Saturday, 1 November 2014

Something Rich and Strange

Time and Space

Retirement is a strange experience for me. Now I wonder how I ever managed to fit work into the day during my working years. What with catching up with friends, rediscovering the British countryside, trying to get fitter, reading and writing, decluttering the house, learning new recipes, cooking and cleaning, watching TIVO and Netflix, going to the cinema, playing piano, doing jigsaws, training my body to sleep properly…. And realising that, although I thought I was pretty well informed about the Man from Stratford, Planet Shakespeare remains a wonderful place to explore in life and dreams….

The collapsing shelves

The clearest analogy I have of my working life as a teacher is that my brain was filled with stacks and stacks of bookshelves and each one had to be read or edited. 

The books were piled up to the ceiling of my mind, most of them double-stacked, some of them triple-stacked, and as each academic year went on the piles got crazier, got wobblier, got more precarious and definitely in danger of falling. The shelves were ready to collapse at any moment and destroy my heart and soul.

In the months since retirement, the shelves have been emptying. They’re being dusted down and I’m starting to rearrange my prized possessions on them. Shakespeare’s presence is a great retirement comfort. Was anyone more creative with language than Shakespeare?


With thanks to Bernard Levin, Robert Demeger and Assemblies "What I Wrote" for school....

If you cannot understand my argument and declare "It's all Greek to me!" then you are quoting Shakespeare. If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning or if you recall your salad days when you were green in judgement, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into air, into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare. Of those phrases, "lost property" is probably the most common and it is quite true that it may have been spoken before Shakespeare used it, but it was in The First Folio that the phrase was recorded in print for the first time. 
A-Level Language students know that it is when words start to appear in print that they really spread locally, nationally and internationally. No-one had used the word assassination in English Literature before Shakespeare did in Macbeth, the word assassin having its origins in 8th century Arabic – but it was Shakespeare who turned the individual killer, assassin, into an abstract noun meaning the whole event – “assassination.” Other words that Shakespeare coined that are still in everyday use today are even-handed, far-off, hot-blooded, schooldays, well-respected, useful, moonbeam and even subcontract. We wouldn’t have the word accommodation without Shakespeare, nor abstemious, discontent, or reinforcementIf you have ever refused to budge an inch, or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, been tongue-tied, been a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle. If you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play or not slept a wink, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool you, it’s a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it and as happy as the day is long) quoting Shakespeare. Even film titles steal phrases from him – Murder Most Foul, The Darling Buds of May, Under the Greenwood Tree, What Dreams May Come, Band of Brothers, The Dogs of War, The Evil that Men Do, All Our Yesterdays, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Sound and the Fury, Brave New World, This Rough Magic, Cakes and Ale, Journey’s End, All’s Well That Ends Well, To Be Or Not To Be, Something Rich and Strange.

Even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was as dead as a doornail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing-stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot! Then – by Jove!  Tut! Tut! For goodness sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! It’s all one to me! These words and phrases are all creative writing nuggets from Shakespeare.