Friday, January 09, 2009

Maybe We Shouldn’t Ask Men?

Here’s an odd place for a Shakespeare article, a magazine called Ask Men (the kind of barely safe-for-work site that if I’m caught looking at it I will have to plead I only read it for the Shakespeare).  The title is 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Shakespeare.

Let’s look:

1) The sonnets were written for men.  Specifically it goes on to cite sonnet 18 as an example, and says that 126 of the 154 are definitely between dudes.

2) Danielle Steel has been translated more than Shakespeare.  This point is just plain stupid, as it goes on to explain that Danielle Steel has *written* more than Shakespeare, so the math works out.  He’s been translated into 80 languages, she only 28. 

3) Shakespeare invented "torture".  No he didn’t, he just “invented” the word of course.

4) Shakespeare's grave is cursed.   Again, no, and badly written.  Yes, there’s the epitaph that reads “cursed be he who moves my bones”, but no one has moved them, so that’s a poor interpretation of “his grave is cursed.”

5) Shakespeare was rich.  Yes, he had a stake in the company, blah blah blah, owned property in London and Stratford.  But was he ever “rich”, in the way we think of it today?  I’ve always understood that not to be the case.  As a matter of fact I thought he was on the cheap side, spending much of his later years in small claims court collecting debts.


Points to the commenters, for the most part, for pointing out the mistakes in the article.


catkins said...

Well, you know I think he does a fairly decent job on the issue of Sonnets 1-126 being apparently written between two men and addressing the difference between the love between men in Shakespeare's day and the necessity of that being what we would call homosexuality. Given the shortness of the article I would not argue with skipping over the issue of whether teh Sonnets represent a true relationship or a fiction or whether they have anything to do with Shakespeare's life. As a matter of fact, the article is acutally non-committal about that.
It is much worse on Shakespeare's invention of words. He confuses the first use of a word in a particular way (most often using a noun as a verb for the first time) with the invention of a word outright. Quite a different thing. Thus, torture, champion, and gossip were used as nouns in, respectively, 1551, 1225, and 1014, before Shakespeare was recorded to first use them as verbs. Compromise and hurried are completely wrong--they were first used in 1426 and 883, respectively. His source was way off on negotiable, also, as it was never used by Shakespeare, first appearing in 1758. The other thing to consider is that this information on the first appearances of words is generally based on the compilations made by the prodigious work of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary. It was done by have the editors and scour existing books and documents for words and recording the earliest entries. They were sometimes helped by volunteers who sent in their own readings. (See the wonderful book, "Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.") If you think about it, a lot depends on what books were preserved and therefore available to the editors, as well as the kinds of words one might find in those books. Shakespeare's popularity guaranteed the survivial of many of his texts and his material guaranteed a breadth of language one might not find in the other common stock of printed material of his day--ecclesiastical writing. So many of the words that are attributed to Shakespeare's invention may actually be words that were just first preserved in print by him.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm surprised the magazine didn't insist that Shakespeare's works were written by Bozo the Clown. The authorship conspiracies do seem to sell a magazine, regardless of how silly it is (IMO).

Sjodin's Blog said...

ahhh,.... i love your blog, but am now struck with angst. Hi, I am highschool english teacher in BC Canada (where the heck are you?) I have linked your blog on mine (which i have made available to students) and now fear i must delete it for fear of complaints. Re: the scantily clad on the Ask Men site. I can't tell you how disappointing this is. It seems like all the good stuff is just enough over the edge that it could get me fired. Feel free to post a comment to my blog, (i won't post it, but wouldn't mind your contact info) maybe i'll look for you on Facebook. curious what you think.

Duane said...

Sorry about that, Sjodin! While I do try to run a family-friendly site myself, I can't always promise the same for content. I did make it pretty clear what sort of barely-safe-for-work/school site that was, but I'm sure that only encourages students to click :).

The best thing for you to do, I think, would be to manually post your own blog entries when you find something here that you like. Students will still be able to browse other articles, but at least you'll be able to say that it's not like you were endorsing the questionable ones.