But pardon, gentles all
The flat, unraised spirits, that have dared,
On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth
So great an object
Henry V, Prologue.
Writing yet another book on Shakespeare, given the abundance of related works, may seem presumptuous – or perhaps a well-known trick to seduce the reader into attention, by relying on the universal appeal of the name of a Giant. A preface is therefore necessary to offer, alas, an explanation short of an apology, well remembering that “… excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse” (King John, act 4, scene 2). But, if you will “lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold” (Hamlet, act 1, scene 5), I will demonstrate why this book had to be written and why (I hope) you will find it the most useful reference work of its kind. The assertion smacks terribly of self-praise or worse, vanity – a sin, however, easily avoided by remembering the line, ”For it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass” (All’s Well that Ends Well, act 4, scene 3)
Though based on serious and thorough research, ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’ is NOT another book of quotations. One technical definition could be ‘Dictionary of Shakespearean Situations’ or ‘Reverse Dictionary of Shakespearean Quotations’. Neither definition, however, conveys the spirit, purpose and soul of the book. Hence the title. The genesis and evolution of ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’ will (I like to think), justify the claim to its usefulness.
My formal education is in Engineering – a branch of study that, in literary circles, confines me to the rank of the actors in Midsummer Night’s Dream (“A crew of patches, rude mechanicals, that work for bread upon the Athenian walls” (act 3, scene 2). Still, I define myself a “Shakespearean Road Scholar”. The italics are mine, the spelling is wilful and the meaning literal.
After graduation, following the inscrutable paths of chance (“What can be avoided whose end is purpos’d by the mighty Gods?“ (Julius Caesar, act 2, scene 2), I was employed by a large corporation and became a manager, sometimes referred to as an ‘executive’ (“I hate the word as I hate hell and all Montagues” (from Romeo & Juliet, act 1, scene 1)) Two circumstances triggered the interest that led to the book, extended travel time during which I read intensely and frequent participation in corporate meetings.
While traveling, Shakespeare’s “fair discourse hath been as sugar, making the hard way sweet and delectable” (King Richard II, act 2, scene 3). At meetings I concluded that relatively few (corporate) speakers have respect for their own words. The statement seems presumptuous but often it was a case of “senseless speaking or speaking such as sense cannot untie” (Cymbeline, act 5, scene 4), or “Be plain, good son, and homely in thy drift; riddling confession finds but riddling shrift.” (Romeo & Juliet, act 2, scene 3)
Then I discovered the obvious (“… a great cause of the night is lack of the sun” (As You Like It, act 3, scene 2)) – i.e. that Shakespeare is an excellent trainer in concision and clarity of expression. The following and equally obvious discovery was the positive effect on an audience of a befitting Shakespearean quotation. Next I searched for a comprehensive work that would match everyday situations to appropriate Shakespearean lines. I found none – Thomas Dolby, in 1832, captured the idea but his work (if I may say so) is limited.
As the wanted dictionary did not exist I wrote one. My goal was (is) to help the reader find and deliver the ‘killing’ Shakespearean answer or comment, quickly and easily. The book title conveys the idea that there are frequent (yes, daily), practical uses for a good Shakespeare quote. Each entry in ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’ includes the situation, the associated quote and frequent examples of where, when and how to use it. Each entry also includes a brief description of the context of the quote, in the actual play.
Quotations have been used ever since someone said words worth remembering. The words may or may not have contained universal truths, but there was something in their meaning, sound, rhythm (or in all three together), that triggered an emotional response in the hearer(s). The response to a good quote can be acceptance of your message, a confirmation of your specific knowledge or the establishing of a friendly atmosphere. It is generally assumed that quotations are used in formal presentations or written essays. But a good quote can be, for example, an effective and elegant way out of a potentially embarrassing situation.
Take the fairly common instance when someone asks you, “How much money do you make?”. It is a tricky and (in the view of many) impolite question. The same question is even trickier if you are not wealthy but are concerned that a frank admission of the truth may ‘lower your rating’ – as we say today in our monetary, personal-worth-driven society. In general you could,
• Answer that you do not want to disclose that information. If so, you indirectly imply that the questioner is impolite and this creates an unfriendly atmosphere.
• Say that you don’t know or remember. You are a liar.
• Give out a number. If the number is correct you surrender to impoliteness. If the number is incorrect you (again) are lying and the truth usually comes out sooner or later.
Try instead, “They are but beggars that can count their worth” (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 5). Let’s examine the virtues of this answer.
a) For one, you have given the questioner a way out. The question is impolite but you have not told the questioner that he/she is impolite. Rather, your answer implicitly acknowledges that he does not want to think of you as a ‘beggar’. If you disclosed the information you would have caused him to consider you a ‘beggar’ and embarrassed him. In other words, a situation potentially uncomfortable for you has changed completely – it is now you who are relieving the questioner from embarrassment.
b) The sentence has rhythm, with the accents falling on the ‘e’ of ‘beggars’ and the ‘o’ of ‘count’ and ‘worth’. The combination of rhythm and the old-sounding word ‘beggar’ gives the sentence a charge of humor. That is, a potential source of tension has become instead an occasion for amusement or at least light-heartedness.
c) The word ‘worth’ shifts the idea of money (prosaic and impolite) to that of individual value (respectful and elegant), as if to say, “I appreciate your interest – it implies that you assume me a person of worth as an individual and yet….etc.”
