Repression From Desire

Nothing optional—from homosexuality to adultery—is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate.[1]

Shakespeare touched upon this phenomenon in King Lear, when Lear reproaches the policeman who is whipping a prostitute because of his lust for her company:

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore?
Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her.
King Lear (Act 4, Scene 6) Continue reading


Faith and Porcophobia

‘There must therefore be another answer to the conundrum. I claim my own solution as original, though without the help of Sir James Frazer and the great Ibn Warraq I might not have hit upon it. According to many ancient authorities, the attitude of early Semites to swine was one of reverence as much as disgust. The eating of pig flesh was considered as something special, even privileged and ritualistic. (This mad confusion between the sacred and the profane is found in all faiths at all times.) The simultaneous attraction and repulsion derived from an anthropomorphic root: the look of the pig, and the taste of the pig, and the dying yells of the pig, and the evident intelligence of the pig, were too uncomfortably reminiscent of the human.

Porcophobia—and porcophilia—thus probably originate in a night-time of human sacrifice and even cannibalism at which the “holy” texts often do more than hint. Nothing optional—from homosexuality to adultery—is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in King Lear, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.

Porcophilia can also be used for oppressive and repressive purposes. In medieval Spain, where Jews and Muslims were compelled on pain of death and torture to convert to Christianity, the religious authorities quite rightly suspected that many of the conversions were not sincere. Indeed, the Inquisition arose partly from the holy dread that secret infidels were attending Mass—where of course, and even more disgustingly, they were pretending to eat human flesh and drink human blood, in the person of Christ himself. Among the customs that arose in consequence was the offering, at most events formal and informal, of a plate of charcuterie. Those who have been fortunate enough to visit Spain, or any good Spanish restaurant, will be familiar with the gesture of hospitality: literally dozens of pieces of differently cured, differently sliced pig. But the grim origin of this lies in a constant effort to sniff out heresy, and to be unsmilingly watchful for giveaway expressions of distaste. In the hands of eager Christian fanatics, even the toothsome jamón Ibérico could be pressed into service as a form of torture.’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 40-41

Beguile [Verb.]

To deceive or delude.

From Middle English begilen, begylen. Compare Middle Dutch beghijlen.

‘I know, sir, I am no flatterer: he that beguiled you, in a plain accent, was a plain knave.’ – William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act II, Scene ii.

Why Study Shakespeare?

While most people know that Shakespeare is, in fact, the most popular dramatist and poet the Western world has ever produced, students new to his work often wonder why this is so. The following are the top four reasons why Shakespeare has stood the test of time.

1. Illumination of the Human Experience

Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple yet profoundly eloquent verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity. If you cannot find words to express how you feel about love or music or growing older, Shakespeare can speak for you. No author in the Western world has penned more beloved passages.

2. Great Stories

Marchette Chute, in the Introduction to her famous retelling of Shakespeare’s stories, summarizes one of the reasons for Shakespeare’s immeasurable fame:

William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known. Homer told of adventure and men at war, Sophocles and Tolstoy told of tragedies and of people in trouble. Terence and Mark Twain told comedic stories, Dickens told melodramatic ones, Plutarch told histories and Hand Christian Andersen told fairy tales. But Shakespeare told every kind of story – comedy, tragedy, history, melodrama, adventure, love stories and fairy tales – and each of them so well that they have become immortal. In all the world of storytelling he has become the greatest name. (Stories from Shakespeare, 11)

Shakespeare’s stories transcend time and culture. Modern storytellers continue to adapt Shakespeare’s tales to suit our modern world, whether it be the tale of Lear on a farm in Iowa, Romeo and Juliet on the mean streets of New York City, or Macbeth in feudal Japan.

3. Compelling Characters

Shakespeare invented his share of stock characters, but his truly great characters – particularly his tragic heroes – are unequalled in literature, dwarfing even the sublime creations of the Greek tragedians. Shakespeare’s great characters have remained popular because of their complexity; for example, we can see ourselves as gentle Hamlet, forced against his better nature to seek murderous revenge. For this reason Shakespeare is deeply admired by actors, and many consider playing a Shakespearean character to be the most difficult and most rewarding role possible.

