To Shakespeare Or Not To Shakespeare

According to the Telegraph, an Australian expert well grounded in the contextual history of Shakespeare’s time claims a recent shocker that many famous phrases credited to him might have been so attributed without solid basis outside the bard’s fame.

Dr. David Mclnnis of the University of Melbourne claims that “[Shakespeare’s] words were mostly in circulation already or were logical combinations of pre-existing concepts”. His argument makes sense, for otherwise the concurrent audience of Shakespeare’s time would not have been able to understand never mind appreciate his plays in the first place. The revelation is not to accuse the playwright of plagiarizing—absolutely not. From personal conviction and textual investigation, I have always believed that language is a literary palimpsest that builds on previous foundation, on which account Shakespeare’s genius lived just as much in inventing as in refashioning.

Misled citations rise out of the bias from our canonical Oxford English Dictionary, whose undisputed reputation prevents people from questioning its supreme validity and potential susceptibility to error. It appears to Mclnnis that the OED holds over 33,000 Shakespearean quotations of which 1,500 are concluded as original invention and 7,500 as original usage or meaning. However, recent evidence from the Australian expert encourages us to second doubt the point of reference we have taken for granted with a series of examples traceable to earlier works.

Mclnnis dissents from the OED on a few contentions, including the inappropriate attribution that “a wild goose chase” first appeared in Romeo and Juliet. Per his findings, the phrase was used “at least six times” in the English poet Gervase Markham’s book about horsemanship published in 1593. That “eaten me out of house and home” sprang from Henry IV Part 2 was also invalidated by an earlier proof from 1578 now given access through a digital resource bank. Last but not least, the famous “tis Greek to me” from Julius Caesar predates Shakespeare in Robert Greene’s The Scottish History Of James The Fourth, where a lord pleaded a lady to love him at which request she replied “Tis Greek to me, my Lord”.

That being said, the above does not exclude phrases that Shakespeare did genuinely make up as he went. “To make an ass of oneself” is one of his top on-the-go hits amongst many others. Perhaps what is more remarkable than creating is bringing depth to existing creation. While it is important to give birth to new articles of interest, horizontal development can never bring literature the evolution that vertical profundity is capable of. The ultimate condition to innovation entails in reach and out reach to occur at once, so that widespread seeds may strengthen in growth while to-be seeds may enter in realm. Extraordinarily imaginative as he was, Shakespeare recollected inspiration from a combination of contemporary accounts as well as the political arena of his time. Sentences form upon phrases upon words upon letters just as Shakespeare emulated from previous expressions, each bestowed with its proper precedents.

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Sabrina He

Sabrina studies International Relations and French at NYU. Moving from Montreal to Beijing to Vancouver to Manhattan, she is a trilingual Chinese French Canadian culturally confused 90% of the time. A keen observer, she strives to shed light on the "diamonds in the dust" hidden inside her every day journaling. Having interned at various law firms, she now seeks to illuminate her creative outlet through Monologue Blogger.