Monday, April 23, 2012

The Shakespeare debt

The exact date of William Shakespeare's birth may not be absolutely known for sure, although there is a record that he was baptized on April 26, 1616, but we know it was around this time in that year. This is the 396th anniversary of his birth, and the debt that our language owes the man continues to accrue interest. 


It is virtually impossible for an English speaker to get through the day without quoting him in some fashion. This was neatly illustrated in a meditation by Bernard Levin that I happened to come upon today, repeated here for your edification:
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare 'It's Greek to me'you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinningyou are quoting Shakespeare;  if you recall your salad daysyou are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in angerif your wish is father to the thoughtif your lost property has vanished into thin airyou are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousyif you have played fast and looseif you have been tongue-tieda tower of strengthhoodwinked or in a pickleif you have knitted your browsmade a virtue of necessityinsisted on fair playslept not one winkstood on ceremonydanced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitcheshad short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thingif you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise -- why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggageif you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of itif you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and bloodif you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul playif you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reasonthen -- to give the devil his due -- if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packingif you wish I was dead as a doornailif you think I am an eyesorea laughing stockthe devil incarnatea stony-hearted villainbloody-minded or a blinking idiotthen -- by JoveO LordTut, tutFor goodness' sakeWhat the dickensBut me no buts -- it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
So, the long and the short of it is, to give the devil (or the angel) his due, our language would be poor indeed without Will's meaty additions to it. And we may as well admit that we will never be able to repay our debt, not even until the trumpets sound at the crack of doom.

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