Shakespeare was born in 1564 in April, and while the exact date is not known for sure, it is estimated to be around April 23rd and both his birthday and death day are celebrated on this date. In honor of the famous bard responsible for our literary canon as well as a good chunk of the dictionary, some very common mistakes about Shakespeare’s works will be examined.
His plays and sonnets are famous, and read worldwide, but there are some things that are still misinformed every day:
1.) Hamlet and the Skull
Whenever Hamlet is referenced in pop media culture or even as a reenactment, he is referenced with two well-known parts: Either by the “To be or not to be” speech is referenced or Hamlet is holding the famous skull from the graveyard scene. Sometimes, these well-known aspects of Hamlet are referenced at the same time. The problem? They’re from two completely different scenes.
Hamlet does his soliloquy in Act III scene i contemplating life and death and suicide. The skull comes from the graveyard scene in Act V scene i referring to a late jester Hamlet once knew. The correct speech associated with the skull is “Alas poor Yorrick- I knew him, Horatio.”
So, the next time you see someone hold out old Yorrick and start talking about “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” you’ll know not to pay attention because you will fail your midterm.
2.) "I’m right here, Juliet!"
Romeo and Juliet Act II scene ii, we all know it well as the balcony scene where the lovers proclaim themselves to each other from afar, a lot like a metaphor for their love itself. Juliet’s line “wherefore art thou Romeo?” is and always was misinterpreted. Shakespeare’s own language makes it difficult to understand, more frustratingly so because it is a form of English. In this case, many believe that “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” means “Where are you, Romeo?”
The thing is, Juliet knows perfectly well where Romeo is. He’s been standing under her balcony the whole time they’ve been talking, of course. In Shakesperian “wherefore” means “why.” Juliet is asking Romeo why he is who he is, and of all people why is he a part of the opposing family?
3.) Juliet was a Woman
Okay, hold on a minute. We all know that in the Elizabethan time only men were actors and women were played by young boys. Juliet in the play was also not a woman---but she was a female. Juliet is actually just a kid.
More specifically, Juliet is only thirteen years old—not quite fourteen yet—as revealed by her mother and nurse in Act I scene iii. A little young to be flirting with romantic predicaments? Of course, in Shakespeare’s time it was very common for women—ahem, girls—to marry that young because life spans were shorter due to diseases and many babies did not even survive infancy. In movies, art, and plays nowadays Juliet is depicted as a voluptuous twenty-something with long-flowing hair and the libido of a succubus. For obvious time difference and legal reasons you won’t see a pig-tailed Jr. High girl cast as Juliet alongside a twenty or thirty-something Romeo today.
4.) Sonnet #18 is about a Romantic Lover
One might think differently about Shakespeare when they find out his most famous sonnet, the one that starts off “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—was actually written about a man.
Line 6 reads “And often is his gold complexion dimm’d.” The way the poem reads it sounds like Shakespeare is addressing a romantic lover, the way the individual is being compared to the beauty of the summer’s day—and yet pointed out that even the season has its flaws and there is no such thing as perfection, even in nature. This is not supposed to be a romantic poem—but rather a platonic admiration, appreciation, and respect for an individual. At least this is what is believed since there were no concrete allusions to Shakespeare being a homosexual, and especially since he had a wife and children, but then again we are not saying it is not a possibility. His language is so beautiful at describing a person it is easy to see how one can mistake it for a ballad about the love of his life.
5.) Shakespeare Wrote the Epic Poem “Beowulf”
No, no and no. The bard was born in the 16th century. Beowulf was written sometime between the 8th and 10th century. Beowulf is also mistaken to be a play or novel, but it is just one long poem. Basically, this epic Anglo-Saxon poem is so old that no one knows for sure who wrote it. So, out of doubt, some think it belongs to a famous name and not to mention a name that is already famous for literary works. It would be easy to give Shakespeare this credit, but this would not fit in with his collection.