Words are the very DNA of literature; the tiny building blocks that make up the characters we love and cherish, the worlds in which they inhabit, and the sentences that describe every action within.

At least seven hundred words in the English language can be attributed to just one man: William Shakespeare. If words are the DNA of language he is the Lord of creation.

I hated Shakespeare at school. I was won over through my own reading, although the simple fact that he invented the expression ‘what the dickens?’ would have been enough. Mostly it was down to Hamlet. I love that play. I used to know the speech he gives to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act Two, Scene Two off by heart…

I will tell you why; shall my anticipation prevent your discovery and your secrecy to the King and Queen, moult no feather: I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appears no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so.

In Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the whole speech is dismissed by one of the title characters as Hamlet saying ‘something about losing his mirth.’

I’m currently working as script editor on a condensed adaptation of Hamlet for a friend who’s directing it at the big theatre in town. I’m pretty proud of that, and was flattered to be asked to do it. It’s a fairly standard production that does little to the original text aside from place the action in a more modern war setting, and cut out as much as possible in order to keep the play to approximately an hour in length.

I’m also writing a version of Hamlet which is little more than a low brow version of Stoppard’s play. It tells the story of Hamlet through the trial of Horatio, who is arrested at the end of Shakespeare’s play and charged with every death in the play. It’s indisputably a low-rent bastardization of a literary classic in which original lines are re-worked as lame jokes.

The bit I’m least proud of is Horatio informing the ghost of Hamlet that Tuborg is the new most popular beer in Denmark, to which Hamlet replies ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark…’

I wouldn’t protest too much if the ghost of Shakespeare appeared in my room, gagged me with his ruff, and then stabbed me through the heart with his quill until I die.

I hope it doesn’t come to that though.

I wrote a play over Christmas which is being staged at an arts festival in the summer. It’s loosely based on The Divine Comedy and features God as an alcoholic raconteur. It plays the concepts of journeying though Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven for laughs— and cheap ones at that.

And yet poking around and mutilating Hamlet somehow feels more blasphemous… more sacrilegious….

There’s always the sense with long dead writers that you can get away with messing with their original work without asking. Jean Rhys didn’t ask if she could borrow the characters from Jane Eyre, she just did. She won a literary prize for it, and then complained that it was long overdue and worthless.

You couldn’t exactly do that with living writers, in the same way you have to get permission to borrow any songs you want to re-work, or borrow parts of. I couldn’t really sit down after lunch and take the characters from The Da Vinci Code and place them into my own idea for a zany comedy.

That’s not a great example to use, as I’m really talking about literature.

How can it be that pillaging from the shit-sodden streets of medieval London feels more acceptable than playing with the characters from a more modern time?

I think it is as simple as the concept of ownership, very similar to the idea of songs entering the public domain. Except that with literature you have to wait more than fifty years for it to be okay. Hamlet has been around so long most people know the story without even reading it, or being conscious of where they picked up that knowledge. Its part of British culture, the same way I knew what a Tardis was despite being born the year Doctor Who was cancelled.

Essentially people were borrowing from Shakespeare before he’d even finished giving us all those new words… those fresh building blocks of literary life.

I’d love to ask Shakespeare what he thinks about all the thousands of versions of his work… particularly how he would feel about my own twisted experimentation with Hamlet.

I hope that he’d crack a wry smile, and enjoy and appreciate the affection that is intended. It’s not exactly the sort of thing you could sit down and write without a deep familiarity with the text, and a genuine love of it…

We sit there, the two of us. We’re drinking Carlsberg against out better judgement. Shakespeare asks me if there’s any mead, and I have to tell him sorry, we haven’t had that liquor here since 1869.

I begin to tell him about this play I’m writing, and about how it starts right after Hamlet ends. I tell him how as Horatio says ‘now cracks a noble heart: good night sweet prince’ we hear police sirens.

‘Police sirens?’ enquires the Bard, who died several hundred years before Sir Robert Peel founded the modern police force.

I explain to him as briefly as I can the history of the police. I tell him they’re officials who are meant to uphold the law.

‘People who stop people like you stealing my work?’ he asks. He asks with a smile so I can’t tell if he’s being serious or if this is that famous Shakespearean banter.

