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04.13.09

What Would Shakespeare Say?

At a loss for words? Then do what Monica Lewinsky and Shaquille O’Neal have, and borrow from the best. With occasion-ready quotations from Bardisms, you’ll never be speechless again.

At a loss for words? Then do what Monica Lewinsky and Shaquille O’Neal have, and borrow from the best. With occasion-ready quotations from Bardisms you’ll never be speechless again.

Jerry Seinfeld once said that more people would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy at a funeral. If you fall into the casket category in this scenario, then Barry Edelstein’s instructional book Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions is not for you. A longtime director of Shakespearean plays, Edelstein is clearly used to dealing with theatre types, and his book, for the most part, is addressed to them. (The back cover features praise from Kevin Kline and Steve Martin, both of whom Edelstein has directed.)

On Valentine’s Day 1998, Monica Lewinsky placed an ad in the Washington Post to President Clinton quoting Romeo and Juliet.

The collection of ready-to-use quotations is tailored to fit every occasion, from birthdays to weddings to funerals, and contains detailed instructions about when and exactly how to speak the Bard’s words. Edelstein directs from beyond the page and assumes that his reader—like any good thespian—will jump at the chance to tap a Champagne glass gently with a fork, clear his throat, and begin quoting The Tempest at a crowded wedding.

If that sounds about right, Bardisms will more than meet your Shakespeare public-speaking needs. Edelstein boils Shakespeare’s oeuvre down to the handiest one-liners, urges his readers to alter words as the occasion demands, and disregards inconvenient context. Some of Edelstein’s tips for impressing friends and loved ones:

First, know what you’re saying: It’s important to paraphrase Shakespeare’s words into “modern, accessible, colloquial English” before you bust out your speech at a big event. Edelstein includes his own paraphrases for each quotation:

“Yo bullets! Listen up! Make all the noise you want, but don’t hit my honey!”
— Helena, All’s Well That Ends Well

“As long as you provide a warm welcome, you can have a fab party even without an elaborate spread.”
—Balthazar, The Comedy of Errors.

Shakespeare really is for all occasions: In Edelstein’s universe, teenagers respond with the words of Falstaff when critiqued for laziness (“I were better to be eaten to death with a rust than to be scoured to nothing with perpetual motion”). And quoting Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“I'll put a girdle round about the earth/ In forty minutes”) is a sure way to impress, not confuse, one’s boss on a first day at work. Some other occasions that demand Shakespeare, according to Edelstein, are: Evite party invitations (“Come, /Let's have one other gaudy night”— Antony and Cleopatra), warding off the conversation of a bore (“When shall we laugh? Say, when?”— The Merchant of Venice), and talking about climate change (“The spring, the summer, /The chilling autumn, angry winter change/Their wonted liveries, and the mazéd world/By their increase now knows not which is which.”— A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Welcome to what Edelstein calls “unregenerate Shakespeare geekdom.”

You gotta have rhythm: Friends don’t let friends quote Shakespeare without first understanding iambic pentameter. Edelstein breaks the concept down for us again and again: “friends ROM-ans COUNT-ry-MEN lend ME your EARS.” Edelstein also urges you to “explore” certain vowel sounds, stress antitheses in the passages, and get into character (sometimes).

bardisms-book-cover
Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions. By Barry Edelstein. 320 pages. Collins. $19.99. ()

Don’t worry about, you know, what the words actually meant: Edelstein says it’s fine to quote a Shakespearean psychopath to your lover—context doesn’t matter! He recommends the words of the notorious villain the Duke of Gloucester from Richard III on the occasion of an engagement (“Look how my ring encompasseth thy finger;/ Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart./ Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.”). Writes Edelstein: “All right, so this particular ring presentation is from a homicidal maniac to the vehemently opposed, still-grieving widow of one of his victims. So what? Your lover needn’t know the dramatic circumstances. The sentiment is what counts.”

Even famous people do it: Edelstein lists Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, Shaquille O’Neal, and Monica Lewinsky as celebrity Bardism users. On Valentine’s Day 1998, Lewinsky placed an ad in the Washington Post to President Clinton quoting Romeo and Juliet:

Handsome,
With love’s light wings did I o’er perch these walls:
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt.
Romeo and Juliet 2:2.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
M.

Maybe context does matter, considering how that star-crossed romance went.

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Liz Goodwin is an intern at the Daily Beast. Before arriving in New York, she wrote for The Tico Times and Fodor’s Travel Guides in Costa Rica.