What Nixon Knew About Hamlet (and when he knew it!)

We’ve got to get back to the days where fun posts were all about tripping over random Shakespeare references. For example…

Bardfilm sends me a link to Wordeebee, which gives a visual representation of the popularity of particular words over the years. The word he’s shown me is Hamlet. Of course he’s told me none of this, he’s just texted me the following image:

Y’all get, “Frequency of the word Hamlet over the last century” from that, right?

So I wrote back to him and asked if his scanner was broken. But after he explained what it was, and sent a link (above), it got interesting. Because that image is actually interactive.

See those darker lines? Those are when the word Hamlet was used most. Turns out it was used most, 71 times, in 1969. “Interesting!” thought I, this being the year I was born. I know of no special significant Hamlet-related events happening that year, at least not that have ever crossed my radar before.

I drill down on the year and see that the most popular word that year was … Nixon.

Fascinating! Is there a Nixon / Hamlet connection? I imagine what I know about Nixon’s ultimate fate, and whether somebody was famously dropping Hamlet quotes. Then I realize that happened several years later, so that’s probably not it.

I start searching “Nixon Hamlet 1969” and I quickly find my answer.

Image via bztraining on Flickr

In 1969, President Richard Nixon got a dog. Meet King Timahoe.

Still waiting for the Shakespeare reference, I know. So was I. You’re going to hate that I made you read this far. But it’s the weekend and I’m bored and need content, so ha.

From the Nixon Library:

On January 28, 1969, Pasha and Vicky welcomed King Timahoe, an Irish Setter named after the hamlet in Ireland where Nixon’s ancestors stemmed, to the four-legged family. King Timahoe, Tim for short, was too exuberant for the Nixon family dogs, and Vicky wanted nothing to do with Tim while Pasha barked continuously. Eventually, Pasha and Vicky accepted Tim, and they became fast friends. 

Yeah. Nixon’s new dog was named after the tiny village of Timahoe, Ireland, which I’m guessing enough news sources decided to refer to as a “hamlet” when they wrote it up.

Even my Google news filters to this day still fall for that – it’s very hard to do a reasonable web search for “Hamlet” but not “hamlet”. That’s one of the few major keywords of Shakespeare to have that problem. Rarely do I see an article about “Othello, the board game” (which was taken off the market years ago, so that’s not much of a surprise) or the wrong “Macbeth” – that’s so unheard of I can’t even think of an example :). Many of the other plays have become such cliches – Romeo and Juliet, Comedy of Errors, All’s Well That Ends Well – that there’s no point in searching them.

Anyway, that was my brief entertainment for a Saturday afternoon. Hope you enjoyed the rabbit hole.

Kind Of Playing Fast And Loose With The Word “Fact”, Aren’t You?

I don’t know why I link these things, I hate sending them the traffic. But it is still a chance to talk about Shakespeare, so we take what we can get.

Today, 19 Interesting Facts About Shakespeare You Might Not Know is on the chopping block.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s top 10 most famous plays include Timon of Athens, Richard II and … Sir John Oldcastle?

His first poem was published in 1609? Venus and Adonis would like a word.

His most famous poem or sonnet is the “Fairy Song”. Take that, Shall I Compare Thee!

“William Shakespeare had seven siblings, two of whom were named Joan and they were born a year apart.” The first Joan, who died before Shakespeare was born, was born in 1562. The second Joan was born in 1569. And we know Will was 1564. So I still can’t figure out who “they were born a year apart” refers to.

Fact #8 is that Shakespeare invented “assassination”, but fact #13 is that he invented the words “eyeball” and “fashionable”. Not even getting into the whole “invented” thing, I think dear reader’s getting screwed out of an interesting fact there. Methinks the author was double-dipping in the apparently shallow pond of facts they were fishing from.

One of the facts is that the Globe burned down in 1613 during an appearance of “one of the plays”. Now, see, here’s a golden opportunity missed, because while this might be a fact, it’s not a very interesting one. But I’ll bet neither the author of this article nor his readers would have known that the only injury was a man whose pants caught on fire? Luckily somebody poured a beer on him and put him out.


That’s what you call an interesting fact!

Shakespeare Science

One of the great(?) strategies in the “Shakespeare must have been _____” game is to see how well he wrote about a topic, then declare he simply must have had inside knowledge of that topic, and therefore had to be <person you want him to be>.

I guess we can rule out scientist. It’s fun to count and illustrate the many various ways that Shakespeare killed his characters, but finally, somebody walked through them scientifically to see which were valid. Unfortunately, the article is mostly about the poisons, specifically Juliet and Cleopatra. Neither, it seems, would have died that quickly. Nor would it have been a peaceful death.

The scientific validity of Titus’ kitchen is not addressed. I’m not debating that you can hack a human body into pieces, but I feel like some culinary skill is involved in making it taste palatable enough that they all don’t immediately get sick, you know? What spices did he use, how long did he have to bake, and at what temperature? You know, for science.

Horror Shakespeare (and I Don’t Mean Titus)

Every now and then I scan Kickstarter for Shakespeare projects, but I’d missed this one until it showed up in my news headlines. I still don’t know if it’s my cup of tea, but I try to link these things to give them support. Not that this one needs it, looks like it nearly 4x’d its goal in the first day!

Shakespeare Unleashed – A Horror Anthology

Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet… all get the horror treatment…by some of the biggest names in the genre  — including Joe R. LansdaleJonathan MaberryGemma FilesSeanan McGuirePhilip FracassiLisa Morton, and Ian Doescher, author of William Shakespeare’s Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Avengers and Deadpool Does Shakespeare

from the Kickstarter page

I’m not much of a horror guy. Back in the day when Kill Shakespeare came around I remember hating it because whatever volume I happened to read turned Prospero into a villain who gave Miranda to Caliban. Yup, I thought, I’m out. So lord only knows what they’re going to have my beloved characters doing to each other in the pages of this one.

But, still, to each their own. I freely admit to hating those Star Wars books, too, but I know that others love them.

AI Shakespeare

Using Shakespeare to train artificial intelligence is far from new. As probably the most recognizable, largest public domain text corpus, many projects start with Shakespeare on day one. It’s also the foundation for all those “We trained an AI on the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe and then asked if Shakespeare is Marlowe” findings we’ve heard about over the years.

Still, though, I always like to click on the latest story to see how things are developing. This week, “The Conversation” posted: We taught an AI to impersonate Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde – here’s what it revealed about sentience.

Spoiler alert, it reveals nothing about sentience. The only reason that word is there is that they found an opportunity to reference the recent Google news story about suspending an engineer who claimed that their AI has achieved sentience.

The examples provided in the article are interesting if they’re remotely true. As a software engineer, I want much, much more detail about how exactly this experiment was performed. Maybe not source code, but at least “this input produced this output.” It means nothing to say, “we wanted to see … what its outputs would be when considering its own creativity.” Ok, how? How did you ask it to do that? How much information did you have to provide for it to even “understand” the question?

My assumption is that somebody basically wrote a modern English version of “the answer” and then what they did is have a trained AI translate into the literary format they wanted. Such engines aren’t new. They’re getting better, but they’re still nothing resembling intelligence, or sentience.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this article, and it’s mostly fictionalized, purely for entertainment. If it was funnier, I would have assumed I was reading something from McSweeny’s. I think I’m just disappointed, because I *do* click on these stories because I *do* want to hear about quantum leaps in this area, and not just the latest evolution of the same old stuff.