Today is Shakespeare’s birthday and deathday, if legend is to be believed, yet in the alternative reality of story which permeates our world he has never been more alive.
His work has influenced writers as diverse as Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner and JK Rowling.
His affection for the foibles, failings, good, evil, and drama of human experience at every level of society enables his work to transcend shifting time and popular culture to find relevance in every age.
As with so many other writers of fiction, his influence is evident on every page I write. Yet much mystery surrounds the man himself. Was he a grammar school graduate without a university education? Or an aristocrat of the first order? No one really knows for sure, and none of that really matters to me. Everything that matters is in the work itself.
There one finds, writ large, his compassion for the predicaments of those at all levels of society, his curiosity for all forms of knowledge, his hatred of pomposity and self-pride, his understanding of the ambiguities of power, of man’s ability to distort truth to suit himself… so many facets of human nature are reflected in his work, displayed in his version of the globe. We recognize each portrait and can apply the truth of each one to every era because man’s nature hasn’t changed from Shakespeare’s time to ours. What was true then is still true.
That is why Shakespeare’s plays have been successfully re-imagined in thousands of ways without losing any of the essential truth at each one’s core. Whether set in a science fiction future, a neo-Victorian alternative history, or feudal Japan, that truth still illuminates our understanding of ourselves and others.
Every writer worth his salt at some point in his life asks himself the question: “How can I pull that off? How can I make my work transcend time?” The answer is always “Tell the truth” and the master of that, is Shakespeare.
I am currently co-editing a Steampunk Shakespeare anthology to be published by Flying Pen Press. Re-imagining Shakespeare’s plays in a Steampunk setting enables us to interpret and experience his work from a fresh perspective, but should not distort the truth at the heart of his original. I am full of admiration for those who have submitted to our upcoming anthology. The deadline for submission is May 31st if you would like to take a crack at it.
In the meantime, I hope you will find your own way to celebrate Shakespeare on his birthday. You can participate in a vast range of activities set up around the world from street parades to performances, or consider writing your own post about Shakespeare.
I’m delighted to have been invited by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust to be one of 50 selected bloggers from around the world to share a story about how Shakespeare has influenced our lives. You can find the others at the Happy Birthday Shakespeare! website.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is offering four days of activities to celebrate: a Saturday morning parade and walking spectacle that culminates at Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church, carnival bands, street entertainers, children’s workshops, a Romeo and Juliet Challenge, and Sonnet Sleuths.
Now it’s your turn.
Great post, Lia. I don't really know how Shakespeare has influence my life, but I do know that I found King Lear one of the most moving stories I've ever read.
Shakespeare? Steampunk? TOGETHER! Can't wait! I only stumbled across steampunk (in literature and jewellery) last year and I love it. And I love Shakespeare. This sounds unbelievably cool.
His sonnets inspired me before I read the plays. I read them and I thought "I can do that." I wrote some sonnets. To this day the sonnet is my favorite poetic form.
His stories gripped me, their archaic language distorted mine in grade school to a great degree but it was because the characters and situations made so much sense compared to the pap I was forced to read at school. I loved everything he wrote. I studied Shakespeare ferociously with parental and teacherly indulgence at a time when most of what was prescribed for children was moralistic dreck.
That gave his works an even greater impact, but I never lost interest in them. I've been in some of the plays in amateur theatre and had glorious fun with it. I've done group readings in college. It's even richer if you read it or enact it or watch a good performance than just reading it, his form was theatre and they always give so much room for improvisation and interpretation.
Perhaps that's why they're so inspiring too… there is room and incitement to your own interpretation.
I read Hamlet's soliloquy at age ten aloud and meant it, at the worst time in my life it challenged me to think about it, not just act on impulse. I could not discuss suicide with anyone. Punishment and abuse were certain if I said a thing about it and no one understood how I felt.
Yet there was Shakespeare, centuries ago, putting words in the mouth of a young prince and showing he understood. Shakespeare was a very good friend in the hardest times of my life and still is. I sometimes think that saved my life.
And the quality of your reading material shows in every line you write, Robert. I'm touched by your experience of Hamlet's "to be, or not to be?" speech. Hamlet has always been the play that speaks to the confused teenager in me, trying to figure life out, figure family members out, find one's own place in the madness that is life.
What also interests me is that in his time, Shakespeare's language wasn't lordly – it was accessible, outrageous, bawdy, real, and playful. I bet he could be a bit of a rotter, truth be told, and his wife can't have had an easy time of it. 🙂
But it's testament to the fact that you have to live life in order to write convincingly about it. To be able to empathize with the emotions of characters in varied situations.
Otherwise we're doomed to repeat the same story over and over.