Slightly nervously I try and explain away any feeling of guilt and wrong-doing I feel. I try and explain that no, what I’m doing isn’t theft. I ask him to listen and to understand that I’m taking his characters and putting them in my own story. Then I let him know that what happens is Horatio gets murdered for every murder in Elsinore.

‘That’s ludicrous’ says Shakespeare. ‘Hamlet killed everyone. You should know that.’

I tell him that he doesn’t get it, and that times have changed and that now if the police walked into a building that was full of dead bodies and there was only one guy in there still alive then he would be under suspicion. Furthermore he would have a motive by being Hamlet’s sole heir as his friend, and thus become the King of Denmark.

‘That’s stupid’ he says. Shakespeare starts sulking. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘Tough’ I would retort. ‘I’m taking a logical approach to your story and using that to derive humour.’

He begins to look visibly angry. He crushes his beer can into an aluminium ball and throws it to the ground as he rises to his feet. ‘It sounds like you’re just picking holes and making fun of my work!’

As the Bard rises he draws a small bladed weapon from his coat pocket.

‘What the dickens?!’ I exclaim.

‘Stop. Stealing. My. Words!’ The Bard says through gritted teeth.

I panic and cry; this hypothetical chit-chat has rapidly spiralled out of control.

‘Is that a dagger I see before me?’ I shout, which only really exacerbates the situation.

The Bard moves towards me silently, thrashing his blade in my direction.

‘O happy dagger!’ I cry, still refusing to learn my lesson. ‘This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die!’

I feel the blade kiss the base of my neck, and few droplets of warm red blood blossom like rose against my skin.

‘A touch, a touch I do confess’ I announce, only enraging the Bard further.

‘For fucks sake! Stop taking my words and placing them out of context for comic effect!’ Shakespeare shrieks as the dagger plunges deep, raking over the topsoil of my flesh and planting the seeds of death deep into my leaking heart.

His face contorts into a cracked smile of evil satisfaction. My blood drips from his dagger like the droplets fall from an ice lolly in the hot summer sun.

As I lie there the blood pumps from my open chest cavity, the blood cells escaping like rats deserting a sinking ship. There is a darkness… a terrible, ghoulish darkness. The edges of Shakespeare’s body begin to slip into the shadows and merge with the black abyss.

‘You’re not so clever now, are you?’ he says, and it sounds like a distant echo… a whisper on the wind.

With the last of my vitality I break into a beatific, taunting smile. My lips twitch uneasily. I look into his eyes and I in a fractured whisper I say ‘O! I am slain.’

In those final moments I am left with the frustrated horror enveloping the Bard’s countenance.

The rest is silence.                                                                            

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James D. Irwin is a British writer based in the Hampshire countryside. His work has appeared online, in print, and on stage. He can be contacted at [email protected]

39 responses to “The Rest is Silence”

  1. sheree says:

    “God as an alcoholic raconteur”.
    Holy crap that made me howl my fool head off!

    • Thanks Sheree.

      I’ve been apapting the play into a sitcom, which has God as a fan of pornogrpahic magazines. It’s worth the risk of Hell to be able to incude a Whore of Babylon joke…

  2. Judy Prince says:

    Clever stuff, Irwin. You’ve punished yourself for stealing from the Bard—–and in a very Bardy way—HA! How about your taking the role of Hamlet in your next representation or rework of the play? I agree with your theory about his being mentally out of whack.

    On another subject entirely, I began reading and enjoying Julian Fellowes’ novel *Snobs*. He wrote the series *Downton Abbey* that I liked so very much. I wonder if ITV will continue the series.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Hamlet keeps cropping up in a lot of things that I write. It’s fun relegating him to a minor role. Also with a friend of mine and the university radio we might do an audio version almost purely so I can play Hamlet and then put it on my CV.

      What I’d really like to ask Shakespeare is what he got up to in the ‘lost years.’

      I’m almost certain that Downton Abbey is coming back, probably quite soon. ITV don’t make many programs that viewers AND critics enjoy, and they tend to keep on with them.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Irwin, do let us know when we can hear your audio version of Hamlet.

