23 April 2016

Bike Bard

Four hundred years ago today, William Shakespeare died.  

Interestingly, this date--the 23rd of April--might also be his birth date.  We do not know his birthday with any certainty; the first record that exists of him is his baptismal certificate, dated the 26th of April, 1564.  

I am so thankful for Bill.  After all, if he didn't exist, I'd have to torture my students in some other way.  And, really, it's not as much fun to torment people with Tennyson or Chaucer.  I couldn't really haunt my students with Milton, because I'd have to spend more time explaining Paradise Lost than I would for any of the Bard's plays.  By the time I'm finished, most of my students would be too dazed to be terrified.

(That last statement is conjecture.  Now I'll make a confession:  I've never tried to teach Paradise Lost, or any other poem by John Milton.  I'd bet a lot of English instructors today could say the same.)

Seriously, though...Where would we be without Shakespeare?  He has given us so many of the figures of speech and common expressions we use every day.  The only source of more of those pithy words and phrases is the Bible.  And, even if that book is directly inspired by God, as many believe, I'm sure that it wasn't all written by the same person.  Then again, every generation or so, someone makes the claim that not all of Shakespeare's works were written by the same person because, as one commentatior put it, "How could one person write all of that?"

Even if there was not one "Shakespeare"--or, as some have said, the name was an alias--I'd probably still believe that he (or she?) existed.  S'il Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer:  According to Voltaire, if God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him.  I think of Shakespeare in the same way.

Now, even though I am a writer (yes, really!) and I teach English (would I lie?), you are probably wondering why I'm devoting a whole post in a bicycling blog to the Bard.  Well, he was an avid cyclist.  Oh, come on:  You don't believe all of the official versions of history, do you?  Especially the ones that say the bicycle wasn't invented until two centuries after Shakespeare died?  Well, if you read almost any of his plays, you realize that time isn't linear--at least, not in his plays.  (One notable exception is his last play, The Tempest.)  He shifts action back and forth between places and times, three centuries before moving pictures--let alone split screens and other effects--were invented. 

From Morna Murphy Martell

So, it's not only likely he pedaled; it's certain.  The clues are sprinkled throughout his works.  To wit:

       "...thou and I have thirty miles ere dinner time".  Henry                IV Part I, Act III, Scene 3.

I mean, if that isn't something somoene would say during an audax or brevet, I don't know what is.

During such a ride, he was almost surely complaining about his equipment:  

         "to ride with ugly rack" --Sonnet 33

         "thou hast worn out thy pump"--Romeo and Juliet, Act                II, Scene 4

And the ride continued after dark:

         "Lights, lights, lights!"--Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2

         "Lights, more lights!"--Timon of Athens, Act I, Scene 2

Hey, he even rode in  Critical Mass:

          "For tis the sport to have the enginer hoist with his                     own petard."--Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4

One thing about Bill:  He liked to kick back at the end of a ride:

          "do you look for ale and cakes here, you rude                            rascals?"--Henry VII, Act V, Scene 4



  1. A bike,a bike, my kingdom for a bike...

  2. The Bard on a bike??? Well, there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of...

    I can see him in my mind's eye, with a lean and hungry look, thinking "The world's my oyster", then, in his flaming youth, in his dancing days. At the crack of dawn, before he will budge an inch, he thinks in his heart of hearts, that in one fell swoop, he will have gone full circle in what is no wild goose chase around Old London.

    Such is the stuff dreams are made. He parks the bike thinking, "Parting is such sweet sorrow", heads back into the Globe thinking that now "the play's the thing".


  3. Coline--I remember reading or hearing a story about Ralph Richardson performing in front of a less-than-friendly crowd.
    "My kingdom for a horse!" he intoned.

    "Would an ass do?" heckled an audience member.

    Not missing a beat, he replied, "Certainly. Come and present yourself."

    Leo--All the world's a road and we're merely riders. Yes, even Shakespeare, as great as he was. I love your imaginings! You. Coline and I simply must meet some time!

    1. When shall we two meet by plane?
      In thunder,
      or in rain?

    2. Well, Coline, if we're meeting by plane (which, I assume, we will), I hope there's no thunder, lightning or rain until it lands!

  4. One of your greatest posts. I'll never think about Shakespeare the same way again.

  5. MT--I'm glad I ruined you.;-) This blog is always fun for me, but this post was one of the most joyful, even gleeful, for me to write.

  6. I've heard it said that neither Shakespeares' parents nor his children could read. Can it be possible that such a giant of the Kings english was sandwiched between two generations of illiteracy? Justine, I'm depending on you to tell me the truth. Give it to me straight, I can take it.

  7. Phillip--I've heard the same thing. Given that literacy was still the exception rather than the norm outside of the noble classes, and that Shakespeare neither was of, or married into, those classes, it's entirely possible. And such a story would make Shakespeare seem even more like the "genius who came out of nowhere" that he's been portrayed to be.

  8. I was hoping you would take the bait and give us your pet theory on alternative authors for the Shakespeare plays.Edward deVere? Sir Francis Bacon perhaps? Maybe more than one. I realise it's a messy can of worms to open up on a bike blog.

  9. Philip--I have heard of the alternative-author theories. While they're plausible in the sense that we know very little about Shakespeare himself, I don't subscribe to them because I can see stylistic differences between the authors in question and the Bard. (That is also one reason why I don't think Shakespeare had anything to do with the King James Bible, along with the fact that there wasn't much overlap between Shakespeare's life and the reign of King James--and that the Bible doesn't seem to have been a particular interest of Shakespeare's.

  10. Well put. I wish I'd read enough of the material in question to even note stylistic differences. Being written in Elizabethan english doesn't make me want to read it more. As for the KJV I guess theater folk don't make the best bible thumpers. Thanks for humoring my dumb questions.

  11. Phillip--Your questions aren't "dumb". And the answers I gave are no more final than those given by others througout the centuries. In short, it's an opinion.