I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t send out a belated birthday wish to William Shakespeare, the English poet, playwright and actor, and widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
The ``Bard of Avon'' was born, or at least is believed to have been born in Stratford-upon-Avon (a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England) on April 23, 1564, St. George's Day, England’s National Day, which celebrates the feast of St. George. There’s no official record of Shakespeare’s birth; all we do know for certain is that he was baptized in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford on April 26, 1564.
Remarkably, 450 years later, Shakespeare still lives with us in our everyday language, whether through the written word, spoken word, or in our catchphrases recited at the office water cooler or splashed across our favorite social media sites.
Just consider some everyday words we use of Shakespeare: ``Eventful’’, ``countless’’, ``horrid’’, ``besmirch’’, ``impede’’, ``rant’’, ``excellent’’, ``lonely’’, ``well-read’’, ``survivor’’, and ``unpolluted.’’
Trying to nail down exactly how many words Shakespeare coined became a difficult task; more difficult than I would have thought. Seth Lerer, Dean of Arts and Humanities and Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego in ``Inventing English: A Portable History of Language,’’ wrote that Shakespeare coined nearly 6,000 new words. Bill Bryson, author of ``Shakespeare: the World as Stage,’’ on the other hand, argues Shakespeare coined 2,035 words. The discrepancies and different figures, cited by a number of authors-goes on and on.
Suffice it to say, Shakespeare was a ``prolific word coiner’’ as Barbara Wallraff, author of ``Word Court’’ and ``Your Own Words’’ wrote in the American Scholar.
As any Renaissance scholar will tell you, Shakespeare exhibited a deep reverence for Latin poetry with a natural flair for coining new words by combining the already-existing Latin and Greek roots that he knew by heart, such as ``baseless’’, ``dishearten’’, ``dislocate’’, ``impartial’’, ``indistinguishable’’, ``invulnerable’’, ``lonely’’, ``metamorphosis’’,`` monumental’’, ``premeditated’’, ``reliance’’, ``sanctimonious’’ and ``submerge.’’
Taken together, over a 20 year period, Shakespeare wrote more than a million words of poetry and drama, including 38 plays and 154 sonnets.
American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University (and author of more than 30 books), Harold Bloom, once wrote: ``That unlike other writers and artists, William Shakespeare was able to eclipse all writers who preceded him and to dominate all writers who have followed him.’’
No small feat.
Just think of the phrases that originated from the pen of Shakespeare: ``To be cruel to be kind; `To back a horse’’; ``To breathe one's last’’; ``To play fast and loose’’; ``To be in a pickle’’; ``A foregone conclusion’’; ``Better part of valor is discretion’’; `Not a mouse stirring’’; ``Brevity is the soul of wit’’; `We have seen better days’’; Now is the winter of our discontent’’; `There is no virtue like necessity.’’
Whenever I hear of a city editor or executive editor of a newspaper being dethroned, or a baseball manager or head coach of a football team being issued a pink slip; or learn the sacking of Larry King’s successor, I often think of Shakespeare’s insightful line: ``Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’’ (King Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, SC. 1, l. 31).
So, since 2014 marks the 450th year of Shakespeare’s birth, I thought I would reach out to some journalists to find out their favorite line or phrase from the works of England’s celebrated poet and dramatist.
What follows are some responses which came flying back.
- ``A little touch of Harry in the night''
-Henry V, Act 4, Chorus, l. 47
-Tina Brown, award-winning journalist, editor, author and currently founder and CEO of Tina Brown Live Media.
- ``The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.''
-Merchant of Venice Act 4, SC. I, l. 182.
-Chris Matthews, American political commentator and host of ``Hardball with Chris Matthews’’ on MSNBC.
- ``We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’’
King Henry V, Act 4, Sc. 3
-Patrick J. Buchanan, American conservative political commentator, author, syndicated columnist, politician, broadcaster, and former senior advisor to three U.S. Presidents.
- ``The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.''
-As You Like It, Act I, Scene 2.
-Sam Tanenhaus, American historian, biographer, journalist and writer-at-large for The New York Times
- ``Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.''
-Measure for Measure, Act I, Scene 4.
-Alan Dershowitz, American lawyer, jurist, author, and political commentator.
- "Men must endure
Their going hence even as their coming hither.
Ripeness is all."
-King Lear, Act 5, Sc. 2, l.9.
-David Ignatius, prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and best-selling author of ``Body of Lies’’ and ``The Increment’’, among others.
- ``O world, thy slippery turns! Friends now fast sworn,
Whose double bosoms seem to wear one heart,
Whose house, whose bed, whose meal, and exercise,
Are still together, who twin, as 'twere, in love.''
-The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Act 4, Scene 4.
-Michael Riedel, Theater columnist for the New York Post and co-host of the weekly talk show Theater Talk on PBS.
- ``I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.
Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is
Are clamorous goans, which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans
Show minutes, times, and hours.”
-Richard II, Act 5, Scene 5
-Kara Swisher, Co-CEO, Revere Digital; Co-Executive Editor, Re/code; and Co-Executive Producer, The Code Conference.
April 28, 2014