To Resolve, or Not to Resolve…

Newsletter 006, January 14, 2022

Hi —

About the image above: I was acting in British period plays as early as high school, and Shakespeare has always been one of my favorites. So, when my wife and I had a chance to go to England for a vacation in 2010, one of the places at the top of our list was Stratford-Upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace. We spent three nights there, and used it as a base to explore the countryside a little, but spent most of that time exploring Stratford.

Based on this newsletter’s title (To Resolve, or Not to Resolve…) I realize you might be thinking that this is going to be about New Year resolutions. Nope. We’re already two weeks into the year, and (if you made any at all) I imagine you’ve either already broken them or are still going strong on them, so what would be the point in talking about them now? (8^)

On a personal note, I don’t make New Year resolutions myself. I found (that for me at least) they are a waste of time. If I discover a need to do something (whether it’s dieting for my health, or changing careers, or whatever), I just do it. Resolving that I *will* do it never works for me. I usually get distracted and forget about it, so I follow Yoda’s philosophy instead. “Try not. Do, or Do Not. There is no Try.”

No, the title above (which is obviously a play on the phrase “To be, or not to be,” from Hamlet) has to with resolving a question about how one person managed to so thoroughly influence the English language. It seems remarkable to some people that a single playwright, during a time when the theater was often under attack, was able to expand the language so completely. One way he expanded English was by taking words that were in common usage in the late-1500’s, and changing their meaning by using them in a different way. Modern English was less than a hundred years old when Shakespeare wrote his first play. There weren’t any dictionaries in existence, and most legal document were written in Latin, not English.

An example: Have you ever “friended” or “unfriended” someone on Facebook. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare was the first person to use those words as verbs. Before that, “friend” and “friends” were strictly nouns. In Titus Andronicus, he turned the word “gloom” into the adverb “gloomy.” The examples could go on and on, so I’ll stop there, but here’s an A to Z listing of twenty-four structural changes Shakespeare made to our language (including “puppy dog” and “eyeball”).

There is a great deal of controversy about whether someone else wrote the plays and whether Shakespeare was just a front man for a nobleman who didn’t want his name connected with the lowly theater. That debate will continue for ages to come, I’m sure, because there really is no way to resolve it. I’m perfectly happy to continue believing it was just Will and no one else. The Elizabethan era was rife with inventiveness, especially in language, and Shakespeare was a working writer. He had to keep coming up with new plays to be successful. After all, pressure is the mother of invention.

What do you think is the truth about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays? Reply to this post and let me know.


[“A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one.” Baltasar Gracián]

Just a reminder: If a Butterfly is now published. Check it out here. Thanks.


A sign displayed in the Globe Theatre, London

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