In common with many of you readers out there, I like to have a bit of Shakespeare up my sleeve -- just a few lines to bandy about when there's somebody in the vicinity that needs impressing: 'O for a muse of fire...', 'To be or not to be...' -- you know the sort of thing.
Now, of course, it's all very well to render a bit of 'We are such stuff as dreams are made on' when somebody needs to know just how cultured you ever-so-clearly are, and if a solemn rehearsal of 'Now is the winter of our discontent' doesn't have people quietly in awe of you then I don't know what will, but, as Shakespeare also wrote: 'Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.'
Sterner stuff, for instance, such as: 'I'll no pullet sperm in my brewage'. Now there's a line that doesn't get the attention it deserves. How often do we hear the theatre-going classes of America breathing new life into this Shakespearean gem? Found in The Merry Wives of Windsor and belonging to the inimitable Sir John Falstaff, it can be taken to mean: 'No, I do not want an egg in my alcoholic beverage on this occasion, thank you', and presents itself as an enticing prospect to all true Champions of the Bard. Indeed, show me a man that can with such vehement eloquence resist even the mere suggestion that pullet sperm be introduced into his beer and I'll show you a man who loves his Shakespeare, and doesn't care who knows it.
Shakespeare cowardice -- the tired and unimaginative use of the same old Shakespeare quotes -- is a growing problem. So much so, in fact, that you could be forgiven for thinking that the great man never even wrote: 'I will knog his urinals about his knave's coxcomb', let alone: 'I do smell all horse-piss'. In fact, regarding the latter, I can see no excuse at all for any true lover of the English language ever again to denounce anything to be mere, humdrum 'bull shit' when Shakespeare has paved the way for us so very clearly in the equine direction.
One person who is missing a glaring opportunity to champion one of Shakespeare's lesser-known beauties -- whilst doing themselves and their townsfolk no small amount of credit, I might add -- is the Mayor of the Welsh town of Monmouth. Now you would have thought that a line from Shakespeare's chivalric epic, Henry V, would have been the obvious way to welcome people to your town, whilst simultaneously highlighting its literary and historical significance, and promoting tourism. Quite why, then, the sign welcoming people to the Welsh border town makes no mention that 'There is good men porn at Monmouth' is quite beyond me, and can only be regarded as a massive missed opportunity.
Now I'm not saying that it doesn't require a little bit of imagination to introduce, say, 'Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese' into the after dinner conversation, and even 'Out, vile jelly!' is not entirely without the need for context, but what I am saying is that in this, the 400th year since his death, all of Shakespeare needs championing, not just the famous bits.
Yes, 'Stiffen up the sinews' by all means; 'Lend the eye a terrible aspect' if you like; 'Conjure up the blood' if that's what makes you really happy -- I'm not saying that I don't 'Stretch the nostril wide' myself from time to time. But let's also do what we can for horse piss and pullet sperm -- it's what Shakespeare would have wanted.
Right, where's that pen, 'Dear Mr Mayor...'
James Andrews is the author of Shakespeare's Guide To Parenting, published in the UK by Penguin Random House, and in the US by HarperCollins.Suggest a correction