        And thanks for the news about Downtown Abbey most likely being continued. I had a good laugh from how you said it:

        “ITV don’t make many programs that viewers AND critics enjoy, and they tend to keep on with them.”


        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m seriously struggling to think of one other half decent ITV show.

          Okay, Midsommer Murders is awesome, but it’s over now.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irwin, I was just reading in the Guardian online about poet David Harsent, his latest (10th) poetry collection, *Night* published by Faber. It turns out that ” . . . aside from his poetry, he . . . has written a dozen thrillers under various pseudonyms as well scripting popular television shows such as *Holby City,* *Midsomer Murders* and *The Bill.* ‘Al Alvarez read one of the early thrillers, which incidentally is a pretty dark book, and said he knew straight away it was me. After that I used to send him the latest one and always sign it, ‘Same brain, different name’. Lines from the thrillers do get through to the poems. Lines in the poems turn up in the books.’ ”

          Here’s the URL for the full article:


        • Judy Prince says:

          A quick follow-up, Irwin, re Downton Abbey, from Wikipedia:

          “The first series cost an estimated £1 million an hour to film, making it the most expensive British TV show ever produced. It is also the most successful British period drama since Brideshead Revisited, with British ratings exceeding 10 million viewers.”

          The second series begins filming in a few days (March) and 8 episodes will air beginning in Autumn.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          They spend £1m an hour? It’s weird, everything ITV do somehow looks cheap. I don’t know what it is. Even when ITV and BBC cover the same sports event at the same time it always looks better on the BBC…

        • Judy Prince says:

          I don’t watch ITV and Beeb’s sporting events, Irwin, but I did, thanks to your tip, watch both the new *Upstairs, Downstairs* as well as *Downton Abbey*—–and was struck at *Abbey*’s more spectacular sets, costumes and photography as well as its superior writing. (I rather suspect that the actors in both series were excellent, but there was only so much the actors in *Upstairs, Downstairs* could do, outside of rewriting, to improve their lines.)

          Writing’s the thing! How’s yours coming? Your acting Hamlet on the uni radio?

          Next week, Rodent and I’ll be back in England. I might watch the current episode of *The Tudors*—–HOOT!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I know the BBC are making more Upstairs, Downstairs and hopefully they’ll do a proper series. The BBC just do that sort of thing so well, although I probably wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t framed around political history.

          That’s how cool I am.

          At the moment everything I want to do is on hold for a good while. As well as helping my friend re-write Hamlet, I’ve discovered I’m to direct my own play and rehearsals start on Monday. The hardest part is figuring out how to make the stage look like Hell with naff all in terms of budget, lighting, etc…

          It’s a god time to be back in England. The weather is getting better and better right now. I’ve never seen The Tudors, but I enjoy correcting people who insist it’s fantasy because Henry VIII was a fat man. He was a superb athlete in his younger days, and apparently wuite handsome. Probably not TV series actor handsome but… you can’t have everything…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Which play of yours will you be directing, Irwin?

          I love the idea that you’ll, with no money, have to reproduce Hell. Cool! You can re-fashion Hell into any look you like. What, after all, have been others’ depictions of Hell? Mostly, we get the leaping flames, glowering creatures…..but GB Shaw, for example flipped all those images and assumptions entirely around. Further, working with way less than you’d want or expect can be quite thrilling and freeing of creativity; e.g., the famous violinist in his earlier days who was sent to debtor’s prison, was practicing violin when one of his strings broke and couldn’t be replaced there. Years later, mid-performance at a concert, one of his strings broke and he simply carried on creatively without it, wowing the audience.

          Though I completely agree with your comment otherwhere in these responses in which you say there’s nothing to duplicate the high of Shakes’ words, nevertheless the plays that I most remember visually are those that use little more than spotlit characters doing and saying evocative things. Many of those scenes I recall from DaDa’ist playwrights’ works (Jean Genet’s *Balcony*, *The Maids* ; Eugene Ionesco *The Chairs*) blew my mind—-and had not required much in the way of sets other than judiciously placed lights, a couple chairs and perhaps a balcony.

          A few months ago Rodent and I went to Hampton Court Palace bcuz I just *had* to see where QEI viewed so many plays. There was a balcony for musicians, but the players had only two entrance/exits on either side of a wall about 8′ wide. And re sets for Shaksper’s plays, they were virtually non-existent (no props, no furniture, etc), actors simply walking in and out flowingly as there were no written separation into scenes. The costumes were always sumptuous, though.

