Posted by: Lizzie Ross | April 23, 2012

448 years ago today

I think I signed up to post something in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday (check the Blogging Shakespeare site — I might be listed there somewhere). But what to post that hasn’t been written or said a thousand times over in the past 4.5 centuries?

Perhaps this: it’s impressive that, all these years later, his work is available at all. I’m impressed, at any rate. It makes me wonder if there were 16th century equivalents of Jacqueline Suzanne or Harold Robbins (remember them, anyone? anyone?). There must have been dozens of playwrights and poets back in the day, popular best-sellers who could pack theaters with performances of their latest works. And now we have no clue who they may have been.

I heard the other day that it’s mere accident we have anything by Aristophanes (5th-4th century BCE), who placed 3rd in a play-writing contest. 11 of his plays survived the millenia, but the guys who came in 2nd and 1st — we don’t know their names, we have none of their plays — not even the merest fragment. For a writer, it’s humbling to contemplate the vicissitudes of time. It used to be we only had to worry about worms, flood, and fire. Now, it’s also storage capacity, hackers, and perpetual upgrades that make old technologies unusable.

When I finally figure out how, I’ll be able to download hundreds of books to my e-reader, but what happens when the next generation of e-readers comes along and I can no longer access my out-dated book files? Don’t forget all the iterations of recorded music over the past century: 75-, 45- and 33-rpm vinyl, 8-track and audio tapes, cds  — which of these do you still have, packed away somewhere? I’ve moved on to MP3s, but this is the end of the line for me. Whatever the next version of recorded music may be, I’m done. And still, nothing beats live music — the aural equivalent of hard copies.


We have Shakespeare and Aristophanes and Moby Dick because the hard copies survived — in some cases by chance and others by design. I vote for chance over planned obsolescence, so I’m keeping my bookshelves stocked with old and new works. I like looking at what I’ve read, at shelves that reveal my favorite authors by the number of books under their names, and picking up something at random to find favorite passages. Try that with your e-reader!

But back to honoring Shakespeare: Listen to Mendelssohn’s incidental music for a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream (the scherzo is my favorite part). Enjoy excerpts from any of Shakespeare’s plays (I’m partial to Macbeth). In honor of National Poetry Month, copy a few lines from anything WS wrote and carry them with you to read (aloud or silently) as you go through your day. And support writers everywhere — visit libraries and bookstores, go to readings and performances, engage with language in all its forms. Enjoy the challenge of reading and hearing what others have written through the centuries about what it’s like to be human.

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