Ask A. Brain – Shakespeariana
Question:I am preparing for an upcoming trivia event. It’s a snooty crowd and I’m hoping to show off a little bit. How about sharing some of your legendarily esoteric Shakespearean knowledge with me?
– Julius Cloten / Shrewsbury, MA
Answer: It just so happens I am currently working on a biography of the 17th Earl of Oxford. I’m calling it “The Bearded Bard of Bishopsgate.” So as for Shakespearean trivia, I am full of it.
Let me just throw out ten fun facts. Half of them are well-attested to by your usual Shakespearean scholars. I am unable at this time to provide references to the other five. Perhaps you can pick out the moldy old chestnuts from the exciting new Adelbert B. Brain exclusives.
- The ghost from “Hamlet” appeared unexpectedly at a Victorian séance attended by Arthur Conan Doyle (apparently, the medium was asked to contact the author’s late neighbor, a Mr Ambleth, who died owing Sir Arthur some money). The lively spirit sang a few bawdy lines to the tune of Greensleeves and made rude comments about Doyle’s wife.
- John Manningham, a barrister of the Middle Temple and a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote that the actor Richard Burbage had one time arranged an after-performance liaison with an accommodating London theater groupie. After a performance as Richard III, Burbage kept his appointment. Knocking on the door and announcing himself as Richard III, he was answered from the other side of the door by Shakespeare with, “William the Conqueror comes before Richard III.”
- In an early draft of “Romeo and Juliet,” the character Romeo was named Sluggo. The actor playing Juliet couldn’t keep from laughing every time he spoke the lines, “O Sluggo, Sluggo, wherefore art thou Sluggo?” Shakespeare reluctantly agreed to change the name of the character after it was pointed out that the title of the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” didn’t make much sense given that Sluggo got the girl. (In this earlier draft the character Romeo had but a single line. At the dance he asked, “Forsooth, I begin to pisseth mine cloak, ist yon privvy occupied?”)
- Shakespeare died on the same date (April 23) of the same year (1616) as the great Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. Yet as Shakespeare drew his last breath, Cervantes had been dead and buried for 10 days.
- “Two Gentlemen of Verona” was plagiarized from an earlier play named “Two Gentlewomen of Bologna.” The earlier play contains a song that was modified for use as a jingle for Oscar Mayer wieners. It had a line that went something like, “my sister shows her lovely legs in B-O-L-O-G-N-A.”
- The actor William Kempe, after being fired from Shakespeare’s acting company because he wouldn’t stick to a script, morris danced from London to Norwich, a distance of over 100 miles.
- In scene cut from most modern performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Bottom—wearing the head of an ass courtesy of Puck—grazes on a bale of hay, while reciting a long, pessimistic soliloquy lamenting his fate as an infertile mule. The ghostly figure of Aphrodite appears to him and explains—with the help of stick figures and a chalkboard—that he is in fact a donkey, not a mule. To which Bottom exclaims, “Eyeore, eyeore!” and dances joyfully with a very excitable tiger whose mysterious appearance is thought by some scholars to be a late addition to the play.
- William Davenant was an English poet and playwright of the 17th century. He often claimed to be Shakespeare’s illegitimate son. Indeed his parents had kept an inn frequented by the Bard on trips between London and Stratford-upon-Avon. Apparently Davenant was okay with the implications of his claim in regards to own his dear mother. Sadly, he lost much of his nose to syphilis. A biographer wrote of Davenant that his “features seem to resemble the open countenance of Shakespeare” but added that “the want of a nose gives an odd cast to his face.”
- Scholars believe the character of Ophelia to be Shakespeare’s veiled self-portrait. He loved flowers, frequently swam in the Thames River wearing a billowy dress, and unsuccessfully applied on more than one occasion for admittance to a Danish nunnery.
- The plays of Shakespeare were not actually written by William Shakespeare, but by another man of the same name.
– A. Brain
- The even-numbered trivialities are commonplace, well-attested facts (though #10 is controversial). You cannot expect to impress anyone with these. The odd-numbered anecdotes are gems I have uncovered through painstaking research. You won’t find references to these in Wikipedia, Cloten, and they are sure to make you the talk of the trivia event. [^]
- Insufferable pedants will point out that we used to think Cervantes died on April 23, 1616. Now we know he died on April 22 and was buried on the 23rd. Either way, he was dead and in the ground 10 days before Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. By that time Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar, while England still used the Julian calendar which lagged 10 days behind it. [^]
- This quote, or a similar one, is variously attributed to William F Buckley, Woody Allen, and “an anonymous Shakespeare scholar.” [^]
|Every week Once a month Occasionally, Mr Adelbert B. Brain answers one of your questions exclusively for Bachblog. His areas of interest and expertise include the Simpsons, the footwear of pre-industrial Britain, macrame, hitchhiking etiquette, the history of the U.S. Navy’s anti-submarine warfare technologies, and the lost works of William Shakespeare. He lives in an ice-fishing house on Sucker Lake in Shoreview, Minnesota.|