English speakers have to thank Billy Shakespeare for a lot of stuff. He gave countless amounts of quotes for literary scholars to needless debate for hundreds of years, and was important enough to force himself into many a classroom curriculum. On top of all of that, many spellings and terminologies come from the works of Shakespeare.
During the time Billy was writing, the English language in written form was still very raw, trying to become more like the common Latin-based languages. Those languages were steady in their structure and vocabulary, whereas English was in a wide state of flux. The English speaking world was expanding, and the English speaking people had no idea how to write anything down.
Therefore, Billy and other notable writers during 1500-1699 took matters into their own hands. They either wrote words the way they assumed they would be written, or took them entirely from other languages. Because they did it all without the help of dictionaries, their attempts were just accepted and put into common practice.
They paved the way for the red squiggly Spellcheck line.
Billy ran with a common theme in a lot of his work. For example, several of his most notable plays involved royalty, and were also all super depressing. He loved tragedy, and apparently anything that had to do with royalty was tragic. Just ask Julius Caesar, King Lear, MacBeth, or basically anyone in any play Shakespeare was ever responsible for.
A tremendous amount of people agree that the single most notable of Billy’s plays was Hamlet, the tale of a prince (BIG SURPRISE) who deals with the struggles of depression (STUNNING), madness (SHOCKING), and incest (OF COUR….wait, what?).
Putting all literary and theatrical importance aside, when one really looks at Hamlet, what they find is a terrifying tale that absolutely nobody could ever relate to. Hopefully nobody has to deal with the sorrow of depression, madness, incest, and being royalty in Denmark.
The overall gist of it is that Hamlet’s dad, the king of Denmark, dies, so his brother Claudius marries Hamlet’s mom and starts ruling the country. Suddenly, the ghost of Hamlet’s dad appears to him and says, “Hey, son, my brother Claudius? TOTALLY poisoned me. Crazy, huh? Anyways, avenge my death.”
So Hamlet does what anyone would do in this situation and blindly trusts the apparent ghost of his dead father.
So as the audience watches Hamlet act insane and possibly actually go insane, they get treated to two of the most memorable scenes in theater history. Scenes that, when you look at them, make you want to go insane yourself.
The first of these is the famous “To be or not to be” scene. This is the first line of a soliloquy, which is a fancy term for an actor talking to himself for a while. The line can be quoted by anyone, and scholars debate the exact meaning of the soliloquy to this day.
But it can be summed up in that first line: To be, or not to be? Or, translated into today’s language: Should I keep living, or would dying be TOTALLY awesome?
With his tendency to monologue about the benefits of giving up and dying, one can only assume Hamlet was the life of EVERY party in Denmark.
So after the audience is treated to a lengthy talk about whether or not it would be cool to die, they endure more of Hamlet’s madness until a second iconic scene: the scene where Hamlet talks about kissing a dude while holding his skull.
Of course, it’s an image you likely have in your head right now: Hamlet holding Yorrick’s skull and looking super sad about it. But the context? The context, my friends, is where the magic of the scene lies.
Hamlet is in a graveyard for his own mother’s funeral because his life is horrible, when he runs into two gravediggers. They apparently are terrible at their job and needlessly dig up the skull of a jester named Yorick.
Naturally, Hamlet grabs the skull, because Yorick was a friend of his and it’s perfectly acceptable to handle your friend’s skulls once they’re dead. Hamlet then delivers one of the most famous lines of the play: “Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him, Horatio.”
This line is widely misquoted, however, as “I knew him well.” This is probably because most people don’t have a friend named Horatio to refer to.
But it should, nay, MUST be noted the line is soon followed by, “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.”
Now, the culture of Denmark hundreds of years ago was surely different than the world we live in now, but you have to wonder if making out with the court jester was as common a practice as Hamlet seems to make it.
Hamlet is the longest of all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, so there is plenty more depression to discuss. But all it takes is a simple dissection of two of the scenes to learn two major lessons:
Hamlet might be the least uplifting story ever told, and Billy Shakespeare’s influence on culture is unmistakable. He influenced our language, our literature, and hundreds of years later, still forces us to remember him.