Friday, April 25, 2014

Word Odyssey: Gilding Shakespeare’s Lily

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 3:00 PM

I’ll warn you up front that this column has neither rhyme nor reason. In fact, it’s much ado about nothing. But I don’t care, because the world's my oyster.

Some foolosopher once said that he didn’t care for that Shakespeare fella because his plays were just a bunch of clichés. Of course they’re full of clichés, because Shakespeare coined the phrases, and they’re so pithy that they’ve been endlessly repeated for the past four hundred years. So now many of them are clichés or, to use one of the several hundred phrases that Shakespeare invented—and which are still being employed today—they are household words. You might say that Shakespeare launched a sea change in the English language.
I can’t mention all of Shakespeare’s memorable phrases in this brief column, so I’ll have to winnow the list. But that might be useful anyway, because there can be too much of a good thing. And really, the better part of valor is discretion. In fact, I’m not even going to bother telling you when I’m quoting Shakespeare—that’ll be as plain as the nose on a man’s face. Nor am I going to give any wordy explanations of them because we don’t have forever and a day. Plus, it’s best not to gild the lilly and, after all, brevity is the soul of wit. So I’ll make a virtue of necessity, which, by the way, is an adage more honored in the breach than in the observance. But I assure you, there is method to my madness.

All right, you’ve been waiting with bated breath, so let’s get going; let me lead you down the primrose path of Shakespeare’s famous phrases, all in one fell swoop. Look out, I’m going to lay it on with a trowel. Okay, here goes, the game is afoot! You might want to read this out loud—and with a suitably Shakespearean accent—because Shakespeare sounds best when his words are delivered trippingly on the tongue.

That can set your teeth on edge, especially when Shakespeare captured the stuff that dreams are made of: the towering passions, the sound and fury of human emotions that make you want to fight to the last gasp or leap once more into the breach. But more often, because love is blind, he spoke of star-crossed lovers, and others who loved not wisely, but too well, making you sick at heart, with words delivered more in sorrow than in anger, stirring the milk of human kindness, not just in those with hearts of gold, but even in the most stony hearted men. Misery does acquaint a man with strange bedfellows. Ah, what fools these mortals be! What a piece of work is man! Even my own flesh and blood! How sharper than the serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child! But perhaps I’m wearing my heart upon my sleeve.

For goodness’ sake, ‘tis high time to give up the Shakespearean accent and lie low before you make yourself into a laughing stock and find yourself in a pickle. Surely you don’t wish to ruin your spotless reputation. As luck would have it, the reader is not likely a Shakespeare actor. To thine own self be true, because truth will out. But maybe that was a foregone conclusion. Anyway, Shakespearean accent, good riddance! But leave at a snail’s pace; just let it melt into thin air.

All right, we’ve come full circle, the game is up. That’s the short and the long of it. But what’s done is done! I hope that you don’t think that nothing became my column but the leaving of it. Anyway, philosophically speaking, all’s well that ends well.

Oh, but you know me: what's past is prologue. So allow just one more Shakespearian phrase, and exclaim it out loud because it’s just so much fun to say: My horse! My horse! My Kingdom for a horse!

Ah, parting is such sweet sorrow. 

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