4. Ability to Turn a Phrase

Many of the common expressions now thought to be clichés were Shakespeare’s creations. Chances are you use Shakespeare’s expressions all the time even though you may not know it is the Bard you are quoting. You may think that fact is “neither here nor there”, but that’s “the short and the long of it.” Bernard Levin said it best in the following quote about Shakespeare’s impact on our language:

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me”, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness’ sake! what the dickens! but me no buts – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. (The Story of English, 145)

Shakespeare Revealed

It is embarrassing to read how little we know about the greatest literary genius that ever drew breath – William Shakespeare, or the Swan of Avon (as P.G. Wodehouse put it).

Shakespeare died in the century of Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal and Isaac Newton; and yet, we do not know when he was born, we know little about his private affairs, his physical appearance or personal convictions – to name a few.

It is therefore worthwhile to consider those precious nuggets of information we do know about Shakespeare’s life and his legacy:

  1. Quotations: According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English.
  2. Translations: The complete works of Shakespeare have been translated into 80 different languages, the most obscure by far must be the constructed language of Klingon out of Star Trek. In fact, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing have both been translated by the Klingon Language Institute as part of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project.
  3. King James Bible: In the King James Bible, the 46th word of Psalm 46 is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end of the same Psalm is ‘spear’. It is believed that this was a hidden birthday message to the Bard, as the King James Bible was published in 1611 – the year of Shakespeare’s 46th birthday.
  4. Satellites of Uranus: The moons of Uranus were originally named in 1852 after magical spirits of English literature. However, the International Astronomy Union subsequently developed the convention to name all further moons of Uranus (of which there are 27) after characters in Shakespeare’s plays or Alexander Pope’s The Rape Of The Lock.
  5. Birthday: Nobody knows Shakespeare’s actual birthday. It is celebrated on April 23rd – three days before his baptism which was recorded on April 26th, 1564. Tediously, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, April 23rd during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3rd according to today’s Gregorian calendar.
  6. Cardenio: We know that at least one play called Cardenio has been completely lost. It was credited to Shakespeare and performed in his lifetime, but – as far as we know – no copy of the text survives today.
  7. His Name: There are more than 80 recorded variations of the spelling of Shakespeare’s name. In the few original signatures that have survived, Shakespeare spelled his name “Willm Shaksp,” “William Shakespe,” “Wm Shakspe,” “William Shakspere,” ”Willm Shakspere,” and “William Shakspeare”. Funnily enough, there is no record of him ever having spelled his name “William Shakespeare”.
  8. Lexicon: Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language. Estimations of his vocabulary range from 17,000 to 29,000 words – at least double the number of words used by the average contemporary English speaker.
  9. Starlings: In 1890, Eugene Schiffelin embarked on a project to import each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works that was not indigenous to the United States. It is therefore safe to say that Schiffelin is responsible for introducing the Starling to the USA.
  10. Verbosity: According to professor Louis Marder, “Shakespeare was so facile in employing words that he was able to use over 7,000 of them – more than occur in the whole King James Version of the Bible – only once and never again.”

Shakespeare and False Friends

There are a number of words in Shakespeare’s plays and poems which are deceptive to modern ears. They may seem familiar words but, in fact, camouflage a quite different meaning lost to modern English. In Linguistics, these words are called False Friends.

A False Friend is a word which has kept its form but has strayed from its original sense (or was a completely different word) so that the modern English word is false when compared to the original sense or word. Shakespeare likes to extend the wordplay further by often deliberately using words in their older senses. Consider the following words:

Modern: someone you are in a sexual relationship with, usually illicitly
Shakespeare: friend

Lover as friend precedes the modern meaning by a little over a century, with both dating back to the Middle English period. Shakespeare, however, punster that he is, uses lover almost exclusively in the old sense. If you do not know what he means, some Shakespearean situations can sound quite awkward, to say the least. Lorenzo, for example, fervently puts a plug in for Antonio to Portia as ‘a lover of my lord your husband’ (The Merchant of Venice, III.iv.7).

