The Bard Is Dead 400 Years: How Many of His Lines Will You Hear Today?

Greetings, Fickle Readers! Yesterday I was telling you about my belief that all of us living writers (and readers, for that matter) should be smashing at the authoritarian edifice that this guy

has become, in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23rd. (If you didn’t catch my little rant yesterday, you can read it here.) Today, I’m wondering how many people I’ve convinced. I’m thinking that quite a few of you Fickle Followers are out there thinking, hmm, Miss Fickle Reader may have blown a gasket due to dementia or boredom. Because really, bashing on Shakespeare’s corpse? Aren’t there corpses out there more deserving of a desecrated grave?

First of all, you do realize I’m speaking metaphorically, right? I’m not talking about beating up this kind of ugly, clownish monument in the Stratford church that everyone hates already:

 

Clearly this was a man who did not expect to get posthumously famous.

I’m calling for the wholesale foundation-shaking of a literature that tells us this little, bald Englishman is worth more cultural capital than thousands upon thousands of living writers. And I’m saying that this little, bald Englishman who died in 1616 is, in fact, controlling our culture from the grave. His work is so omnipresent in the English language that it’s virtually invisible.

That, my friends, is a scary thought. That a single composer of plays and poems can, with his words and ideas, influence societies 400 years and counting in the future–that represents an insane level of power almost too widespread to comprehend. Shakespeare is literally everywhere: in books, on TV, in the movies, online, on coffee mugs, posters, aprons, t-shirts, jewelry, curtains, flip-flops, umbrellas, water bottles, pillows, lunchboxes, stationery, underpants, teapots, coins, and written on people’s skin. And that’s just the stuff that was created now, with his words, his picture, or images from his plays deliberately used. There are far more phrases and sayings out there that were born in Shakespeare’s texts and have since passed into common parlance. Many of us may mouth his words and expressions without even knowing it.

I’ll bet you Fickle Readers out there read Shakespeare in passing at least once a day. I’m not even talking about the words he’s credited with inventing, which it turns out isn’t quite so many as once was thought. No, I’m thinking you read Shakespeare on the ads in the subway, in magazines, on shop signs and billboards that go sliding past the windows of whatever vehicle you’re traveling in. You listen to Shakespeare in podcasts, pop songs, and the news. You may even hear Shakespeare in conversation without registering his presence, as you move on to the next moment of your day (a phenomenon, by the way, known as “threshold amnesia“–not a concept or a phrase Shakespeare invented, but one that sounds positively Shakespearean nevertheless).

Anyway, I’m so confident that you will face Shakespeare’s text, in some form, at least once during the course of a normal day, that I’m challenging you out there to try to have a Shakespeareless day. Don’t go out of your way to read anything Shakespearean or related to the theater. Temporarily stop following any Shakespeare-bots on Twitter. (Am I the only one following Shakespeare-bots on Twitter. Oy.)

Then go about your business and keep a tally.

I dare you. I double-dog dare you to see how much Shakespeare you passively absorb in a day. Two days. A week.

Then see how you feel about the power this guy has over your life.

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