Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?

 

 

 

~ 1 Comment

Geeklet Sorrows (And A Confession)

Yesterday my daughter had an unexpected medical procedure on her mouth, so she’s in some degree of pain this morning (but not enough to skip school).  So she’s getting ready and I ask, “How’s your face?”

“Bad,” she says, “And now I have a pimple!”

“When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions,” I offer.

“That means a third bad thing is gonna happen to me now too! Great!”

“No, it was just an opportunity for me to use a Shakespeare quote I don’t normally get to use.  King Lear?”

Both wife and geeklet look at each other and just leave the room.

Didn’t feel right, though.  Couldn’t place who said it, or where.  So over breakfast I had to look it up.  “You know what?” I told them, “When I said that quote was from Lot of sorrow in King Lear, but maybe not battalions of it.?  I was wrong, it’s Hamlet.”

Geeklet looks at wife, looks at me, and says, “Well, duh. We just didn’t want to embarrass you.”

But now I’m trying to figure out what quote I was confusing it with, because surely there’s stuff in King Lear all about the piling on of sorrows.

~ 3 Comments

Weather As Plot Device

Lear and his Fool on the heathI’m trying to think of plays where the weather plays an important role.  Sure there’s The Tempest, but we get the storm at the beginning and then…nothing.

Macbeth seems to be all about the weather.  So fair and foul a day I have not seen!

King Lear is probably the ultimate example.  If you haven’t seen Act 3 Scene 1 live yet, your Shakespeare life is not complete.  The wind is blowing, the rain is pouring down. Kent staggers in at one level, battling against the wind, hanging on to the scaffolding so he doesn’t blow away.  Enter a gentleman below, also buffeted by the wind.  “Where’s the king?”  first thing Kent asks, only to learn that he’s out in this storm.  “But who is with him?”  “None but the fool.”  Shivers.  Goosebumps. That’s one of my favorite moments in the play.

Hey, here’s a question — the stage direction I read for this scene says “Storm still.”  Does that mean the storm is still continuing, or that there is a lull in the storm, an actual still moment?

What else?  Any of the comedies do something similar to work weather into the plot?

 

~ 1 Comment

How did Cordelia die?

It’s not uncommon for Shakespeare’s characters to die offstage, no matter how significant the character. Unfortunately this can make it difficult to understand how that character died. There’s a world of difference between seeing someone drink poison, and someone running on stage to announce, “She’s dead, she drank poison!”

So it is with King Lear‘s Cordelia. Her death, and the way Shakespeare chooses to present it, is easily one of the most tragic scenes ever put on stage.

King Lear with Cordelia's dead body
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Lear and Cordelia have been captured by Edmund, but Lear doesn’t even seem to mind because he’s so happy to be with the daughter that he thought had left him forever. As they are taken away to prison he says:

Lear. No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too-
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out-
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.

Edmund is challenged to a duel by a mysterious opponent who turns out to be his brother Edgar. Edmund is defeated, and tries to make amends for the wrongs he has committed before he dies. He tells his guards:

Edmund. I pant for life. Some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send
(Be brief in’t) to the castle; for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia.
Nay, send in time.

“My writ is on [their] lives” means that he has ordered their execution.  Quickly, messengers are dispatched to the prison to stop the order.

What happens next? Does the messenger arrive in time? No, this is a tragedy, we know that’s not the case. Does a messenger return and say, “Too late!”  No. That would be too easy. (This is exactly how the end of Romeo and Juliet plays out, with that glimmer of hope that Romeo will reach Juliet in time…)

King Lear enters, carrying the lifeless body of his daughter, and the audience sees for themselves that it is too late.

Lear. Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stone.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives.
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

If the question is how exactly did Cordelia die, her father answers it while weeping over her body, conversing with her as if she is still with him:

Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have sav’d her; now she’s gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. Ha!
What is’t thou say’st, Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low- an excellent thing in woman.
I kill’d the slave that was a-hanging thee.

That last line provides the detail – they were in the process of hanging Cordelia, when he attempted to rescue her.

 

 

 

 

 

~ Leave a comment