Feature Stories

“O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.”

Love’s Labours Lost, Act V, Scene I


Principle Images: Photography by Dean Palmer

When William Shakespeare put pen to paper in the late 1500s, he ensured himself a place in history and unknowingly made his name a household word around the world — forever, it seems.

He is said to have introduced more than 3,000 English words, most uttered first by an actor on stage at London’s Globe Theatre.

Not all of Shakespeare’s new words stuck, but so many did that most of us would be hard pressed to talk our way through the day without using some of them — bedroom, unhurried, obscene, skim milk, gossip, excitement, generous, torture, undress, worthless, laughable, and advertising.

Our everyday speech would be — using Shakespeare’s word — lackluster without these oft-used phrases from the Bard: caught red-handed, sweets for the sweet, as white as the driven snow, neither a borrower or a lender be, full of sound and fury, one fell swoop, blinking idiot and apple of one’s eye.

Just read around the edges of the next few pages, and you will understand why school kids building 21st-century vocabularies still need to wade through all the “doths” and “thous” of Elizabethan English.

Sorouja Moll looking at Shakespeare portrait

Guelph graduate student Sorouja Moll is writing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. An excerpt from her play, girlswork, is featured in the exhibition catalogue published by the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in support of the “Shakespeare — Made in Canada” festival.

Shakespeare’s image, on the other hand, has been something of a mystery. Until now.

Canadian engineer Lloyd Sullivan says his family has held the secret of Shakespeare’s true image for 400 years. That’s long enough, says Sullivan, who wants the world to see and accept the portrait painted by his ancestor John Sanders as the true likeness of William Shakespeare.

If the art world accepts Sullivan’s evidence, the Sanders portrait will be the only known picture of Shakespeare painted during the playwright’s lifetime.

His words. His face. These are just the beginning of Shakespeare’s influence in Canadian life.

Even more important are the way we interpret his words, how we meet his characters incarnate almost every day and why we continue to retell his stories to help us make sense of our own lives.

Shakespeare was a student of human nature. His characters were not invented, but observed in the people around him. And because we already know a Hamlet, a Juliet, a Julius Caesar and a Puck, we often let Shakespeare give us a leg up in telling our own stories.

In fact, a team of Guelph researchers headed by English professor Daniel Fischlin has found more than 500 Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare’s works since confederation, and their database is still growing.

A Shakespeare enthusiast could spend hours on the website for the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), and even those who think the Bard is overdone will find its trivia pages worth a look. No doubt CASP will attract a whole new audience when “gamers” discover its new ‘Speare video game. When CASP developers tested its Flash technology with Grade 6 students, they had to be dragged away from the computer consoles after three hours of battling with the Montagues and Capulets.

It was Shakespeare who brought Fischlin and Sullivan together and laid the foundation for a unique partnership that allows U of G to showcase the Bard’s image, his words and his ongoing influence in this issue of The Portico and on campus during the Shakespeare — Made in Canada festival.