Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fortinbras was a Mary Sue

3 things I learned (mostly about Hamlet) from reading A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1899:
1. Hendiadys are one of my new favorite literary conventions. Literally meaning "one by means of two," it's a way of expressing a single idea by pairing two nouns linked by "and." For example: "sound and fury" or "law and order." Shakespeare used 66 hendiadys in Hamlet, over twice the 28 used in Othello, the play with the next-highest amount.
2. Shakespeare was a voracious reader, and most of the ideas for his plays were taken from other, earlier writers. Hamlet is his least original work: the only new aspect was the character of Fortinbras. Fanfic, y'all.
3. Shakespeare did invent other things: namely, new words. Or ways to use existing words in new ways. Over 2,000 words are thought to have been invented by him, and he's also attributed with creating my given name, Jessica, for The Merchant of Venice.

I've been really into reading historical stuff recently. In addition to the Shapiro novel, I read The City of Fallen Angels, by John Berendt (which really, really made me want to visit Venice), Abraham, by Bruce Feiler (which really, really made me want to visit the Middle East), and now I'm reading Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, by John Ehle (which really, really makes me wish my grandmother were still alive, because apparently she was full-blood Cherokee and I'd really like to ask her about it).