17 Additional Fun Facts About Shakespeare

welcome-shakespeare-quiz-and-activitiesIt’s time for my second installment of Shakespeare Fun Facts! These facts are sourced and adapted from No Sweat Shakespeare and The Telegraph.

1. There are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name. In the few original surviving signatures, Shakespeare spelt his name Willm Shaksp, William Shakespe, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere, and William Shakspeare. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare” but, additional fun fact, I’m sure I learnt that the Shakespeare spelling came about as a printing error. I have been trying to find the source but basically, it was something like when printing the letters ran together and make it look different, or it was something about how the printer laid out the letters.

2. Shakespeare has been credited with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language and popularising many more. Examples include: fashionable (Troilus and Cressida), sanctimonious (Measure for Measure), eyeball (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and lacklustre (As You Like It); not to mention expressions like foregone conclusion (Othello), in a pickle (The Tempest), wild goose chase (Romeo and Juliet), and one fell swoop (Macbeth).

3. He is also credited with inventing the now common names Olivia, Miranda, Jessica and Cordelia (as well as the less popular such as Nerissa and Titania).

4. In Elizabethan theatre circles it was common for writers to collaborate on writing plays. Towards the end of his career Shakespeare worked with other writers on plays that have been credited to those writers. Other writers also worked on plays that are credited to Shakespeare. We know for certain that Timon of Athens was a collaboration with Thomas MiddletonPericles with George Wilkins; and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher.

5.  Shakespeare’s last play – The Two Noble Kinsmen – is reckoned to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.

6. The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play at just 1,770 lines long.

7. There are only two Shakespeare plays written entirely in verse: they are Richard II and King John. Many of the plays have half of the text in prose.

8. It’s certain that Shakespeare wrote at least two plays that have been lost – titled Cardenio, and Love’s Labour’s Won. It’s likely that Shakespeare wrote many more plays that have been lost.

9. It was illegal for women to perform in the theatre in Shakespeare’s lifetime so all the female parts were written for boys. The text of some plays like Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra refer to that. It was only much later, during the Restoration, that the first woman appeared on the English stage.

10. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English. He is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.

11. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre came to a premature end on 29th June 1613 after a cannon shot set fire to the thatched roof during a performance of Henry VIII. Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground, to be rebuilt the following year.

12. An outbreak of the plague in Europe resulted in all London theatres being closed between 1592 and 1594. As there was no demand for plays during this time, Shakespeare began to write poetry, completing his first batch of sonnets in 1593, aged 29.

13. Copyright didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, as a result of which there was a thriving trade in copied plays. To help counter this, actors got their lines only once the play was in progress – often in the form of cue acting where someone backstage whispered them to the person shortly before he was supposed to deliver them.

14. In one of Hitler’s 1926 sketchbooks, there is a design for the staging of Julius Caesar. It portrays the Forum with the same sort of “severe deco” neoclassical architecture which would later create the setting for the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg.

715. The Lady Macbeth supporting figure on the Gower Statue of Shakespeare in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is modelled after actress Sarah Bernhardt. The bronze characters represent four elements of Shakespeare’s genius: Falstaff chortles for Comedy; Henry V holds the crown aloft for History, Hamlet with Yorick’s skull broods for Philosophy, and Lady Macbeth wrings her hands for Tragedy.

16. Many composers contemplated or tried writing operas about Shakespeare’s plays including Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Delius, and even Mozart who apparently almost wrote one about The Tempest.

17. In 1786, Queen Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias, did her own adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor, titled “What it is to have Linen and Buck-baskets”. She also translated Timon of Athens. Other world leaders have attempted to translate Shakespeare’s plays too. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, translated both Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili.

The Whole World Is A Playhouse

All the world’s a stage
– As You Like It, William Shakespeare.

The Globe that stands in London today is actually the third reincarnation. The first Globe was built around 1599 by Shakespeare and his company but because it was too expensive in the original location, it was moved to the other side of the river. This rebuild was then burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII when a cannon went through the thatched roof. It was rebuilt the following year but was then removed permanently by the Puritans. The new and current version was built by Sam Wanamaker, American actor and director, after a 20 year campaign and stands only a few hundred metres from its original location. Based on the original design and layout and historically accurate as possible, the new Globe is really spectacular. There are tours and a museum/display section, but the best part is that it still puts on plays. And with everything looking historically accurate you can experience what it was like to see a play almost as if it were in the 1600s.

