Merry and mirthful songs repeatedly caper through “As You Like It”, with blithe, bucolic lyrics that suggest what the modern ear can no longer hear. Whatever melodies, tones, and textures Shakespeare envisioned have mostly evaporated under the sweep of time, and an unaided imagination tends to flop short in grasping the succinct levity of these songs. The thumping, pounding rhythms of modern pop and rap music are a poor mental substitute for whatever non-textual effects Shakespeare desired in his musical insertions, and so the task of replaying Shakespeare is not an immediately easy one.
Shakespeare is remembered as a great playwright. But he was more than just that. We must remember that Shakespeare didn’t just write about English history, he helped create the history of England for the people of the Elizabethan era and beyond. We often believe history to be fact, but in fact history is really just what information was written down or stored at a certain time and passed down to today. Because of their popularity and endurance, Shakespeare’s plays therefore play a huge role in shaping our perception of English history. Shakespeare crafted his plays about Henry IV to make political points about 16th century Elizabethan England, and these plays became a primary source of history to his audiences. We must therefore keep his biases in mind when reading the plays as “history.” Continue reading
Shakespeare is unquestionably an icon of English literature. His plays and poems are, seriously, SO ENGLISH. He is estimated to have contributed at least 1700 words to the English language (or at least to have been the first to write them down), and he coined dozens of phrases that we still use today. His plays drip with allusions to the Bible and classical mythology, topics that would have been well-known to his Elizabethan audiences. His plays are full of contrasts between English dialects, and his wordplay and puns are knife-sharp, slicing through his dialogue in every play.
The fashion excesses of the Elizabethan era dwarf even the most outrageous walkways in Milan today. One earl was reported as spending half his annual income on clothing alone. It was common practice for landlords to part with some of their valuable turf merely to bolster their closets. The wealthy swanked about in outfits often richly decked with gold, silver and jewelry, elaborately ruffled and stitched to the very bottom seam. Continue reading