          Have fun with the playwrighting/designing!

          I saw the first 3 series of The Tudors and found them quite entertaining, but too sex-laced Hollywoody with actors looking as if they’ve had breast implants, gobs of makeup and straight white teeth. Jonathan Rhys Davies (sp?) is H’Wood handsome and does a good acting job, I think.

          You’re right that the young HVIII was very athletic and handsome, well beloved by most of his subjects, but possibly due to a fall from his jousting steed, he became lumbered with what became an abscess in his leg. It gave him considerable pain and curtailed his athletic activities, but he kept on eating as usual (and even more so), becoming noticeably obese, having to be mechanically lifted into his throne and bed and wheeled around in a chair. Producers for The Tudors have said that that getting Rhys-Davies obesitized with rubber and foam-loaded costumery would look too contrived (like the series is NOT?!), so they’re going with his sounding as if he’s in pain and walking haltingly…..but still slender. We’ll see how it plays out. Some months ago we had quite a lively debate on TNB about Ray Winstone’s magnificent portrayal of HVIII. It led me to rent most of Winstone’s films (most of them too violent for me to stomach, but he’s a terrific actor).

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I will be directing a play called ‘Charlie Gheery’s Vanilla Life in Hell.’ It was written over Christmas in my parents freezing cottage.

          I quite like the creative challenge that a lack of resources brings, but it’s quite annoying that if we could just get red and white filters all I’d need to do is change the lighting. We can’t do that at the festival though.

          I’m not really sure how I’m going to do it, but I hope once rehearsals start we’ll figure something out.

          In my script the stage directions/sets are quite detailed because I sort of forgot where it was being staged. I’ve changed it to be fairly minimal now, and I’m beginning to think it might have to be something as simple as red/white rugs/table cloths/curtains to denote the difference between the two…

          It’s going to be a lot of fun though. Also hard work, but I can just about live with that…

          Henry VIII wrote Greensleeves, which was eventually adopted by ice cream vans all over England…

          Y’see, if you watched sport on ITV you’d regularly see Ray Winstone. He does adverts for a bookmakers and every ad break he appears telling you the latest odds. It makes me laugh, as he’s been in some pretty big films recently…

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Henry VIII wrote Greensleeves, which was eventually adopted by ice cream vans all over England…” HAHAHA, good one, Irwin.

          Word on Winstone’s adverts for a bookmaker is that he said the bookmaker guy is a mate of his—-I love his honesty! Ray Winstone could read a telephone directory and I’d love it; he’s that winning. I’ve watched his HVIII portrayal several times and adore it. Charisma!

          Excellent idea to use coloured rugs, tablecloths and curtains for your play. Regular (ie uncoloured) spotlights would be perfect for that, actually. Now you mention it, though, I wonder if you could hang a coloured “roof” or ceiling fabric well below but just above the actors to colour the actors and furnishings. That’d be cheaper and easier than trying to buy a glass filter or even hang a glass “ceiling.”

          Your play’s title, “Charlie Gheery’s Vanilla Life in Hell” is fun and wonderfully evocative. Will you be You Tube’ing it so we can see it?

          Rehearsals start Monday—yoiks! Now I also wish you could video the rehearsal bits such as your discussions with actors and struggling with sets and lighting—–kind of like your mockumentary.

          In any event, break a leg, Irwin!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I do like Ray Winstone. He doesn’t look like he should be a talented actor, but he really is.

          I’m glad you liked my tablecloth idea. I e-mailed it to the ‘producer’ and hope that it’ll be okay.

          I’m quite pleased with the title. I was made to change it from ‘Cocktails in Hell’ and went through the script looking for a suitable phrase. I found ‘vanilla life’ and put it in place of ‘cocktails’ and it kind of works.

          I am hoping that we can film at least some of the production, so we can share it with the world!

          I’d like to make a behind the scenes film as well, because I suspect it’d be a lot of fun. I imagine at the very least I’ll have something to write about for a while though…

        • Judy Prince says:

          You’re making excellent choices, Irwin—-“vanilla life” instead of “cocktails,” coloured tablecloth instead of coloured light filters—–and possibly filming part of the performance as well as bits of the behind-scenes rehearsal.

