What Your Shakespeare Knowledge Says About You

Today's scholar can matriculate all the way to an MFA and never read Shakespeare. Chill no chill?

Hogarth announced last month that it will publish novelized version of Shakespeare’s plays written by famous writers. Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) will write The Tempest, and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) will tackle Hamlet. And, English writer Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) decided to pass up the traditional and beloved classics and opt for the most baffling choice yet: The Winter’s Tale

If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you know that The Winter’s Tale is one of the most confusing Shakespeare plays, and rewriting it will be no easy feat. So how does one write a novel version of a classic play, an entire body of work that relies on dialogue? 

In a recent essay in The New Yorker, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner says one must put on her psychology pants and fill in the holes in Shakespeare’s most non-tradiional and non-linear plays. And Winterson is just the gal to do it.

Haven’t heard of The Winter’s Tale? You’re not alone. Shakespeare wrote more than 150 works (that we know of), which adds up to about 900,000 words, meaning you’d have to read for at least 50 hours straight to get through Billy’s books.

Before you dive into the wild world of Elizabethan revenge, darkness, sadness, absurdity, humor, and tragedy, you might want to assess your Shakespeare knowledge. Why waste your time, you know? I won't judge you. 

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1. The High Schooler

You read the required Shakespeare plays and sonnets in high school, and sometimes you like to drop that knowledge when it feels appropriate. You find yourself saying, "Yeah, I loved Romeo and Juliet," followed by "I really looooove the Claire Danes and Leo version, too." You sound slightly knowledgeable, like maybe at some point, you might have enjoyed a few lines of Billy Shakes. And, occasionally, when you're on a date, you say you know that The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You, and She's the Man, starring goddess Amanda Bynes, are all super awesome Shakespeare remakes. 

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2. The Actor

You love his plays, and you can recite your favorite lines with a voice that carries. It’s the live shows, the costumes, and the theater that get you going. You’ve been wearing a Shakespearean collar (*ehem* a ruff) every Halloween since you saw Taming the Shrew at your local theater when you were just a kid. Sometimes you wear said ruff when you're doing laundry, and/or dining at local establishments. You pencil in a moustache from time to time. You are the person sitting front row at Shakespeare in the Park, dressed up so well, that people ask for your autograph after each show. You wear puffy shirts to coffee dates on Sundays, and people often stop to take pictures with you because you look like Shakespeare or Jerry Seinfeld. 

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3. The Wannabe

You know more about Shakespeare, the man, than you do about any of his work. Mostly because you think you lived in London in a past life, because you are that kind of aficionado who likes to tell people about that one time you went to London, ate the best Indian food, and took a selfie in a red phone booth. You also like the Beatles and obviously have framed the Abbey Road album and put it up your spare bathroom. Because you probably have some money, you have a spare bathroom, and you plan to take a trip to England soon. The next trip, you plan to visit Stratford upon Avon to visit Shakespeare's digs, and btw, like the man himself, your wife understands and forgives your for cheating on her and keeping an apartment in the city. Most of your Shakespearean knowledge comes from Shakespeare in Love; in fact, it sparked a fire in you to try to write some sonnets. Who said having a business degree means you can’t be a prolific poet? Shakespeare was perhaps a jack of all trades, like you, my friend. Just like you. 

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4. The Scholar

Nobody wants to fuck with you because you know more than most about William Shakespeare and his kids and wives and girlfriends and friends. You can recite the entirety of Cymbeline. Your love letters are far better than all love letters, either quoting Bill or coming up with your own lovely sonnets. You're working on a duel PhD in Shakespeare and Everything Else in England and America. You don't even mess with the classics, oh no, you are all about the deep cuts. People hire you to talk about Shakespeare, even the Folger Shakespeare Library where you give tours to shifty teens and really old people, and Shakespeare wannabes. 

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5. The Annoying Superfan

You're super annoying with your script body tattoos because you speak in a fake British accent and you're from San Francisco. You text in sonnets. You've invested in a Shakespearean emoji app, with all of your hard-earned money working at a Shakespearean-themed coffee shop. You've started a Shakespeare book club, and you meet twice a week to discuss your favorite plays. You're front and center for every local Shakespeare show, even when a few eighth graders put on A Midsummer's Night Dream at the local junior high. You've got mugs, bath towels, t-shirts, totes, and hats adorned with Bill's famous quotes. You're embroidering a pillow with we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep to have finished by Christmas, as a gift to yourself.