Legitimately I only ever learned about this quote due to Shakespeare. First of my favorite authors and the one that perhaps absolutely got me perhaps more hooked on reading than before. To be honest though, I don’t think getting me more interested in reading really took much. But Shakespeare was one of my earliest, favorite authors that I discovered:
Beware the Ides of March.
A Sooth-sayer bids you beware the Ides of March – Act I, Scene II
This play was a big topic in freshman year of high school. Julius Caesar is one of my favorite plays of his–and I read it for the first time probably in 6th grade or thereabouts. But I remember coming across the famous quote several years earlier in an online search for info on Shakespeare and his quotes. At the time I was hoarding quotes I liked, and this one–well, it was historically important; so of course it was in my list of saved quotes. Without the play I would have, for sure, learned about the quote; it was natural as a history lover, student, and also my burgeoning interest in paganism. Shakespeare just got me there far faster. I’ve admittedly far more interest in this play than many others. Even though I’ve only read it one time for literature analysis in school.
Julius Caesar though is one of my favorites of the tragedies. Not really historically accurate, but it’s good thematically, and I liked how complex it was. It’s kind of fun to debate who is the real main character: Caesar or Brutus. Because it should be Caesar, it is named after him, right? But if you analyze it, Brutus speaks I think like 3x more than Caesar (if I remember our analysis correctly). And in a lot of respects, how can you have a main character that dies so quickly? It makes no sense. I always kind of thought it was more Brutus’ play rather than Caesar’s.
But the quote – as a history student, this quote got thrown around quite a lot throughout the years. Puns, memes, anything at all where we could cleverly source this or allude to it, we’d do it. Especially in college when we’d pair it up with the English Lit majors, and we’d try to have some ‘joke wars’ with each other where combining literature with history. Admittedly this was somewhat low-hanging fruit, but still, that’s half the fun of it all, just having good fun with the quote.
Also, given that we’d usually have a ‘mid-term’ test somewhere around mid-March at times, we’d joke about the Ides of March in terms of studying for these tests. Usually they would fall a few days afterwards, but still; anytime close enough to the date worked well enough for the jest. Besides, I can admit to not the best sense of humor, kind of nerd-humor and bad jokes/puns are the usual with most of my friends. So this is a quote that I’ve had around for years, which still brings a little smile to my face every time it gets brought up.
Romeo and Juliet just annoys me to no end. (this is hilarious in overview though, because I read this first of all Shakespeare I got my hands on, and for several years I loved it, too; then I got more historical knowledge, and thus it ruined the “love story” for me) I don’t think there was a year, outside senior year, where I didn’t read that play from 7th grade up to 12th grade.
And there’s only so many times one can read that play without getting absolutely angry about it. It’s a tragedy, but nope. Everyone treats it like some grand love story–when at its core, it’s damned tragic and horrific. Let’s be honest–Juliet is 13/14. Romeo is an adult, so about 18. And he just becomes lustful and infatuated with her after seeing her, and she’s a little child with some kind of “first love crush”. And the two of them lead to the deaths of poor, innocent people (alas, poor Mercutio!). Barring the fact that I do totally understand that nobles did marry much younger back then–it’s still disgusting. And their whole lust/crush debacle utterly destroys the lives of everyone around them.
You don’t make a lot of friends when you point that out when in class discussions, though; not with all the girls in class all cooing about how romantic the story was. And if you point out how creepy it is, you’re not going with the regular “girl code” of teenagers, so obviously you’re wrong. I was a bit of a morbid teenager, and I was far more interested in the real tragedies of plays that we read, like Julius Caesar; so admittedly I did also deliberately stir up trouble with all the romantics in class. It was amusing to get them so angry and watch them splutter without being able to defend their position in the face of historical research. But I really despise this play now.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite of his comedies. It’s the first Shakespeare comedy I read; about 4th grade or so, and so I’ve got such warm feelings about this play. It’s also the first monologue I ever memorized, though nowadays I can only remember snippets of it. This one I got to read in “original spelling”, or, a transcript of the original English from the 16th century. It was one of those side-by-side versions, with old English next to modern English. One of my favorite things I ever got read:
If we shadows have offended,Think but this, and all is mended—That you have but slumbered hereWhile these visions did appear.And this weak and idle theme,No more yielding but a dream,Gentles, do not reprehend.If you pardon, we will mend.And, as I am an honest Puck,If we have unearned luckNow to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,We will make amends ere long.Else the Puck a liar call.So good night unto you all.Give me your hands if we be friends,And Robin shall restore amends. – Act V, Scene I
This is also one of the things that made me fall in love with Shakespeare and be forever a fan of all his writing. It’s also what led me to the histories – which is a whole other discussion for a whole other day. It was light, it was funny and it definitely made me want to read more; important points to make me want to engage more with an author’s other works.
But if we talk of plays in other forms – Othello tops the list. I saw the opera Otello while I was living in Germany, on a quick jaunt over to Basel. Well, I’ve seen both Rossini’s Otello and Verdi’s Otello. For me, Verdi’s was superior by far, and I loved that performance. The Iago from this opera that I saw was glorious, absolutely brilliant. Quite frankly, stole the show from everyone else. It was a great opera, and really fueled my like for this play as the best to be adapted into another form. So that’s been another love of Shakespeare added to my list.
Shakespeare makes for great adaption and research. Ballet, opera, movies…they’re all quite good–when done right. Of course there are also terrible adaptions too, or misses. But a good Shakespeare, well I’ll watch that a hundred times over. Even if I’ve already seen and read it a dozen; good is good. And there’s no denying that Shakespeare had some really great ones. I also like watching new play adaptions. I’ve seen Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet as plays performed by local troupes, and I enjoyed all 3 adaptions quite well. And he’s very quotable, which I expect is mostly to do with just how much his work has influenced, created, and become wound into our culture. Not to mention how there’s a lot on how Shakespeare has really molded our modern English tongue with his sayings, phrases, and words. All this is just to come back around and say that I love Shakespeare, and I really do thank him for bringing my attention to fun, famous quotes that I can use in daily conversation just because.∗
Links to Plays I Quoted:
Image: The Death of Caesar – Vincenzo Camuccini