Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions

Overview

Looking for an ideal toast, quip, or remark for that special occasion—or the perfect pithy comment to enliven an everyday conversation? Ask Shakespeare!

A wedding vow—"To you I give myself, for I am yours" (As You Like It)

A birthday greeting—to me, fair fried, you can never be old. (Sonnet 104)

Party time!—"Let's mock the midnight bell." (Antony and Cleopatra)

The plays ...

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Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions

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Overview

Looking for an ideal toast, quip, or remark for that special occasion—or the perfect pithy comment to enliven an everyday conversation? Ask Shakespeare!

A wedding vow—"To you I give myself, for I am yours" (As You Like It)

A birthday greeting—to me, fair fried, you can never be old. (Sonnet 104)

Party time!—"Let's mock the midnight bell." (Antony and Cleopatra)

The plays and poetry of the Immortal Bard make up a vast repository of wit and wisdom, insight and passion. If there's an occasion that needs commemorating, chances are there are some lines from Shakespeare that will do the job right. Whether you want to "speak the speech" with verve and flair or craft an elegant toast, lecture, or missive, world-renowned Shakespearean director and teacher Barry Edelstein will help you find the perfect "Bardism" for any occasion.

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Editorial Reviews

Steve Martin
“A fantastic reference for anyone who loves Shakespeare!”
Kevin Kline
“Shakespeare always said it best, and after reading this accessible and insightful book, ‘I am sorry that with better heed and judgment I had not quoted him.’ (Hamlet)”
Ken Auletta
“No Google search can discover all of what’s in this book, which is a cornucopia of the Bard’s wit and wisdom. Barry Edelstein’s book is pure pleasure, a reference book for every occasion, a substitute for a game of charades, and a teaching guide for life.”
Jacob Weisberg
“Browse the delightful Bardisms to find a fitting quote for any mood, moment, or occasion. But read it through to learn how to enjoy Shakespeare and bring more of his language into your daily life.”
George C. Wolfe
Bardisms is smart, accessible, and fun and could only have been crafted by someone as passionate and knowledgeable as Barry Edelstein. It is the perfect book to help people put Shaksepeare, not up on some shelf, but in their everyday lives.”
America Ferrera
“Barry Edelstein’s passion for the Bard and sheer knowledge of his works is inspiring. Bardisms is an eloquent and enlightening book that allows everyone to feel like an expert on Shakespeare.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061493522
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Pages: 275
  • Sales rank: 646,673
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A theater director noted for his productions of the plays of William Shakespeare, Barry EdeLstein has taught Shakespeare at the Juilliard school, the graduate acting program at NYU, the Public Theater's Shakespeare Lab, and in master classes around the United States and abroad. The list of actors he has directed includes Anne Hathaway, Hwyneth Paltrow, John Turturro, Kevin Kline, Jeffrey Wright, and others. Edelstein lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Bardisms
Shakespeare for All Occasions

Chapter One

At First the Infant

Shakespeare for the Occasions of Birth and Family Life

At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.

It begins with caterwauling and vomit.

Such is the stark and altogether unceremonious verdict rendered upon life by William Shakespeare, the eternal, inimitable, and ineffable Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon.

So much of the mystery and mythology surrounding Shakespeare has to do with the beauty and wisdom of his insights into human nature, and the noble sensibility behind their poetic expression. Yes, yes, that sparrow's fall does indeed have a certain special providence about it, and, to be sure, the defining quality of mercy is precisely that way it cascades gently down, like rain from heaven. But a baby? Alas, what descends from a baby are substances resistant to euphemizing metaphor, and defiant to characterization by such felicities as "God-like uniqueness" and "heavenly rain." No, no. From a baby drop drool, spit-up, pee-pee, and poop. Not even the epochal mimetic gifts of Shakespeare could poeticize those.

This is why his description of the First Age of Man, infancy, is so marvelous. Instead of some lines-long rhapsody about skin soft as down, or dove-like cooing, or beatific smiles, Shakespeare offers only two gerundial verbs, two little words, of brain-addling noise and stinking bodily fluids: mewling and puking. There's nothing grand about them, nothing noble. The Sweet Swan of Avon is nowhere to be found. Rather, we're visited by a tired, even slightly irritated father, trying to goabout his day while Junior cries and makes. It's an image striking in its realism, honesty, and truthfulness, and in all its blunt indecorousness, it sounds a lot like infancy as we know it to be.