P1130681During my visit to London a few years ago I was fortunate enough to see a rehearsal for Henry VI and it was so wonderful, it was one of the highlights of my trip. There really is something magical about live theatre, and to see a Shakespeare play being performed, not in the original but practically in the same environment, was pretty spectacular.

I’ve got some fun facts about the original Globe as well as its rebuild to share and I’ve linked a great page from No Sweat Shakespeare below that looks more into the theatre’s history.

1. The Globe Theatre was built between 1597 and 1599 in Southwark on the south bank of London’s River Thames, funded by Richard Burbage and built by carpenter Peter Smith and his workers.

2. The timber for The Globe Theatre was actually reused wood from “The Theatre” – an earlier theatre built in 1576 and owned by Burbage’s father. Due to a dispute with the landlord, Giles Allen, it closed 20 years later. While Allen was celebrating Christmas in 1598, William Shakespeare and his company dismantled The Theatre and transported the materials to the new site in Southwark.

3. The architectural style of The Globe was similar to the Coliseum in Rome, but on a smaller scale – other Elizabethan theatres also followed this style of architecture which were called amphitheatres.

4. The Globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 spectators in its 100 foot diameter.

5. At the base of the stage was an area called “the pit” which held “the groundlings” – people who paid just a penny to stand and watch a performance.

6. At the peak of summer time the groundlings were also referred to as ‘stinkards’

The original Globe Theatre, complete with stage “apron”

The original Globe Theatre, complete with stage “apron”

7. Part of the stage was called the “apron stage” – a rectangular platform that thrust out amongst the audience into the pit.

8. William Shakespeare was a shareholder who owned 12.5% of The Globe Theatre. As a young writer Shakespeare bought shares in the theatre and benefited financially as his popularity grew.

9. Colour coded flags were used outside the theatre to advertise the type of play to be performed – a red flag for a history play, white for a comedy play and black for a tragedy play.

10. A crest above the main entrance to The Globe Theatre was inscribed with motto “Totus mundus agit histrionem” – Latin for “The whole world is a playhouse”.

11. At the start of each play after collecting money from the audience the admission collectors took boxes full of money to a room backstage – the box office

12. A trumpet was sounded to announce to people that the play was about to begin at the Globe Theatre in order for people to take their final places.

13. There were no actresses performing at The Globe Theatre – or any other theatre at that time. Female roles were played by young boys as theatre stages were considered too risqué a place for ladies.

14. Outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague were so serious in London that the Globe Theatre was forced to close in 1603 and 1608 to restrict its’ spread.

15. The Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613 when a special effect on stage went wrong. A cannon used for a performance of Henry VIII set light to the thatched roof and the fire quickly spread, reportedly taking less than two hours to burn down completely. No one was hurt but an account does claim a man’s trousers caught fire but a quick-thinking friend doused him with a flagon of beer.

16. After burning down in 1613 The Globe Theatre was rebuilt on the same spot in 1614.

17. The Puritans brought an end to The Globe Theatre in 1642 with an order suppressing all stage plays. In 1644 The Globe Theatre was turned into tenement housing, ending 85 years of turbulent history.

18. In 1997 a third version and faithful reconstruction of The Globe Theatre was built as “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre”, close to the original site in Southwark.

19. The Globe was generally considered to be a circular building, however when a small part of the theatre’s foundations were uncovered the late 1980’s it seems that the building was actually an icosagon (a 20 sided polygon).

20. This new Globe Theatre was built using 1,000 oak trees from English forests and 6,000 bundles of reeds from Norfolk for the thatched roof.

21. Each of the two big pillars on the stage is one oak tree. The builders had to measure lots of trees to find two just the right size.

22. The bricks in the foundations that hold the theatre up are copies of an actual Tudor brick.

23. Shakespeare’s Globe holds 1500 people, about half the number of the original Globe. People are bigger now and are less happy to squash up. Also people in Shakespeare’s time didn’t have to obey safety regulations.

24. Many Londoners were strict Protestants – Puritans in fact, who abhorred the theatres and many of the people they attracted and in 1596 London’s authorities banned the public presentation of plays and all theatres within the city limits of London. All theatres located in the City were forced to move to the South side of the River Thames

25. People who stand to watch a play at the Globe sometimes faint, especially in warm weather. The play with most fainting people is Titus Andronicus – there were 15 in one performance!

