10 Fascinating Shakespeare Facts!
Think Shakespeare’s boring? Think again! In honour of our new production To Dream Again, which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, here are 10 fun facts about Shakespeare we bet you didn’t know, that show Shakespeare was never dull.
- Among the 80 languages Shakespeare’s works have been translated into, the most obscure must be Star Trek’s Klingon! Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing have both been translated as part of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project by theKlingon Language Institute, and they plan to translate more.
- There is a curse placed onShakespeare’s grave in Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon in the form of a poem etched on his tombstone, written by Shakespeare himself. Though this undoubtedly helped his bones to remain untouched since his death despite it being customary to dig up bones from previous graves to make room for others, in 1747 Stratford citizens actually replaced the original bag of grain grave marker with a quill.
- Although Shakespeare is nowadays almost universally considered as one of the finest writers in the English language, his contemporaries were not always as impressed! The first recorded reference to Shakespeare, written by theatre critic Robert Greene in 1592, was as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”.
- The original Globe Theatre came to a premature and fiery end in 1613 during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, when a cannon set light to the thatched roof. Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground, to be rebuilt the following year.
- 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.
- Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language. Estimations of his vocabulary range from 17,000 to a dizzying 29,000 words– at least double the number of words used by the average conversationalist!
- It was illegal for women and girls to perform in the theatre in Shakespeare’s lifetime so all the female parts were written for boys. The text of some plays likeHamlet and Antony and Cleopatra refer to that. It was only much later, during the Restoration, that the first woman appeared on the English stage.
- It wasn’t illegal in Shakespeare’s time to steal a play or story someone else had written, 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. Shakespeare himself copied the plot for a lot of his plays from other playwrights!
- Most people in Shakespeare’s time couldn’t read or write, so plays were advertised by a flag being raised on the theatre the day of the performance. White Globe Theatre flags were used to advertise that the play would be a comedy; using white flag indicated that the play would be a light subject. Black flags were used to show the play would be a tragedy; using a black flag indicated that the play would be a dark subject, associated with death. Red flags were used to indicate the play would be a history. Using a red flag indicated that the play would be a subject, associated with blood, as most plays based on history were!
- The Bard’s reach is cosmic, literally! The planet Uranus has 27 moons, the majority of which are named for Shakespearean characters, including Titania, Oberon and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.