Saturday – April 23rd – was the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer in the English language.
By the time he died, in Stratford-upon-Avon, he had written 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a number of other works. He was only 52, although that was considered quite a good run in Elizabethan times, when the life expectancy of the average Londoner was 35.
Shakespeare’s work has been translated into every major living language, and his plays are constantly re-imagined for each generation, bringing new meaning each time. It could easily be said that the themes and schemes and tribulations of his characters are just as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.
His characters, words, and phrases have seeped into everyday life to such an extent that they are everywhere you look. And nowhere more than in the chosen book titles of other authors.
BRAVE NEW WORLD, Aldous Huxley
The title of Huxley’s 1932 science fiction classic is take from lines spoken by Miranda to Ferdinand and his companions in The Tempest:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That hath such people in it"
MacBeth has provided inspiration for many other writers when it comes to naming their work.
Alistair MacLean’s 1973 novel, THE WAY TO DUSTY DEATH comes from MacBeth’s soliloquy when he hears of the death of Lady MacBeth:
“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
THE SOUND AND THE FURY is also the title of William Faulkner’s 1929 novel.
Ellery Queen used DOUBLE, DOUBLE, again from the witches in MacBeth for his 1950 novel:
“Round about the caldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!”
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s 1962 dark fantasy takes its title from the second witch in MacBeth:
“By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. [Knocking]
Agatha Christie used a several Shakespeare quotes and references as titles of her novels, including from that same speech in MacBeth:
BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, 1968
SAD CYPRESS, 1940, from “Come away, death” a song in Twelfth Night
ABSENT IN THE SPRING, 1944, from sonnet 98
THERE IS A TIDE, 1948, (later renamed TAKEN AT THE FLOOD) from Brutus’ speech in Julius Caesar
And her famous play The Mousetrap, 1952, is apparently taken from Hamlet’s answer to Claudius regarding the play the court had just watched.
Erle Stanley Gardner took the title of his 1956 Perry Mason novel THE CASE OF THE GILDED LILY, from a speech made by Salisbury in King John:
“Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”
Frederick Forsyth took the title of his 1974 thriller THE DOGS OF WAR from a speech by Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar:
“And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
I’m sure there are plenty more I haven’t listed here. What are your favourite crime novel titles taken from Shakespeare quotes, or do you have a quote for which you have yet to find the right story to fit it?
My own favourite is actually a stage direction from The Winter’s Tale: EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. I’m sure someone’s beaten me to it, but it’s a great title.
This week’s Word of the week comes from Shakespeare, appropriately enough, and is Anthropophaginian, meaning one who eats human flesh, used in humorous context in The Merry Wives of Windsor:
“What wouldst thou have, boor? what: thick-skin?
speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap.”
“Marry, sir, I come to speak with Sir John Falstaff
from Master Slender.”
“There's his chamber, his house, his castle, his
standing-bed and truckle-bed; 'tis painted about
with the story of the Prodigal, fresh and new. Go
knock and call; hell speak like an Anthropophaginian
unto thee: knock, I say.”