I didn’t always have a crush on Billy, or William Shakespeare to those who don’t know him. Bill was like that annoying kid who always followed you around on the playground during recess. Year after year, teachers insisted on condemning you to one of his plays.
Just as we all realize, a little too late, that annoying kid grows up to be a billionaire, starts working out, and won’t give you the time of day.
In this case, poor Bill didn’t have a choice in denying my growing obsession with him.
5 Shakespeare Facts You May Not Know
1. William Shakespeare was a thief and a drunk. Just kidding!
While you may have been aware of Shakespeare’s many sex scandals, (his writing surely demonstrates a love for the ladies) it turns out many debaucheries linked to Shakespeare were committed by his buddies. As his popularity and success soared, the late 16th/Early 17th century paparazzi spread rumors of misdeeds.
Leo Rosten, author of many books and the article “The Shakespeare Nobody Knows” claims Bill was “serene, apparently never having offended anyone; he spent his money carefully, invested wisely.” And by the time he was 32, Bill bought a family coat of arms, entitling his father the title of “Gentleman”.
2. Shakespeare had no “formal” education.
Or at least not the formal Oxford or Cambridge education required of the day. Instead, William Shakespeare observed the world around him and read, a lot. He used his imagination and observations of human behavior to create his characters.
3. Shakespeare wrote the Bible.
Okay, okay. He didn’t write the Bible, but here’s a fun little quandary to ponder: grab a copy of the King James version of the bible. Locate Psalm 46. From the beginning of Psalm 46, count 46 words. What word do you find?
Now count 46 words in from the end of Psalm. What word did you find?
My former Bible as Literature professor and author, Marjorie Dorner, taught me this trick when I was in college. When King James, who took the throne in 1603, decided he wanted his own version of the Bible, he wasn’t asking your average Joe to update the Christian world’s most beloved book. And guess who was in Royal favor from the literary world…
4. Shakespeare loved his wife, Anne Hathaway.
In Shakespeare’s will, he left his wife the “second-best bed” and it’s common knowledge he left her and his family (daughter Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith) in Stratford for many years as he pursued a career on the stage in London. So how does this demonstrate his love?
Actually, the “second-best bed” in the Elizabethan era refers to the conjugal bed or marriage bed. The first-bed, or best bed, was for guests. Friends and colleagues of Bill claimed he was a “loving husband and fond father”, which left many to wonder why he didn’t bring his family to London with him.
We may never know why Anne and the kids were left behind, but we do know he returned once his fortune and Gentleman title were secured.
5. If Freud was the “Father of Psychology”, William Shakespeare was the “Grandfather of Psychology”.
Questions regarding whether Shakespeare wrote his plays are rumors started by jealous rivals. Evidence certainly shows he didn’t use original plots in writing Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, or his Histories. What was the link between Shakespeare’s plays that make them masterpieces, groundbreaking, and relevant today?
Shakespeare defied stereotypical morality plays of the English stage. “He preached no sermons; he offered no pious warnings; he treated good, evil, virtue and sin as would a psychologist, not a priest.” Rosten highlights. Shakespeare didn’t care to continue to abridge humanity. Instead, he treated his characters as humans by giving them flaws and impulses.
Even his royal characters had psychological problems. They based actions on fears and treated others with pettiness. Shakespeare allowed characters, who were obviously idiots, to become great. Also, many-a-villain were consumed with guilt or contemplating changing over from the dark side.
A Brief Note on Teaching Shakespeare’s Poems and Plays
When teaching Shakespeare, I always find that getting students to discuss the themes of his works, which are still relevent today, gets them through the language. I mean really, how stupid are Romeo and Juliet? That question always sparks a heated debate about love and human folly.
Also, due to poetic nature, teaching parts of his plays, like “The Seven Ages of Man” soliloquy from As You Like It (Jacques “All the World’s a Stage” speech) is more easily accessable for students. Another great passage to examine: Lady Maceth’s use of sound and rhythm (Act I, Scene vii). The brief exchange, where Lady Macbeth shows her snaky character, is revealed through the alliteration and consonance of the “s” sound.
Success never gave Shakespeare a big head. Maybe it was his melancholy, which carries through his 154 sonnets and 38 plays. Maybe it was the way he spoke to the people’s questions about life, giving them three-dimensional characters to feel connected. William Shakespeare’s plays and poems allow us ample questions to ponder. Either way, Billy remains something of an enigma worth a second, or third glance .
Rosten, Leo. “The Shakespeare Nobody Knows.”