26. Music was an extra effect added in the 1600’s. The musicians would also reside in the Lords rooms

27. In just two weeks Elizabethan theatres could often present eleven performances of ten different plays.

28. Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, referred to a role performed by William Shakespeare at the Globe theatre as “the Ghost in his own Hamlet” in which he was at “the top of his performance”.

Sources

The Globe

The New Globe

Absolute Shakespeare Globe Trivia

Shakespeare’s Globe Website

No Sweat Shakespeare – The Globe

No Sweat Shakespeare – Globe Facts

Shakespeare’s Globe – Facts

Globe Theatre Facts

Fun Facts About Shakespeare

Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished…Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences. If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him.
– Bertrand Russell

Shakespeare is such a fascinating and complicated character there is always something to discover and discuss. Especially since records are so few and a lot of what is known is based on what others have said about him. Having over 400 years of exposure and being famed in his lifetime as well as after his death, there are a multitude of facts about his life, his work, and the world around him. I’ve selected a few that I’ve found to share, some I’ve mentioned in previous posts and others I have also just learnt. If you’re a trivia nut like I am then these may be very useful to you.

These facts are sourced and adapted from No Sweat Shakespeare.

1. There is documentary proof that Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564, and scholars believe that, in keeping with the traditions of the time, he would have been baptised when he was three days old, meaning Shakespeare was probably born on April 23rd. However, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, what was April 23rd during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3rd according to today’s Gregorian calendar.

2. Shakespeare had seven siblings: Joan (b 1558, only lived 2 months); Margaret (b 1562); Gilbert (b 1566); another Joan (b 1569); Anne (b 1571); Richard (b 1574) and Edmund (b 1580).

3. One of Shakespeare’s relatives on his mother’s side, William Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.

4. Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had three children together – a daughter, Susanna, and twins, Judith and Hamnet (who died in 1596 aged 11). His only granddaughter Elizabeth – daughter of Susanna – died childless in 1670. Shakespeare therefore has no descendants.

5. Shakespeare lived a double life. By the seventeenth century he had become a famous playwright in London but in his hometown of Stratford, where his wife and children were, and which he visited frequently, he was a well-known and highly respected businessman and property owner.

6. It’s likely that Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earring in his left ear – a creative, bohemian look in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. This style is evidenced in the Chandos portrait, one of the most famous depictions of Shakespeare.

7. During his lifetime Shakespeare became a very wealthy man with a large property portfolio. He was a brilliant businessman – forming a joint-stock company with his actors meaning he took a share in the company’s profits, as well as earning a fee for each play he wrote.

8. Shakespeare’s family home in Stratford was called New Place. The house stood on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane, and was apparently the second largest house in the town.

coat-of-arms-Shakespeare

Shakespeare coat of arms

9. Sometime after his unsuccessful application to become a gentleman, Shakespeare took his father to the College of Arms to secure their own Shakespeare family crest. The crest was a yellow spear on a yellow shield, with the Latin inscription “Non Sans Droict”, or “Not without Right”.

 

10. On his death Shakespeare made several gifts to various people but left his property to his daughter, Susanna. The only mention of his wife in Shakespeare’s own will is: “I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture”.The “furniture” was the bedclothes for the bed.

Note: People are often confused by the second best bed thing, thinking it meant Shakespeare didn’t love his wife. I actually learnt last week that the second best bed was actually the marital bed, the best bed in the house was reserved for guests.

11. Shakespeare’s original grave marker showed him holding a bag of grain. Citizens of Stratford replaced the bag with a quill in 1747.

12. Although Catholicism was effectively illegal in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Anglican Archdeacon, Richard Davies of Lichfield, who had known him wrote some time after Shakespeare’s death that he had been a Catholic.

13. Shakespeare’s shortest play, The Comedy of Errors is only a third of the length of his longest, Hamlet, which takes four hours to perform.

14. Two of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, have been translated into Klingon. The Klingon Language Institute plans to translate more!

15. In the King James Bible the 46th word of Psalm 46 is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end of the same Psalm is ‘spear’. Some think this was a hidden birthday message to the Bard, as the King James Bible was published in 1611 – the year of Shakespeare’s 46th birthday.

