Shakespeare’s words come alive, a visit to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, is a wonderful way to spend a spring or summer day. For a quicker trip, you can celebrate his words virtually.