44 Things You May Have Known About Shakespeare

http://www.darrenbarefoot.com/archives/2008/01/44-fascinating-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-shakespeare.html#more-4156 I quite like this link, since the 44 things listed typically come with links and graphics backing them up, and in general have several ‘things’ in each item. By my count, I only knew about 19 of them, so I’m happy to have learned quite a bit.  I wonder at some of them – I’ve never seen evidence about the whole “second best bed thing was customary because guests got the best bed” (#43) argument, for instance.    But others, like the reference to Edmund Ironside (#21) were completely new to me.

8 thoughts on “44 Things You May Have Known About Shakespeare

  1. I only knew 25, though I’ve been meaning to get to the Ackroyd biography.

    I agree with you that some of them are a bit questionable. A number of them seem to rely on speculation. Comedy of Errors is defintely the shortest by far, but I don’t think Macbeth is the second shortest. I think Midsummer and Two Gentlemen of Verona may be shorter.

    And so on.

  2. I have certainly seen the “Macbeth is second shortest” thing quoted often. Perhaps the author has read the same books I have :).

    But, see, here’s where the geeky thing comes in because I carry Shakespeare in XML around with me, and awk/grep/sort are my friends.

    As far as filesize goes, Macbeth is 4th shortest, behind Comedy, Dream and Tempest.

    But that’s not a valid measure. How about number of lines? Comedy still comes in the smallest, followed by Dream, then Two Gents sneaks in there, then the Tempest, and then Macbeth.

    Number of scenes? That’s a completely different landscape, with Dream, Tempest and Love’s Labour’s Lost coming in at just 9 total scenes. Macbeth’s actually one of the longest at 28 scenes.

    How about number of words? Nah — Comedy still comes in shortest, then Dream and Tempest, and then Macbeth.

    If anybody knows by what measure Macbeth is supposed to be the shortest, let me know. Mind you I did some very quick calculations using the digital copies of the works I happen to have handy, it’s not like I combed over the plays character by character. But, still – it looks like Macbeth is never anywhere near #2.

  3. You’re absolutely right, Macbeth is definitely not the second shortest. It is the shortest of the Tragedies, but it is, in fact, the 6th shortest play (if we count lines of text). You forgot to mention Pericles, which is shorter than the Scottish Play by 13 lines. Who’s the geek now? 😉

    Many of these were pretty interesting, I have yet to read the book… I have so many books that I still need to read!

    Another fact that I didn’t quite find entirely accurate is Will not being a “careful writer” (#29) with the example: “When Hamlet describes ‘the undiscovered country, from whose borne no traveller returns’, the Dane seems to have forgotten recently seeing the ghost of his father.”

    I hardly think a “traveller” returning in the form of a ghost counts as, in the sense that Hamlet meant.

  4. Thanks Gedaly. By the copies I have, Pericles clocks in at 2452 lines, while Macbeth has just 2385. But that could be attributed to looking at different versions of the plays. I don’t honestly know the source material for the XML I keep with me, it’s just something I grabbed as sample text a long time ago and keep on my machine for doing stuff like this :).

    The “no traveller returns” comment is often discussed relative to the ghost. It can be looked at two ways. One, as “Nobody comes back at all, ever, even just to give us a glimpse of what it is like on the other side.” If this was the intent then of course it’s broken because the Ghost has indeed done just that. Not to mention the fact that Hamlet and his friends were clearly familiar with the concept of ghosts, it’s not like Hamlet’s dad was the first they’d ever even imagined the possibility.

    But another equally valid interpretation of “return” is to return for the longer term, i.e. to be alive again. And in that case, Hamlet of course is exactly right. Nobody does.

  5. Taking into consideration the first thing on the list is just plain wrong – we have no record of Shakespeare ever having attended any school – the rest of the list is mainly common knowledge or extremely stretched speculation (Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s wife would produce a much more entertaining list).

  6. As always, Alan, you take the grumpy position. The blogger who put together the list clearly says that he chose points that he himself did not already know. And I guarantee that if I ask for a show of hands, most of the readers of my own blog have never, for example, seen the DeWitt sketch (although I knew of it, I had not seen it). And while I think everybody knows about the curse on Shakespeare’s bones, I’m not sure how many have actually seen a picture of the site.

    Typical example of why younger audiences get turned off to Shakespeare. At the slightest hint of learning something new that might make them say “Hey, cool, I didn’t know that” along comes a know-it-all to say “Bah, everybody knows that, you silly person. What, you didn’t? Wow, you must be dumb. Stop trying to learn about Shakespeare, you’ll never know as much as we do.”

    It’s only “common knowledge” to those that already knew it, and I’ll take “extremely stretched speculation” over “no knowledge at all” any day. If it makes people want to learn more, it’s a good thing. We can correct them later.

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