16. The moons of Uranus were originally named in 1852 after magical spirits from English literature. The International Astronomy Union subsequently developed the convention to name all further moons of Uranus (of which there are 27) after characters in Shakespeare’s plays or Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

17. Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays. They are known today only because two of his fellow actors – John Hemminges and Henry Condell – recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name ‘The First Folio’, which is the source of all Shakespeare books published.

18. The United States has Shakespeare to thank for its estimated 200 million starlings. In 1890 an American bardolator, Eugene Schiffelin, embarked on a project to import each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works that was absent from the US. Part of this project involved releasing two flocks of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park. These have since gone on to become a significant pest and threat the native wildlife, even once causing a fatal plane crash. Interestingly the starling is only mentioned once in all the plays, in Henry IV Part One.

19. Rumour has it that poet John Keats was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity. So

So there’s 19 fun facts you may not have known about William Shakespeare. I’ve got plenty more so look for another batch in the coming weeks.

Shakespeare 400th Owl

Fun Facts About Once Upon A Time in the North by Philip Pullman

2225238Once Upon A Time in the North is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials, another companion piece that provides more information about certain characters who appear in the trilogy and their lives before the events in Northern Lights. Despite being set before the series, Pullman references a few things that happen in the future, clues and great titbits if you understand the references, but nothing too substantial if you haven’t read the series.

Published in 2008 the narrative focuses on a young Lee Scoresby, specifically an adventure where he lands on a small island and gets involved with a few local dramas and mishaps. It also provides an insight into his aeronautical beginnings, plus the origin of friendship with the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison. At 104 pages it is short but long enough and offers wonderful insight into the lives of two beloved characters.

This book is wonderful because it satisfies anyone who read His Dark Materials longing to know more about Lee Scoresby, Hester, and his past with Iorek Byrnison; Pullman having tempted numerous times with references to past events and the long and solid friendship. Before this book existed I would read the trilogy wanting to know more about Lee, wanting another book dedicated just to Lee’s adventures and his friendship with Iorek. With Once Upon A Time in the North these needs have been satisfied.

An exclusive extract was printed by The Guardian under the heading Winds of Chance in March 2008 before publication with the official launch taking place on 31 March 2008 at the Oxford Literary Festival where over 700 fans gathered to hear Pullman speak about his new novella.

Like Lyra’s Oxford, there are a few bits and pieces included with the book. Some of the things included are letters from Lyra, newspaper articles, plus a playable board game that is the same as the one mentioned in the story.

While it has yet to receive any awards, reception of the book was positive with the first reviews appearing less than two weeks before publication. It was described as “a joy” by The Times, while Ian Giles from BridgetotheStars.net dubbed it “an absolute triumph”. An audiobook has also been produced which was released the same day as the novella. Once again Philip Pullman and a full cast perform, with Garrick Hagan as producer.

Fun Facts About Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman

531197Lyra’s Oxford was published in 2003 and is a short book set two years after the trilogy when Lyra is 15 years old. While being an extension to the trilogy and expanding on the themes, it was also released to sate fans while they waited for the then unspecified release of The Book of Dust which Pullman said will be published “when it’s finished, and not a day sooner” (now finally given an expected release date of 2016).

This book is technically #3.5 in the His Dark Materials series, in Pullman’s words “a stepping stone to the book that’s coming next”. This refers to not just the short story, but also the many fun bits and pieces Pullman has included from and about Lyra’s world. He also teases on his website that “if you look very closely, you may find some clues about the future course of Lyra’s story.”

This secretive nature is reflected in the preface as well. Cryptically he writes: “This book contains a story and several other things. The other things might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected to stories that haven’t appeared yet. It’s hard to tell.”

One of the “other things” Pullman has included is a fold-out map, bound to the book that depicts the Oxford of Lyra’s world, entitled ‘Oxford by Train, River, and Zeppelin’. There are also little titbits such as advertisers for books and catalogues, brochures, a postcard from Mary Malone, and even pages from a Baedeker published in Lyra’s world. It is in these that you can find clues about Lyra, as well as gain more information about events in the trilogy, such as seeing Mary’s office, and a detailed look at the Oxford Lyra knows and loves.

This book is short, a mere 64 pages, but for those who need to know what happened to Lyra after The Amber Spyglass, this is a great thing to hold on to. After the emotional experience of reading His Dark Materials, it is comforting to know Lyra is ok and it provides enough interest and new information to be a great additional story.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries