The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0753 Monday, 26 April 1999.
Date: Monday, 26 Apr 1999 13:29:23 +0100
Subj: SHK 10.0703 Q: Shakespeare's Birthday
Date: Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 15:15:13 -500
Date: Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 07:06:59 -0400
Subj: Shakespeare: What's in a name
Date: Monday, 26 Apr 1999 13:29:23 +0100
Subject: Q: Shakespeare's Birthday and Modern Drama
Comment: SHK 10.0703 Q: Shakespeare's Birthday and Modern Drama
My colleague, Mairi Macdonald, Deputy Archivist at the Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust's Record Office, offers this answer to your question
about the date of Shakespeare's birth:
Shakespeare's baptism is recorded in the Stratford parish register on 26
April 1564, which was a Wednesday. The 1559 Prayer Book instructed
parents not to delay baptism beyond the Sunday following the date of
birth at the latest. It is unlikely, therefore, that Shakespeare was
born before the previous Sunday which was 23 April. This date coincides
with the feast of St George, patron saint of England, and it has
traditionally been assumed that this was William Shakespeare's birth
date. The 23 April has both tradition and practical convenience to
support it as, if Shakespeare had been born on Monday 24 April or
Tuesday 25 April, his parents would have been more likely to register
his birth towards the end of the week.
Date: Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 15:15:13 -500
What follows is a semi-autobiographical sequence of 16 sonnets I wrote
for Shakespeare's birthday, which also happens to be mine. It may be
only an unhappy marriage of Shakespeare and Ogden Nash. To help explain
a couple of sonnets, I worked in several mental hospitals while I was an
Tower of Babble
When the catch was unloaded, the day's work done,
And the sun was giving way to the moon,
Fishermen strolled from nearby wharves in Boston
To get drunk in my father's saloon.
With bandannas and boots over their knees,
And cursing their leaky old trawlers -
They were like pirates from the seven seas,
A brotherhood of thirsty brawlers.
They could spit and call my father a prick.
They could go upstairs with the girls and get laid.
They could claim they could lick any mick -
They could do anything, as long as they paid.
Those were the years of the Great Depression,
When money was our national obsession.
This was the world into which some Son
Of a Bitch dropped me on Shakespeare's birthday
In the depths of the Great Depression,
"In the year of our Lord, Nineteen-thirty-thray,"
As my Irish grandfather would have purred.
He was all for naming me William,
After the Bard. I would have preferred
Something more Celtic, such as Liam,
Or even classical, like Achilles.
But my father would have none of that stuff.
All Greeks were queers and gave him the willies.
He wanted his sons to be rough and tough.
So they named me after Bob, on mom's side,
A stevedore who'd committed suicide.
Another uncle, as I now recall him,
Was a study in Hibernian gruffness,
A flyweight who was baptized in a gym
In East Boston where they worshiped toughness.
He hop-scotched from one small New England town
To another, dancing, with his fancy feet,
Like a two-fisted Fred Astaire, down
The cauliflower trail to St. Botolph Street,
Where he won the championship bout.
He was lionized by our Celtic clan
Until a young black boxer knocked him out:
Overnight, he was a flash-in-the-pan.
Then he slowly started to lose his sight
And began his long day's journey into night.
Before they hauled him off to Mattapan,
With the others who'd gone over the brink,
A crazy old transvestite named Dan-Dan
Dougherty stuck me with the moniker, Gink,
Which Webster defines as an odd man or boy,
On which the aforesaid Dougherty,
A cross-dressing bundle of goy,
Was our unorthodox authority.
I imagine him in that inmate gear,
Predicting the future to the schizoid
And schizophrenic, a straitjacketed seer
Who took his cue, if not his balls, from Freud:
"Where the ink is, there will the gink be:
Neither a transvestite nor poet be."
Which reminds me of the Shakespeare maven
Who'd lost his mind in an endowed chair
In which he'd sat too long in New Haven.
He ended up in an insane asylum, where
He would babble to me, on and on -
But for reasons he never did explain -
About Hamlet's Horatio. Far gone
In madness, he nearly drove me insane.
If he was going to blather and blather
Why not choose a name more euphonious,
Like mellifluous Ophelia, or her father,
The latinate Polonius?
But not him, not the professor, oh no,
He blathered only of Ho-ra-ti-o.
In high school I had done nothing but fail.
I wanted only to call signals: "Hut! Hut!"
When I was in graduate school, at Yale,
I couldn't even spell Connecticut.
But I was never at a loss - forwards
And backwards. I knew the joys of text.
Like Hamlet, I was obsessed with words,
But not even sure which letter came next.
At Yale, the bloom was off the rose since Tinker
Had taken leave of his senses
And been replaced by a Talmudic thinker
Intrigued by anxiety and influences.
When I had my first linguistic crisis,
I couldn't tell Osiris from Isis.
Across the centuries, I feel your presence
In the mother tongue I speak.
As Dante Alighieri was the essence
Of Italian and Homer of Greek,
You are the patron saint of English,
And silently you bless each syllable
We utter, whether it be like this, pish,
Or the babblings of the rabble.
Let us above all be articulate,
And not wallow in the dirty meanings.
Like a maid ascending to heaven's gate,
Let us perform linguistic spring cleanings.
Let us not go hunting on Mount Parnassus
With the equivalent of a blunderbuss.
Here at the base of Babble we find what
Oft was rot but ne'er as swill expressed.
Here, we are at the level of the bureaucrat,
Where English is not murdered but finessed.
When bureaucrats are done, they've just begun.
There is no end to bureaucrateeses.
It's spoken chronically in Washington,
Not just by Foggy Bottoms but big Cheeses.
Bureaucrats don't require much verbal skill.
They've got the nearly perfect camouflage.
They only have to lie perfectly still
In thickets of meaningless verbiage.
Whether diplomat, joint chief, or spook,
They speak the same group gobbledegook.
One floor up we have the word of God Al-
Mighty as spoken by Televangelists,
Invariably in a Southern drawl
We associate with racism and trysts,
With lying, lusting, well coiffed preachers
Who, like Jesus, are suckers for whores,
The orotund, stomping, sweating screechers
Who claim to cure everything from bed sores
To cancer and infantile paralysis,
>From hesitant hearts to balking kidneys,
Without bypass or dialysis,
Without hospital bills or doctor's fees.
This is the hokum some bombastic fraud
Foists off on us as the Word of God.
In a wing of this floor of conniption,
There's a special corner reserved
For a talkative New England matron
Whose literary offenses are preserved
In Science and Health, Key to the Scriptures.
I refer to Mary Baker Eddy,
Whose Christian Science strictures
Have kept thousands of the faithful steady
And out of the clutches of Satan
By banishing all negative thoughts
About doctors, hospitals, medicine,
And small pox among unimmunized tots.
If prose like hers was the price of staying well,
Mark Twain said he would rather rot in hell.
Next we come to the floor where
I was on a panel at the MLA
In the bleak December of a year
When Deconstruction had ruled the day.
Everyone on the panel spoke like the Mad Hatter,
Including the chairperson, the Gink.
To climb the rungs of the academic ladder
One has to speak as they speak, think as they think.
Here's the nub of the matter: which is worse,
>From a linguistic-ethics point of view,
Speaking in tongues or writing in free verse?
Being a lap dog, or the King's dog at Kew?
I know for certain what's even worse:
Unadulterated academic discourse.
What hath academic discourse wrought
In the way of revenge against rich art -
Like an impotent brother - jealous, distraught -
Stabbing his pregnant sister in the heart;
Or constipated scholar careering
Among contending trendy theses,
Such as Lacanianism and Queering,
But settling for old New Critic feces.
How can one do anything but hold one's nose?
Why should the sonnets be reduced to crap,
To diagrams, tables, and aborted prose,
To that Q1, Q2, Q3 clap-trap?
O sweet Swan of Avon, what can I say,
Except that critics reigneth in our day?
What's worse than academic discourse, worse
Than bureaucratese, worse than Christian Scientism,
Worse even than Mary Baker Eddy's verse?
I'll tell you what's worse - right-wing journalism.
Starting with William Randolph Hearst,
And the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal,
And coming down to the worst of the worst,
To Agnew's ghost, speech writer infernal,
Bill Safire of "nattering nabobs" fame
Who blackmailed his way on to the New York Times,
Which has never recovered from the shame.
Nor was that the last of Safire's crimes,
For he then presumed - O, what a howler! -
To advise on English usage, like Fowler.
At the top of this Tower of Babble,
In the penthouse of this spiral of crap,
Far removed from non-Ivy League rabble,
Presides this parvenu Bill Buckely chap.
With an English accent acquired at Yale
And an air contemptuously Churchillian,
He proceeds at the pace of a spastic snail -
With grimaces somewhat reptilian,
And with polysyllables for snobs
Who think of themselves as, well, the ultimate -
To lecture all those to the left of Hobbes
About the evils of the welfare state.
He does for English, with Latinate folderol,
What saturate fat does for cholesterol
Now that we have completed our brief tour,
We need to wipe our - aposiopesis -
Before we descend to the words du jour,
Like "free market" and "symbiosis."
We sink deeper into myths every day,
Transfixed by words we take for granted,
Our tongues tied by the words we can not say,
For words, like people, can be straight or slanted.
When life seems stale, flat, and unprofitable
And language, at best, one for the birds,
Unworthy of even an Aesop fable,
Nothing but words, words, words -
Then I recall those words I learned from thee:
Sweet are the uses of adversity.
April 23, 1999
Date: Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 07:06:59 -0400
Subject: Shakespeare: What's in a name
Shakespeare: What's in a name
By Joseph Gallagher
ON THIS DAY, April 25 in 1616, an entry was made in the parish records
of the Anglican Holy Trinity Church of Stratford-on-Avon, England. It
registered the burial of that William Shakespeare whom listeners of the
BBC recently voted the Briton of the Millennium.
At the time of Shakespeare's death at 52, several years had passed since
he retired from the London scene. He had lain sick for several months
and had possessed a signed will for several weeks. His death is believed
to have been caused by typhoid.
The film "Shakespeare in Love," a bawdy presentation of the Bard's
escapades in Elizabethan London, won an Oscar for Best Picture last
month and sparked new interest in his works. But so little we know about
the man who is the best-known Briton the world has seen.
From the 1500s to the 1800s, one out of every five English children was
named William. It vied for top popularity with John, the name of the
poet's father. William the Bastard of Normandy had conquered England a
half-millennium before the Bard's birth. England has had three other
King Williams, and a likely fifth one is Princess Diana's son William.
William of Stratford was several times described as "gentle" by
contemporaries and at considerable expense acquired the right to be
called "gentleman." Those facts make both his names ironic in their
literal sense. As the German form "Wilhelm" makes clearer, William
denotes the will to be a helmet or to be an "eager defender."
Shakespeare, a familiar name in the lovely center of southern England,
was coined to honor someone ready to "shake a spear" at any foe. The
sole English pope, Hadrian IV (1154-1159), was originally Nicholas
Breakspeare, a surname that was apparently a variation of the same idea.
In the Bard's day, spelling was a very fluid affair. One-hundred variant
spellings of his family name have been tracked down. It is a droll fact
that the six William Shakespeare signatures that are regarded as
authentic are spelled differently from one another, and none of them
William is not a Biblical name, but Shakespeare's father John, his
mother Mary (Arden), his wife Anne, and his daughters Susanna and Judith
bore scriptural names. Judith had a twin brother, Hamnet, who died at
11. Their godparents were family friends named Judith and Hamnet
Both Hamnet and Hamlet were variations on the name Amleth. According to
a Scandinavian folk tale, Prince Amleth avenged his kingly father's
death. Was the dramatist's masterpiece a tribute to his only son?
Through Susanna, Shakespeare lived to enjoy his one granddaughter,
Elizabeth Hall. This granddaughter died childless in 1670, and the
direct line died out with her.
His only other child, Judith, bore three boys, one named Shaksper
Quiney. Sadly, all died before fathering offspring. His younger sister
Joan married a William Hart, and descendants of that family still live,
preserving the Shakespeare blood.
William of Stratford had two sisters, Joan and Margaret, that he never
knew because they died before he was born.
He also had five siblings born after him: Gilbert, Anne, Richard, Edmund
and Joan, who outlived all her brothers and sisters.
Though history forced some of his choices on him, all of these names,
including his and those of his parents John and Mary, appear in his
plays. Richard III and Edmund are among his most wicked villains; and he
speaks humorously about greasy Joan.
The worst plague since the Black Death hit Stratford in the first
fragile months of William's life. It bought death to half of Stratford's
families but blessedly spared the Shakespeares. While he was in London,
repeated outbreaks of the plague closed down the theaters sometimes for
more than a year. When Shakespeare wrote, "A plague on both your
houses," he spoke of personal experience.
In better times, strolling players passed through Stratford and likely
gave the young William his first taste of theatrics. It isn't known when
or why he left his parents, wife and three children to travel 90 miles
to London and reside alone there for the next quarter-century.
Shakespeare's will, which was lost for 200 years, leaves 10 of his 360
pounds cash to Stratford's poor. A pound might have been worth about $50
in today's money. The will makes no mention of his books, but a list of
personal effects that would have been attached to the will has been
His testament also makes no mention of his writings, though the latter
would have been the property of his company, the King's Men, or of some
publisher. He owned shares in the company and in the Globe and
Blackfriars theaters but presumably sold them when he retired.
To fellow actors John Hemminges and Henry Condell, Shakespeare left
money for the purchase of memorial rings. History is deeply indebted to
these two men, who gave their London friend a supreme memorial: the
First Folio (1623). This 907-page volume, whose 1,000 copies sold for
one pound each, is among the world's most famous books.
It was the premiere collection of what was thought to be all of
Shakespeare's plays. Of the 36 included, 18 had never been printed and
might have been lost forever. These include "The Tempest," "Julius
Caesar," "Macbeth" and "Anthony and Cleopatra."
The 1623 volume contains an engraving of Shakespeare by Martin
Droeshout, commissioned and approved by the editors, who knew their
friend intimately. The only other contemporary likeness is the bust by
Gerald Janssen still in the burial church. It was installed before the
First Folio was published and was presumably endorsed by the poet's
Shakespeare's plays, of course, are his truest portrait. As fellow
playwright Ben Jonson (1572-1637) advised in the dedication to the 1623
folio: "Reader, looke Not on his Picture, but his Booke."
To which the editors rightly add: "Reade him, therefore: and againe, and
Joseph Gallagher is a retired priest of the Baltimore Archdiocesee. He
has taken good advice and finally read or reread all of the Bard's
From the Baltimore Sun
Originally published on Apr 25 1999