Brush up your Shakespeare.
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow.
– Cole Porter, “Kiss Me, Kate”
Name a play written by Bartley Campbell. Of course you can’t, nor can just about anyone else alive today. Yet Campbell (1843-1888) was a popular American playwright whose giant ego towered above his talent. His professional stationery depicted two portraits on the letterhead — Bartley Campbell on one side and William Shakespeare on the other linked by the words “A friendly rivalry.” Today Campbell, a legend in his own mind, is forgotten, while unrivaled Shakespeare endures and prevails as the biggest gun in the canon of English literature.
William Shakespeare is the darling of readers, playgoers and critics alike. The critical work directly about the Bard or in some way relevant to him could constitute a library, and in fact does: the superb 280,000-volume Folger Library in Washington, D. C. Even if you somehow devoured that collection, you would still have to read 3,000 discussions of Shakespeare each year to keep up with the new scholarship.
As the Huntsman in King Henry VI says, “This way, my lord, for this way lies the game.” Here’s an untrivial quiz on a far-from-trivial author. Supply the basic facts about Shakespeare’s life and works posed by the following questions:
- List the dates of William Shakespeare’s birth and death.
- In what town and country was Shakespeare born?
- Name the English monarchs who reigned during Shakespeare’s lifetime.
- Name Shakespeare’s wife. “Mrs. Shakespeare” is not acceptable.
- With what theater was Shakespeare most intimately connected?
- What are the three categories by which Shakespeare’s plays are generally classified?
- Into how many acts is each play traditionally divided?
- What do we call the first edition of Shakespeare’s collected works?
- Some scholars believe that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Name three people who supposedly ghostwrote for the Bard.
- What is the importance of the following lines (in the original spelling)?:
Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare!
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
As Belarius exclaims in Cymbeline, “The game is up!” Now it’s time to consult the answers:
1. and 2. Shakespeare was baptized in Holy Trinity Church in the English village of Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564, and was probably born three days earlier. He died in Stratford exactly 52 years later, on April 23, 1616.
3. Elizabeth I and James I.
4. Anne Hathaway (but not the woman who sang and wept in the film Les Miserable)
5. The Globe.
6. tragedies, comedies and histories
8. the First Folio, one of which was displayed last summer at our Central Library, its only California stop
9. Candidates include Sir Walter Raleigh; Edward Devere, the Earl of Oxfd; Francis Bacon; Christopher Marlowe; Mary Spenser Herbert; and the Earl of Essex.
10. These words are the epitaph on Shakespeare’s grave in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church.
More Lederer on Shakespeare
On Tuesday,. April 25, 7:30 pm, Richard Lederer will be offering a benefit performance of Shakespeare Tonight! at North Coast Repertoire Theatre in Solana Beach. Rich will be joined onstage by NCRT’s artistic director David Ellenstein to perform a show that presents Shakespeare as you’ve never before seen him. For tickets, please call 858 485 1055.
On Saturday, April 29, 12:30 pm, Rich will be emceeing one of the four open-air stages at the San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. Sponsored by the San Diego Shakespeare Society (sandiegoshakespearesociety.org), 500 students will perform scenes, sonnets, music and dance from William Shakespeare’s astonishing works. These youngsters don’t just read Shakespeare; they become his characters. The only admission fee is your love of (or curiosity about) the playwright and poet of whom Ben Jonson wrote, “He was not of an age but for all time.”