We know him not at all, and yet completely. That has always been the paradox of William Shakespeare. The characters he created in his plays have worked their way into the collective DNA of the English-speaking world, of Western culture broadly considered, and of world culture through Western culture. The language of Shakespeare — that unique and startling way he had of phrasing things–has become the common currency of thinking, acting, being. But we don’t know much about his life. We know the basic details: born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, married Anne Hathaway in 1582, died in 1616. Beyond that, he is a mystery. We don’t have any information that explains how he could have had such an immense and lasting influence, an influence that only seems to grow, century after century. When you reflect on it for a moment, it doesn’t seem possible that one person could have created… More…

It is a time of dreariness and decay. I’m speaking of winter, of course. I always think, when thinking of winter, of the opening lines of Richard III. Richard, the king-to-be, is musing upon the ascension to the throne of his brother, Edward IV. He says, in lines that are burned into the deep pathways of our neural networks, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York.”

 

These opening lines of the play are actually quite hopeful. The first word, “now,” looks forward to the “made” in the next line. Shakespeare, in that clever way of his, makes the language fresh by making you pay attention. The “now” is a placeholder for the thought to come. It sets the scenario, grabs us with its immediacy, and lingers there for a… More…