A Tribute to the World’s Favourite Bard
Posted by Marion Leigh on April 18, 2016 . 0 Comments
After the excitement of the London Book Fair, we move into Shakespeare Week and continue to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. According to history.com, Shakespeare wrote about a million words over 20 years. By my calculation, that represents fifty thousand words per annum, or half the length of a modern novel. Many writers produce far more than that each year, but they are simply not in the same league as Shakespeare.
Growing up in Birmingham, England, I was not far away from Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon, and loved it from my first visit. I still remember exploring Anne Hathaway’s thatched cottage, which looked just as it did in one of my jigsaw puzzles. In my late teens, I often went to Stratford with a friend to spend the weekend at the youth hostel there. We would queue for last-minute tickets to see plays at the theatre and hang out at the Dirty Duck (a.k.a. the White Swan) pub opposite, hoping to meet some of the actors. Mostly, it was the stagehands and walk-ons who took pity on us. We had a good excuse for spending so much time there: for A-level English, we had to read and see (on stage or at the cinema) as many of Shakespeare’s plays as possible.
Little wonder then that Shakespeare influences my writing to this day. In The Politician’s Daughter, the girl in the Prologue recognizes that “she was, to borrow Shakespeare’s words, hoist by her own petard”. In a bid to find the missing girl, Petra Minx gets a job aboard Don León’s megayacht Titania, and Carlo, working undercover alongside Petra, is nicknamed Mercutio: three references from three different plays.
Shakespeare’s impact on our language has been enormous. We often quote him without realizing it and have our favourite lines: ‘Out, damned spot!’, ‘To be or not to be: that is the question’, ‘Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania’, ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’. Such phrases resonate across the centuries with a potency that refuses to fade.