In general and depending, of course, on the nature of the subject and of your audience, a Shakespearean quotation achieves the following objectives,
• It proves implicitly that you are educated, that you value the importance and the intriguing power of words. It prompts a recognition that transcends your actual social status, title or position, it shows that you are not exclusively interested in things material. It suggests that you have a balanced view of events or transactions. It instantly establishes the presence of a bond between you and a higher spirit. All these are symptoms of personal reliability. No need to explain why reliability is an asset in business, on the job and generally in personal relations.
Sometimes the effect is immediate. When in high school, my son William was addressed and directed by a teacher to perform a task. The command was abrupt, forceful and did not call for a response (other than the execution of the command). Having just finished reading ‘Julius Caesar’, William replied, “If Caesar says ‘do this’, it is performed” (act 1, scene 2). William reports that the teacher’s expression indicated real surprise. And from that day onward, the teacher treated him with noticeable consideration.
Sometimes the positive effect is unpredictable. For example, two quotes convinced two different judges to dismiss a traffic ticket. One for unwittingly turning left from the wrong lane (“I am a man more sinned against than sinning” (King Lear, act 3, scene 2), the other for having forgotten to renew my license plate (“When the age is in the wit is out” (Much Ado About Nothing, act. 3, scene 5).
• It will often lead your audience to smile or even laugh, thus establishing that you have a sense of humor. The humor in the quote is often independent of the quote’s meaning – it derives from the contrast between the modernity of the situation and the amusing antiquity of the language. Try this quick test. Did you smile at least once at the quotes cited so far? If yes, you have proven the point, if not I will be tempted to repeat with Falstaff, “…nor a man cannot make him laugh: but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine…” (King Henry IV, part 2, act 4, scene 3). Assuming, of course, that you be a member of the less gentle sex.
• It implies a certain degree of respect towards the receiver, especially if the quote is easily understandable (most are), and is delivered in a familiar, rather than professorial, tone. The amusing and clever quote implies that the recipient is equally clever by appreciating it. He/she may feel flattered. Oscar Wilde remarked that flattery is the infantry of negotiations (of any kind!). And we all know that intelligent humor is a catalyst for dialog. It follows that intelligent humor and elegant flattery make a winning combination.
A few words about Shakespeare’s romantic quotations. Love looms large in his plays, sonnets and poems in all its aspects, sentimental, passionate, platonic, sexual, marital, filial, brotherly, friendly, compassionate, heroic and all shades in-between.
Perhaps you are like the character Proteus who, referring to his friend Valentine, said “He after honour hunts, I after love” (Two Gentlemen of Verona, act 1, scene 1). More likely, you know or realize that in our contemporary market-driven life there is more to life than market.
Whatever your intentions, you will find in Shakespeare a wealth of lines usable and adaptable to just about all situations that have a romantic overtone, from introducing yourself to a yet unknown and appealing lady, to handling or even reversing rejections. The unexpected quote will qualify you as romantic without being ridiculous, original without being odd, elegant without being eccentric and witty without being wacky.
A summary of practical uses for ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’? Introductions, epilogues, reports, speeches, lines for blank cards, and any type or kind of (as the experts would say), interpersonal communications. Besides, to quote Thomas Dolby but referring to ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’, “As a table book, it is presumed this work will be found no less pleasing, than as a book of reference it will be useful”. And he continued, “…the devoted admirer of Shakespeare will not, it is hoped, be displeased at occasionally meeting beauties which had long been familiar to him, suddenly presenting themselves from behind coverts where he had not expected to see them”.
It took a long time to complete ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’, considering that, at various stages, I decided to change its structure, leading to radical re-writes and re-work. But “To business that we like we rise betimes and go to it with delight” (Antony and Cleopatra, act 4, scene 4). Echoing my personal experience, the original title was ‘Shakespeare for the Busy Executive’. Later I changed it to ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’, reflecting the broader audience addressed. The analytical index (over 9400 entries), is sorted by situations. The situations are described by a concise, descriptive sentence and supported by a short extract of the complete quote. The reader can then refer to the full quote in the body of the book, where he will find in order,
• The title of the quote
• The quote itself
• Suggestions for applications. Sometimes, (may Purists and Literature Professors forgive me), I suggested minor modifications of the original quote to fit the application. The modifications in no way alter the rhythm or the sense of the original.
• A short description of what actually happens in the play in connection with the specific quotation. This helps with use and memorization. The quotation does not float in mid mind with no other reference but that the line is from Shakespeare. Tracking the context of the quote helps store the quote in the correct mental repository and facilitates recollection.
At the end of the book you will also find a summary of each play.
I could say more good things about ‘Your Daily Shakespeare’ but “… there’s not a wise man in twenty that will praise himself.” (Much Ado About Nothing, act 5, scene 2). I hope you will discover the value of the book by your very personal use. And I will be grateful if you will tell me when your use of a Shakespearean quote has had the positive effects you hoped for.
It is commonly assumed that poetry is the antithesis of business, but there is ample evidence that this is not true. Charles Stearns, an American physician and business man wrote in 1860, “The mental discipline induced by learning Shakespeare is even better than mathematics, because it exercises more of the separate mental faculties, and, at the same time, by stirring the emotions, places us in close relations with our fellow men; which pure science does not do, but, on the contrary, tends to cut off and obstruct.”
Finally, though I tried to include all usable quotes and aphorisms, I will not claim that the work is complete (nor any work on Shakespeare could ever be complete). I will ask of the reader, “If hearty sorrow be a sufficient ransom for omission, I tender it here” (from ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’, act 5, scene 4).
Still, for good measure, I will seek refuge under the ample mantle of the famous compiler of the first Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson. At the onset of his dictionary he declared, “No dictionary is perfect, but any is better than none”.