          I think Ray Winstone is totally handsome and not an egotist, but rather like the kind of man most women love i.e., attentive and affectionate and respectful of his woman—-he’s a real hit with many of the women I know, including Zara Potts!

          One day perhaps Rodent and I can get together with you for a great pub meal and chat. I’ll tell you the joke that Winstone told on a tv interview/talk show.

          Enjoy tomorrow’s rehearsal!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Thanks, although my tutor/producer should take the credit for enforcing the title change…

          I can see the appeal of Ray Winstone. He’s always struck me as a decent, ordinary bloke.

          That would be nice— I’ve never met a fellow TNBer. I nearly met Steve Sparsholt once, Cynthia Hawkins has been to Winchester but before I moved here, and Slade Ham and I have both been to the same bar in Amsterdam but a year apart… if you’re still on this side of the Atlantic come June you should come to the festival!

        • Judy Prince says:

          This is truly weird, Irwin. I was googling Helena Bonham Carter for her background of notable family members and asked Rodent about public schools such as her kids attend, so he reeled off names. I stopped him at Winchester, went to Googlemaps and saw that Winchester College was close to Sparsholt College, both I guess in Hampshire. Just now I noted you spelled Steve’s last name the same way as Sparsholt College, and I’d always thought he spelled it Sparshott.

          If you live in Winchester, Hampshire, then you’re WAY down south, both south and west of London, and the same latitude as Salisbury (in Wiltshire) which I’m quite familiar with; it’s where Rodent and I first met.

          Festival in June, eh? Tell me about it. What’s on? Your Hamlet? Your Vanilla in Hell play?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I think I got confused and spelt Steve’s name wrong. I do live near Sparsholt— I have a vague plan to live there after I graduate. It has an incredibly low population, poor transport links and is in the middle of nowhere. But it’s only an hours walk from Winchester. I have this strange romantic idea that I’ll rent a room or small flat there, get a dog, and walk it to Winchester anytime I want to meet my friends.

          I’ve just seen Helena Bonham Carter on TV. A guy on BBC news was saying she looked less weird at this years Oscars.

          I am way down south, and a touch to the left. I was born fairly near here, but this is the first time I’ve been based in this part of the world since I was about 6.

          I think i’ve mentioned before that my parents have place mats of ancient Salisbury… which, like the field near my house, has a military testing range.

          The festival in June is in Southampton. That’ll be my play, and also loads of comedians who were picked up from my comedy night. I think I’m right in thinking outside of the festival organizers I’ve contributed the most acts/shows in the spoken word tent…

        • Judy Prince says:

          I remember that Salisbury testing range, Irwin. It actually seemed rather quaint, sitting there in the gentle countryside.

          I’ve put the festival on our To Do plan for June—-sounds fun, and you know I love to laugh and would quite like to see your play!

          Why would you rather live in Sparsholt than Winchester? I dunno the difference, so am curious.

          Let us know how the rehearsal’s coming—-or, rather, *record* for us how it’s coming.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I like the signs outside countryside military testing ranges: ‘Do not touch military debris. It may explode and kill you.’

          That’s exciting. It’s June 4th, I believe. We have a live performance before then somewhere on campus apparently. The rehearsal today was farcical— hardly anyone turned up, and it’s all a bit pointless without someone cast as Charlie, who is in almost every scene.

          Winchester is lovely, and I do love living here but the thing is… for a long time I assumed I was going to move to London after university. I always wanted to live in a big city. And then recently I’ve sort of realized that I prefer peace and quiet to shops and cafes.

          I work best without distractions, nothing to drag me away from my computer. And there’s just something more pleasant about being surrounded by rolling green hills than choking grey chimneys.

          Winchester is located in a valley. From the next road up you can see the countryside all around.

          I don’t know, I just really like the idea of living in a small cabin somewhere with a dog.

        • Judy Prince says:

          ” ‘Do not touch military debris. It may explode and kill you.’ ”

          HA! Love that. Like “Do not put cat in microwave.”

