Sunday, 30 September 2012

Things I've Learned From Shakespeare

What does Shakespeare teach us?
One of the reasons Shakespeare's work remains so popular is that it deals with matters that can never be confined to one century or era. Love, hate, jealousy, revenge, ambition, betrayal; all of these things are just as relevant now as they were in Shakespeare's lifetime. 

So, what can Shakespeare teach us about life, love the universe and everything?

1. Your Twin is Almost Certainly Alive

Whether it's your identical or fraternal sibling, the chances are high that they survived that shipwreck. So, if someone's confusing you for somebody else, your first assumption should not be that said person is insane.

2. Love Hurts

No matter how simple the path to true love may seem, it never is. In some cases, the journey to happiness may entail turmoil, heartache, misunderstandings and require the assistance of good meaning friends, family members or magical folk. In other instances, however, the road is much darker, leading to murder and/or suicide.

3. The Person You Think is The Most Trustworthy is Actually The Least  

Keep your enemies close and your
friends at arm's length

If we learn anything from the likes of King Duncan, Julius Caesar and Othello, it's that we should always be wary of those people we think are most devoted and loyal to us - because those are the ones who will stab you in the back, or in the front, or try to convince you that your wife is having an affair. 

4. Your Dad is Probably Right

Now, although it's not always true that fathers are right (for example, Egeus, Hermia's father, is wrong in trying to marry her off to Demetrius), an alarming amount of the time, fatherly advice turns out to be sound advice - even if it's given for the wrong reasons, such as Brabantio's objection to Desdemona's marriage.

5. Extravagant Professions of Love are Usually False

This is particularly sound advice for monarchs. If someone - even if it's your own daughters - is laying on the flattery with a trowel, chances are high it's insincere. 

6. If You're a Chaste Novice Nun, You're Going to be in The Sights of Lecherous Older Men

Men love a girl in a habit

Poor Isabella. First, she has to resist the advances and blackmail of Angelo and, just when she thinks she's escaped with her virtue intact, the Duke decides he's going to marry her. Her opinion of the matter? Well.....I guess, we'll never know.

7. If You're a Historical Figure, Don't Expect Dramatists to Represent You Fairly...Or Accurately

Your representation in the fictional account of your life will largely depend upon who is on the throne at the time the play is written. 

If, for example, you were the last Plantagenet monarch and the granddaughter of the dude who killed you is currently on the throne, don't expect a glowing review of your reign. Similarly, if you're a Scottish chap who killed a king, you're not going to be portrayed kindly for a Scottish (and newly crowned English) king, who is slightly paranoid about being assassinated. 

8. The Rantings of Three Strange Women Do Not Mean You're Immortal

Use a little common sense were predictions are concerned, and bear in mind that there's always a catch. If they meant you're immortal, they would have said, 'you're immortal'. The "none of woman born" stuff leaves a small loophole.

9. If You're a Girl, Put on Some Men's Clothes & Nobody Will Recognise You

Clothes really do maketh the man...
or woman | Imogen Stubbs as Viola

It works every time. Our disbelief is willing to be suspended to such an extent that we're prepared to accept a small change of outfit will cause a husband to no longer recognise his wife, a father to not know his daughter and for everybody to believe that you are, in fact, a man. 

Of course, it's worth mentioning that if you're a girl dressed as a man, who is being played by a man in the first place, your disguise is that much more convincing.  

10. Don't Upset Your Fairy King Husband, Or He'll Make a Sucker Out of You

Although it might not seem like a likely scenario, it's always worth remembering; should you ever wed a fairy king, he has the power to make you look very foolish, should he choose to do so. Don't upset him. If he wants the changeling boy, just let him have him - it'll be easier in the long run.

If you've picked up any other useful life lessons from Shakespeare's plays, please feel free to share in the comments below. And if you'd like to learn more about the bearded Bard, please take a look at What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.


  1. 11. Ghosts Can Be a Help or Hindrance

    At big turning points in your life, ghosts can help you size things up. If you're a son in mourning over a deceased parent, a ghost can tell you what actually happened to your loved one and exactly what to do about it. If you're the evil, homicidal type, ghosts can provide that "what goes around comes around" warning or, worse, turn your dinner party into a terrifying disaster. For good types, ghosts can offer encouragement. But are they real or just made up in your head? That others beside you see them doesn't necessarily answer that question.

    1. Great, Richard. Lovely point! I especially like "....or worse, turn your dinner party into a terrifying disaster." Both true and funny.