BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
Brush up your Shakespeare / Start quoting him now / Brush up your Shakespeare / And the women you will wow –– Cole Porter, from his song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate”
On this 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare (born April 23, 1564) I want to wish the Bard a happy birthday. It’s only logical from an English major!
NPR has a very good feature in its website reminding us that if ever there was a “word-nerd,” the boy from Stratford-Upon-Avon, England was one of the best: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/23/305951480/household-words-shakespeares-end…
If you say “what the dickens!” instead of “what the devil,” you’re following the Bard’s example.
The article, by Eleanor Kagan and Anabel Bacon, points out that Shakespeare was among the first, if not the first, to use the phrases “hot-blooded” (In Merry Wives of Windsor, V.v.2) and “cold-blooded” (King John, III.i.49-50).
“Fashionable,” as in “For time is like a fashionable host,/That slightly shakes his parting guest by th’hand” (“Troilus and Cressida, III.iii.159-60) was a coinage from the pen of Shakespeare.
“Salad days” doesn’t refer to a Cobb salad, the story points, out, quoting Michael Macrone, author of the book “Brush Up Your Shakespeare!”
So was “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, / To say as I said then!” (Antony and Cleopatra, I.v.73-75)
By “salad days” Cleopatra refers to a time not when she had to eat salad, but when she was like salad. From the fifteenth century on, “salad” could mean any raw vegetable; metaphorically, the young Cleopatra was as “green” (inexperienced) and “cold” (passionless) as a piece of lettuce. At least, this is how she now explains her youthful affair with Julius Caesar…she portrays her “salad days” as a time of unreflective indulgence.
The NPR feature is a wonderful brief introduction to the Bard’s inventive use of the English language, perhaps our greatest inheritance from the mother country. I was surprised a few years ago to find that many English majors today aren’t required to take a semester-long course in the greatest dramatist and poet in our language, as I did as an English major at Northern Illinois University from 1957-1961.
Macrone used the title of a song from Cole Porter’s Broadway musical “Kiss Me Kate” for his book title. The musical was adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, involves a cast and director creating a musical version of the play, and is one of my favorite musicals. Think of the marvelous songs Porter wrote (words and music) for this 1948 musical: “Another Op’nin’, Another Show”, “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot”, “Kiss Me, Kate,” “From This Moment On,” and, of course, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”