Get Your Shakespeare Right

I’ve occasionally mentioned misquoted or misattributed Shakespeare on this blog before, usually in reference to greeting cards. But I have to pause yet again on behalf of politics here in my home state of Wisconsin.  Most of you know it’s been a trying time here, and that has prompted a great deal of fancy language on a great many parts.  But I would like to make it clear to everyone that this has not, in any way, been “the winter of our discontent,” as some reckless speakers have suggested  Not even for those of “us” (Wisconsinites, I assume, is the general meaning implied) who are, in fact, discontented.

The reason for this is twofold.  One, the quote isn’t a statement of fact that reads “Now is the winter of our discontent.”  The character speaking is not saying that it’s winter and we’re unhappy.  He says “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.”  The (metaphorical) winter is over, and it was just the set-up for a cheap pun in the first place.  But more importantly, the character in question is a baby-murdering villain.

This is relevant.  This is a thing to keep in mind when you quote Shakespeare.  The words you are using were not authored solely for the purpose of being pronounced authoritatively, on their own and stripped of context.  Some of the following will doubtless be old hat to many of my readers, but for pity’s sake please help spread the information.  As the signs around here say, it’s for the children.

  • It’s “Lay on Macduff,” not “Lead on Macduff.” They’re about to fight to the death, not go for a walk.
  • “Wherefore art thou Romeo” — meaning “Why do you have to be Romeo instead of some other hot guy that I’m totally allowed to bang” — not “Where art thou Romeo.” She spends more of the play knowing where he is than pretty much everyone else, when you think about it.
  • Anything Polonius says in Hamlet is pretty much meant to make him sound like a mumbling idiot.  Which, when you quote him, makes you sound like guess what?  This includes “To thine own self be true” and “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Not actually pieces of advice meant to be taken seriously.
  • On the subject of Hamlet, it’s “Alas, poor Yorick.  I knew him, Horatio,” not “…knew him well.” I don’t know why this comes up often enough for it to be a common misquotation, but it does; apparently a lot of people have friends named Yorick.
  • “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,” is followed by a number of other similar comparisons before the conclusion “To seek the beauteous eye of Heaven to garnish is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” Nothing about gilding lilies actually appears.  But you’d have to see/read King John to know that one, so we won’t hold it against people.

Those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.  I would guess I’ve missed many more — feel free to point ‘em out!  It will not discontent my winter.  I always enjoy updating lists.

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    • t.o. Aster
    • March 1st, 2011

    In terms of protest signs and Shakespeare I think “Out out damn Scott” – Macbeth Local 1016 was used exactly correctly.

    • Yorick Von Fortinbras
    • March 1st, 2011

    I too am also tired of the miss use of Shakespeare quotes and characters.
    Truly,
    Yorick von Fortinbras

    • Verily, Miss Use is a wanton strumpet. You heard it here first — thanks for being here with us today, Mr. von Fortinbras!

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