          Re the farcical rehearsal, Irwin, it’s just what needs to be recorded (video’ed)—-and yet we’re always too frustrated and immersed in the moment to record it. It’s like now I’m in the middle of moving house to the UK from the USA, and keep thinking “Hey, I should photograph this place as we pack boxes and gradually strip it of its furnishings while we’re both dressed like rough live’rs and droopy-eyed from fatigue.” It’s always the crap stuff of events that intrigues us later but that causes hair-tearing at the time. For my 10-minute YouTube’d scene from “Feathers in Your Teeth,” I recorded each of 5 rehearsals, but wish I’d recorded our (actors and me) questions/explanations about the text, their characters’ motivations and backstory, positions on the set, movements, pronunciation, previous roles’ experiences that related to the current scene, and so on. Now I’ve only memories of all that which’ll fade fast.

          You say: ” I just really like the idea of living in a small cabin somewhere with a dog.” Sounds terrific. Reminds me of a guy near Darlington who recently got Council approval to live in the yurt (yes, YURT!) he’d built on his father’s big farm. It was a great-looking little yurt, all comfy and neat, sitting smack in the middle of woods and nearby river.

          It’s a complex thing, deciding the kind of place you want to live. I give you lots of credit for coming to grips with it. Typically, there’s the push and pull of opposites (big city action vs rural-ish peace) as well as one’s reasonable pragmatic planning for the future (where’re the best/most fitting-to-my-talents jobs?). But I think there are profound yearnings and preferences we have which don’t seem readily accessible to our consciousness. Once I’d been to Hawaii, for example, I was immediately ready to move there, but my son, who’d been with me visiting relatives, said: “Ma, after a month you’d be itching to be back in Chicago.” He was right. However, I came to loathe Chicago for the same reason I’d have forsaken Hawaii for it! Too big, too busy, too frightening, too much traffic, too polluted, too much anonymity (a biggie!), too many zero-degree and snow-packed winter months, too hot in the summer……and so on. Now that Rodent and I are settling into Darlington with a nice old house and all, I appreciate the city’s mid-size, closeness to the countryside, cultural venues for plays and concerts, university libraries, temperate yet varied-seasons climate, great historic buildings, vibrant town centre, excellent transportation (really close airport, great railway system, city buses, highway access). For me, too, the domicile is paramount. I need lotsa big windows to great nature views, room to roam around in and keep my books and files, a big back garden to escape to and view and keep me separate from neighbours……but not a place isolated from folks—-and great restaurants!

          Life’s a dance of opposites and of trying to find out what we feel we most need, then seeking it out. Same with finding life partners. And it helps to write about it and talk about it, as well as to think about it.

          P’raps we’ll see you in June, Irwin.

  3. Greg Olear says:

    My favorite word that Shakespeare made up: countless.

    My favorite individual line: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”

    My favorite play: Merchant of Venice.

    But the best monologue is “to be or not to be”, which I taught just last week in class.

    I didn’t know he made up “what the dickens?” I would have guessed…I don’t know…Dickens.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Wouldn’t that be comparative to you coining the phrase ‘What the Olear?’

      Which, admittedly, would be a masterstroke of self-promotion.

      • Then Greg and Dickens would both be attempting to replace the word “fuck” with their own names… which is strange, but indeed fantastic self-promotion: “Go Olear yourself!” “Dickens off!”

        If you could fit Smithson into a common expression then you’d probably become rich enough to buy an Olearjet.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I always assumed the expression referred to Dickens… I was stunned to my very core.

  4. Kudos on your play writing success. Sounds like you’re doing pretty well for yourself if you’re turning Shakespeare into a jealous wreck.

    I was never a fan of the Bard until after school, like you. I guess it’s hard to like something that you’re forced to read by bored teachers. I agree with Greg – my favourite was always the Merchant of Venice.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I like to imagine Shakespeare would be murderously jealous, but in reality it’s not that much better than writing a school play. But it’s all going pretty well… it happened largely by accident as well….

      School ruined poetry, Steinbeck, and a host of other great things. I’m not a big fan of poetry now, but I appreciate it more. After the torture of reading Of Mice and Men five times Steinbeck is one of my favourite writers, and obviously Shakespeare no longer makes me want to die.