Modern: a person you know well, love and regard
Shakespeare: (primarily) lover

Friend is an Old English word which appears in texts as early as Beowulf; it derives from the Proto-Germanic frijōjanan and is cognate with the verb ‘to free’. It started with the sense we know today, with a slightly extended application to someone we hold in regard or a relative. This generalized sense, too, is encountered in Shakespeare and creates a pun or two. Now that you know what Shakespeare has in mind, you are clued in when Lady Capulet tells Juliet to stop crying, ‘So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend / Which you weep for’, and Juliet replies that she is weeping for her beloved — not the relative, ‘Feeling so the loss, I cannot choose but ever weep the friend’ (Romeo & Juliet, III.v.74-7).


The acronym TLDR means Too Long; Didn’t Read. It is an internet phenomenon used to indicate dismay or boredom at a text which has been deemed too long to read all the way through.

Now, while one may decry a meme like TLDR because it seems to be the catchphrase of a couch potato with the attention span of a puppy, there is a good reason why we should view long winded texts with some suspicion.

“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit…” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)

Indeed, findings in the field of cognitive psychology indicate that a statement such as TLDR may not just be a blunt cry for simplicity and shallowness, it may in fact have a point.

A study on verbosity ironically called Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity – Oppenheimer., D.M. (2006) finds “a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence” in several language experiments.

Therefore, since it has now been proved that the needless use of more complex words where a simpler one would suffice has a negative effect, it seems sensible we should examine the crude yet useful mnemonic KISS meaning Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Remember the writings of the anthropologist Margaret Mead, “if you can’t explain yourself to a twelve-year-old child, stay inside the university or lab until you have a better grasp of your subject matter.”

“I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.” – Blaise Pascal

“The continuing popularity amongst students of using big words and attractive font styles may be due to the fact that they may not realize these techniques could backfire,” Oppenheimer said. “One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Feminism in Ancient Egypt

The Egyptians believed that joy and happiness were legitimate goals of life and regarded home and family as the major source of delight.

Ancient Egyptian society was sex-positive, and premarital sex was entirely acceptable. Love and emotional support were considered to be important parts of relations. Egyptians loved and respected children as people and not just as potential workers and care-takers.

The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Egypt treated its women better than any of the other major civilizations of the ancient world. In fact, women in ancient Egypt enjoyed many freedoms that would take thousands of years for women to enjoy again.

Women were regarded as totally equal to men as far as the law was concerned. They could own property, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court as a witness, etc. Of course, they were also equally subject to whatever responsibilities normally accompanied those rights. Women could even become Pharaoh in special circumstances.

The takeover of Abramic religions has had a disastrous impact on Egyptian society – Islam has been particularly horrible to the position of women. Consider the following comparison between the average life of Ancient Egyptian women and present-day Egyptian women:

In Ancient Egypt, man and women shared all activities including festivals, religious ceremonies and daily life. In modern Egypt, men and women live segregated lives.

In the ancient world, Egyptian women wore simple liberal clothes, nudity was permitted and female servant girls, dancers and acrobats went around totally or semi-nude for their jobs. Nowadays, thanks to the Abramic religious misogyny, women are forced to wear very conservative clothes.

Thousands of years ago, in Egypt, privileges were not uniform from one class to another, but within the given classes equal rights between genders. In present-day Egypt, the mantra of “Allah favoured men over women” is the order of the day. Modern Egypt is a patriarchal society dominated by men.

In Ancient Egypt, male polygamy was common in nobility, but unusual in lower classes. Interestingly however, women were partners in divorce settlements. Today, male polygamy is widely spread in all social classes. And only men can divorce, Muslim women have no right to divorce their partner.

Legal Rights
Women could manage and own private property, including: land, portable goods, servants, slaves and livestock in Ancient Egypt. And unlike women in most other ancient civilizations, the Egyptian women seems to have enjoyed the same legal and economic rights as men. They were regarded as totally equal to men as far as the law was concerned, and could conclude any kind of legal settlement in court. Nowadays, women receive half the financial rights of men, and the manipulation of the strict inheritance laws are not permitted.

Sexuality and romance were open, and considered to be an important part of life, references to sex and love poems were freely written in literature. Contrary to Ancient Egypt, in modern Egypt, sex is a taboo – transgressions may lead under law to severe penalties. Love is viewed as a weakness and is considered bad conduct for unmarried women.