I think of this Shakespeare, the one who trades in vomit and caterwauling, as the doppelgänger of that other, more familiar Shakespeare, he of the whatever-named but still sweet-smelling rose, and the summer's day to which I'm not sure I shall compare thee. And if the latter Shakespeare writes poetry, then the former writes a kind of anti-poetry, a poetry of what's usually non-poetic, composed in an unmistakably "Shakespearean" language whose beauty, such as it may be, is its ordinariness, Shakespearized.

Such a language is audible in the odd prosody of mewling and puking. It takes a great writer to serve perfect mewl when the mental thesauri of mere mortals would run dry after shriek, screech, wail, and, in a reach, waaah. Making mewl the first syllable in a verse line is also a neat trick. It breaks the expected rhythm of iambic pentameter, which would place an unstressed syllable in that position, and places a stressed one there instead. This syncopation not only jars our ears in the same manner as a baby's cry but also sets us up for the one-two punch landed when the pattern repeats milliseconds later in puking, also accented on its first syllable. In its resolutely non-iambic refusal to go with the flow, this language suggests that there's no way this particular baby will be calmed. Then, there's the assonance of the "liquid U" in both words (the sound that letter makes as a long vowel: you), a pretty piece of poesy that suggests at once the cloying nasality of a baby's drone, as well as that apt exclamatory response to all things gross-out, ewwwwwww. Mewling and puking may speak well about cacophonous midnight meltdowns and hot regurgitation, but they well bespeak a writerly gift for marshaling an offbeat and idiosyncratic imagination to the English language at its most muscular, expressive, and bracing.

This gift is on display in all the Shakespeare excerpted below. Shakespeare on infancy may not wield the emotional heft of Shakespeare on love or pack the philosophical wallop of Shakespeare on death, but it lacks none of the linguistic virtuosity, uncanny verisimilitude, or heart-stopping incisiveness of any of the excerpts we'll find in the latter Six Ages of Man when we hear Shakespeare on the occasions of grown-up life.

Shakespeare on the Experience of Childbirth

The pleasing punishment that women bear.
—Aegeon, The Comedy of Errors, 1.1.46

Though never depicted onstage, births deliver quite a few bouncing babies offstage in Shakespeare's plays. Since he had three children of his own, he no doubt knew something about the birthing process, and it's interesting to note which aspects of it stick in his mind. This selection of Bardisms covers a range of childbirth experiences.

Why Newborns Cry

Here's Shakespeare's explanation of what's behind that piercing bawl that's every human being's first utterance.

We came crying hither;
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wail and cry.
. . . 
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. 5
—King Lear, King Lear, 4.6.172–77

How to use it:

  • I found these lines of great comfort to my inconsolable little one, or, perhaps more accurately, of great comfort to myself in rationalization of my failure to console her.
  • If you don't have a baby of your own, keep this handy as a nicely erudite editorial comment on the nearest squalling bundle of joy. (Just think how much cruising-altitude tension could be eliminated were flight attendants instructed always to quote this Bardism, Shakespeare for the Screaming Kid in the Bulkhead Seat.)

Some details:

This excerpt is from the famous "Dover Cliff" scene in King Lear. Gloucester, the king's old friend and counselor, blind, in pain, and despairing over his son's treachery, has come to Dover to commit suicide by jumping off its famous white cliffs. Lear, too, is desperate, driven mad by the cruelty of his daughters Goneril and Regan, and he's been wandering the countryside, railing at the world's manifold injustices. He encounters his sad friend and philosophizes with extraordinary insight and considerable cynicism about life and death.

Lear's interpretation of why babies cry is certainly a dark one, and strikingly modern in its bleakness and nihilism. It seems almost to belong to the worldview of the twentieth-century master Samuel Beckett ("we are born astride a grave"), and indeed, some productions of King Lear render the knolls atop Dover Cliff as a landscape as grim as that in Beckett's seminal work Waiting for Godot. Yet the image of life as a "stage of fools" is in its own way a comic one. (Certainly whenever I whispered these lines to my crying baby daughter, they struck me as sounding more comforting than ominous.) The best productions of King Lear capture this double-sidedness, this proximity of the funny and the awful, and create from the image of two broken old men pondering the dilemmas of infancy a kind of horrid laughter.

Bardisms
Shakespeare for All Occasions
. Copyright (c) by Barry Edelstein . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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