  5. Joe Daly says:

    Good stuff, JDI! Thanks for making Shakespeare a bit more embiggened for me.

    I never put in the time to learn to appreciate Shakespeare’s writing style. I always read it under the duress of assigned homework, doing as little as possible so that I could resume whatever time suck awaited. I’d love to think someday I’ll give it the ol’ college try to open my mind to a real appreciation of the writing, but the odds are long.

    That being said, Shakes could weave together a mutha of a plot- while his writing often confounded me, when the plot was revealed, I was usually quite taken. Which made The Merchant of Venice my favorite- love the bit at the end.

    Congrats on the play writing- glad to hear the work is paying off.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      It’s rare to go a day now without at least seeing either The Simpsons or a reference to the Simpsons. It’s one of those wierd things that always fills me with joy…


      The weird thing with Shakespeare is that everyone thinks of it as high art and inacessible. True the language, what with it being Elizabethan and all, is hard to follow and a lot of the jokes are lost in the evolution of language, but Shakespeare was basically the Michael Bay of his time. Low brow, populist crap. It happens throughout history. The same thing happened to Dickens.

      But the reason those guys endured was because whatever their writing style, or however they were viewed critically at the time, their stories were awesome. The Lion King is one of the first films I remember seeing, and that is basically Hamlet. Most of the story is lifted from it.

      Merchant of Venice deserves plaudits simply for the ‘pound of flesh’ part.

      Weird thing, regarding plays etc. I’m having to direct my own play now. All this started just before my Grandfather died, and my script nearly missed the deadline because of it. I never saw myself as sharing anything that much in common with the old man until I went to the funeral and heard hundreds of stories about him running/writing/acting in theatrical productions when he was about my age.

      It was freaky, but lovely.

  6. Matt says:

    This has to be the best “murdered by Shakespeare” fantasy I’ve ever read. Kudos, sir, kudos.

    I was actually turned on to Shakespeare in school, in an inverse of the general consensus here. Mostly because several of my friends were actors, so I went to see their productions, and in the end, Shakespeare is meant to be seen & heard, not read. Great stuff. My personal favorite was always The Tempest.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I love your first line, which implies you read many, many ‘murdered by Shakespeare’ fantasies…

      There are few things worse as a bad production of Shakespeare, but there aren’t many things more inspiring than seeing it acted well.

      I’m really looking forward to seeing the cast my friend has put together for his production after Easter.

  7. pixy says:

    this is hilarious.
    one day we will have time-travel tube technology that will be able to make this drinking session happen.

    i would like to be a fly on the wall for that drinking session.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Thanks Pixy.

      Once the Doc converts the DeLorean I’m totally going off to go drinking with the Bard. You could come to. It’ll be awesome.

  8. Gloria says:

    Isn’t it true that people were not only stealing from Shakespeare when he was alive, but that he was also shamelessly stealing entire stories from other people (like Francis Bacon)?

    Your grim hypothetical conversation had me chuckling. And feeling a little sick. Nicely done.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      There are a lot of people who think that Shakespeare took a lot of credit for plays he didn’t write/stole credit outright from Marlowe…

      We’ll never know… not until Doc, Pixy and I travel back in the DeLorean. Want to come?

  9. Dana says:

    “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

    Some of these invented words work better than others. 😉 I bet Will would be proud of you, Irwin. A love of language and a wicked sense of humor are at the bottom of both your efforts.

    Also, God as an alcoholic raconteur (ha!) gives me a slight measure of comfort as just an hour ago I was discussing Jesus’ genitalia.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to know why you were talking about Jesus’ genatalia…

      Shakey invented a lot of cool words. It’s a shame, I think, that a lot of the genuine laughs in his works have been lost due to the evolution of language. I remember at school we always had the the copies with loads of translations so you’d read a ‘funny bit’ and fail to understand it. The you’d read what the words mean back then, or their equivalents, go back over it and it would be genuinely very clever and often laugh out loud funny.

      Having said that he does seem to involve an awful lot of cross-dressing as major plot points. Maybe people looked different back then, or were just flat out stupid, but I like to think I could tell if a bloke was really a girl in disguise. Especially if, as in Twelfth Night, it was a girl I knew well…

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