Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Shakespeare, Upon This Day

Today is Shakespeare's 445th birthday! Of course it's also the 393rd anniversary of his death. Truth is we don't actually know if he was born on April 23, but we do know he died on April 23, 1616. There's no official record of his birth, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564, so working backwards the 23rd is a good guess. Mostly people just picked that day to celebrate as his birthday because he happened to die that day too and the symmetry was irresistible.

The Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, has declared today to be Talk Like Shakespeare Day. It's true. Here's the official website. From the CNN article:
Daley encouraged city residents to "screw their courage to the sticking place and celebrate Shakespeare by vocal acclamation of his words."

There's no reason you can't join in as well! The official website contains 10 pointers on how to talk like Shakespeare, but as a seasoned improvisor of Shakespeare I find fault in several of them:

Instead of you, say thou. Actually, Shakespeare uses both the formal "you" and informal "thou" forms copiously and inconsistently. Or so it would seem. If you've read the Secrets of Acting Shakespeare you'll know he's actually using the different forms as stage directions for his actors. Truth is "thou" was already falling out of common usage by Shakespeare's time.

When in doubt, add the letters "eth" to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth). Nothing says "amateur" quite like this approach. It's quick. It's easy. It's completely wrong and it's annoying. True there are a few (and I stress few) instances where this it's grammatically correct, but most of the time it just makes you sound silly.

Of course I don't think they really mean their list to be taken that seriously so I shouldn't quibble too much. An easier way to sound Shakespearean is to talk normally and add a smattering of Shakespearean terms and words into your sentences. For instance, start any sentence with "Good my brother" or end it with "upon this day" and suddenly your Shakespearean.

If you'd like to see more words you can visit Un-Scripted's handy Shakespearean Word Flash page. Start talking, and every time a new word appears on the screen, incorporate it into what you're saying as quickly as possible. Have it on while you're on a business call. Trust me. It'll be great.

If you'd like to see some Shakespearean improvisation, go see Un-Scripted's production of Shakespeare the Musical this May! In fact, use the coupon code SHAKES to get $4.45 all tickets bought before opening night. Happy Birthday to you!

1 comment:

  1. I've made an iphone app that generates shakespearean insults! Check out


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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.