Not By Shakespeare : Little Candles and Weary Worlds

I’ve been auto posting a bunch of Shakespeare quotes to Twitter lately, and watching the analytics to see which ones people seem to like most.  A popular one was:

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. – Merchant of Venice (Act V, Scene I)

I thought I’d make a new t-shirt out of it. But the more I looked at it the more I thought, “Wait, did Shakespeare really use the word naughty?  Let me double check.” Because if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s when I make a mistake on a Shakespeare quote.

I start typing “So shines a good deed” into Google and helpful Google pops up in autocomplete “in a weary world.”

Oh! Ok, that makes more sense I suppose.  Then I thought, shoot, did I tweet the wrong quote?  So I force Google to search “in a naughty world”.  Sure enough, hits for that one too!

What’s going on?

When in doubt, off to the First Folio we go!

Interesting! It’s the same in Q1 (I like to check there as well because sometimes it changed!)

So then where did weary come into it?  Though this may not have been the first example of the mistake, you’ll soon see why it’s so popular:

Mr. Wonka’s not the only one weary of this naughty world. Google tells me that “weary” is actually the more popular of the two!

Bardfilm’s got a theory that “naughty” was simply edited down for a the kids’ film.  From what I can tell, he’s not wrong. He’s a 2005 “Straight Dope” post about the topic:

It goes on to say that Setzer tweaked the line, probably to be less archaic and more reflective of Wonka’s character.

(The original link the researcher found is dead.)

I’m ok with this answer – it’s better than, “They changed it because they felt like it.”  The movie is over, and this is the big climactic moment for Wilder’s character.  Is his primary thought that the world is a naughty place?  Or is he just so very tired of it being that way?  Not to spoil the ending but he’s about to make some decisions that answer that question.

 

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Not By Shakespeare : An Empty Barrel Makes The Most Noise


Last week there was a bit of nonsense in the news when some politician called another politician and “empty barrel” making the most noise.  I do know the names of all parties involved, but we’re not here for the politics so why get into it?  The comment probably would have gone unnoticed, like so many idioms might, if it were not for the fact that woman on the receiving end of the comment immediately said, “That’s racist.”

Many people, myself among them, would be quick to point out that it’s not racist, it’s Shakespeare.  Henry V, Act IV Scene 4:

I did never know so full a voice issue from so
empty a heart: but the saying is true ‘The empty
vessel makes the greatest sound.’

I even repeated on Twitter that Shakespeare is the source of this quote.  But, for the record, he’s not.  It even says so right there in context if I’d been paying attention — “the saying is true”. It was already a saying when Shakespeare wrote it down.

The saying seems to date all the way back to Plato, although I can’t find any specific references as of yet.  Anybody got one, so we can make it official?

What I’m finding interesting is that the more I look into it the more I’m not sure I know what it was originally supposed to mean.  These days it’s used to imply that the people without anything intelligent to say (the empty barrels) are precisely the ones that won’t shut up.  But I’m not sure that’s what Plato would have meant?  I could just as easily imagine it as more complimentary — “The person who is always open to learning new things is the one who will make the biggest impact in the world.”  That’s pretty much the opposite.

There’s supposedly a second half to the quote, “So they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers,” which would clearly suggest the first meaning is the intended one.  But I learned a long time ago not to simply believe something is true because it shows up in a quotes database on the internet.

Thoughts?

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A Light Heart Lives Long

Saw “A light heart lives long” today and immediately thought, “Nah, that doesn’t sound like Shakespeare.”  Did some quick googling and it looks like something more in the “old Irish proverb” category (“Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad.“)

But guess what?  If we allow for the words to evolve a little bit over the centuries, however, look what I find in Henry IV Part 2, Act V, Scene 3:

A light heart lives long, a merry heart lives long
Light, merry, same difference.

So it looks like we can give Shakespeare credit for this one after all! It’s a drinking song.

Now, whether or not he’s the first one to say it, that’s a whole different story. But we’ll let all those Instagram and Pinterest posters get off easy this time.

 

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Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

I wonder if somebody confused “drums of war” for “dogs of war” when they attributed this quote to Julius Caesar?  Nothing about this quote shows up in the play, of course. I suppose there’s at least some possibility that it appears in actual Caesar’s actual writings, since I’m not an expert in those.  But others before me have researched this question and apparently nope, not real Caesar either.  This quote doesn’t appear to exist before 2001.

For more details I’ll let the About.com Urban Legends page have the last word:

It’s odd, to say the least, to find a passage attributed to Julius Caesar (born 100 B.C., died 44 B.C.) that never appeared anywhere in print before 2001. It’s equally odd that while the quotation is cited in dozens of Internet discussions concerning post-9/11 political developments, it never turns up in any articles or books about Julius Caesar himself. If it’s to be found among his own writings, no one has yet been able to pinpoint where.

I also think it’s funny that we get to credit a specific person for incorrectly assigning this one to Shakespeare — Barbra Streisand!?  Quick, what’s the difference between Barbra Streisand and every quote-collecting message board on the Internet?  Streisand acknowledged she was wrong.

 

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The greatest question is not whether you have failed, it is whether you are content with failure.

I saw this quote race through multiple versions on Reddit earlier today, and obviously no one really cares to attribute it correctly since I don’t expect anybody truly believes that Shakespeare said it. There’s nothing about this that suggests Shakespeare.  In fact, it’s quite easy to find it attributed both to Abraham Lincoln as well as “ancient Chinese wisdom” if those make you think it’s got more or less credibility.

If you still want to believe it’s by Shakespeare, let me offer another bit of evidence :  The word “failure” did not enter the English language until 1641. It very literally never shows up in Shakespeare’s works.

 

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