Archive | January, 2012

The Other William Shakespeare(s)

19 Jan

Shakespeare is a big name- probably one of the best-known authors in the English-speaking world (I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’d like to think he’s also fairly popular in the non-English-speaking world as well). But of course, he’s not the only William Shakespeare to ever contribute to humanity. There are undoubtedly many William (Will, Bill, Billy) Shakespeares out there who should be recognized in their own right.

The famous 16th century wordsmith wasn’t the only bard out there. How could history be so unkind as to forget William Shakespeare (1849- 1931), the renowned singer? Born in England (of course) and trained in Leipzig and Milan, he was a top-quality tenor. He also published several academic books on singing, including The Art of Singing and Sacred Duets: A Collection of Two-Part Songs by the Best Composers. (I wonder if it is difficult to find a publisher when your name is William Shakespeare. Do you think there’s naturally higher expectations on your writing abilities?)

One of my favorites is William Shakespear (1878-1915) -no E, sorry- a cartographer, part-time diplomat and total badass (pardon my language). He was born in Bombay, to English parents. As a fun fact, his father was also named William Shakespear, and his mother was Annie Shakespear. (Eerily similar to the poet’s wife’s name, Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, don’t you think?) He spoke at least five languages fluently, including Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. He joined the British Foreign Office in 1904 and became the youngest Vice-Consul in British India (pretty impressive), after that, he was transferred to Kuwait, from which he traveled to Saudi Arabia. From 1909 to 1914, he spent his time traveling around the Middle East, taking pictures, making maps, and making friends (notably with future king Ibn Sa’ud (name sound familiar?). At the time, Britain was trying to make imperialistic/militaristic headway into the Middle East, and they eventually asked for Shakespear’s help to get the allegiance of Ibn Sa’ud. This probably could have gone well if not for the Ottomans, who were also interested in total domination. A bit of a war broke out between the British and the Ottomans (mostly by proxy, with each side using local/native groups/allies to get at each others’ allied groups), and our hero Shakespear took part in the of Jarrab in 1915. His friend Ibn Sa’ud insisted that Shakespear leave the battlefield before bullets started to fly, but Shakespear refused to save his own hide while his friend fought. As a result, Shakespear was shot and killed. After the battle, the enemy forces cut off his head and delivered it to the Ottomans as proof that the British were scheming against them. I think this Shakespear might be my favorite.

Another William Shakespeare (1869-1950), this time an American (oh, the horror!), was a fisherman, inventor, and traveling medicine salesman. If you’re really into fishing, you might have heard of the Shakespeare Fishing Company, which was founded in 1879 by this guy. I haven’t heard of it before, but I’m also not a huge fishing person. Most of his inventions have to do with fishing (hey, follow your passions). His inventions include the level-winding fishing reel, which I imagine was enormously helpful for…reeling in fish, and a bunch of tackles, which I imagine helped with…bait? Catching fish? (I’m a little out of my depth here.) If you like fishing, I suggest you make this your favorite Shakespeare.

Never to be outdone, the sports world has its own assortment of William Shakespeares. Among them is William Shakespeare (1912-1974), an American football player whose highlights include being an All-American in 1935, throwing a game-winning touchdown for Notre Dame in a critical game against Ohio State, and being inducted (posthumously) into the College Football Hall of Fame.  Turns out other people noticed his name similarity to a certain famous writer; his nicknames during the glory days included “The Bard of Staten Island”, and “The Merchant of Menace”. Creative!

There was also an English cricketer named William Shakespeare (1893-1976) who played for Worcestershire (which I still can’t pronounce) and was a serious war hero as a pilot in WWI. He won both the Military Cross and and the Air Force cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”. He settled down as a cricketer after the war and played from 1919 until 1931. Fun fact: Shakespeare also made the first pan-European commercial flight between London and Athens in 1919.

The moral of the story here is that there are many William Shakespeares hanging about (particularly at the end of the 19th century- must have been some sort of fad) doing things other than writing plays. They all have their own independent interest and talents (Making friends with kings! Football! …Fishing!), and I think we should all show a little love to these less-known Shakespeares.

One of my New Favorite People

5 Jan

Quick quiz question:

Which great character of history was born in 1872, got his Ph.D. from Oxford, and is Scottish?

I’ll give you a hint: he’s Scottish. Also fictional.

Still can’t guess? It is my new favorite person, Henry Jones Sr., father of the insanely famous archaeologist Indiana Jones (aka Henry Jones Jr.) On the list of reasons why I like him: he’s a professor of Medieval literature! He’s played by the indefatigable Sean Connery in the George Lucas films (there are books, too, apparently). Sure, he wasn’t the greatest of fathers for young Indiana (“That’s the dog’s name!”), and he isn’t fond of the younger Jones’ particular brand of “research.” (“You call that archaeology?!”)

Despite their rocky relationship, Professor Jones the elder shares a lot with Professor Jones the younger, such as a love of history, archaeology, a penchant for dangerous situations, and the extremely foxy Else Schneider (spoiler alert: she’s a Nazi!) in The Last Crusade. I’ve always thought that I wanted to be Indiana Jones (probably driven by a deep love of archaeology and a deep love of Harrison Ford), but after seeing the amazing Henry Jones Sr. in The Last Crusade, I know that my real life goal is to be him. Awesome medieval professor who roams around Europe doing awesome research? Yep, life goal check.

According to various movie trivia sites and my own memory of the movie, his research focused on chivalry and the Holy Grail (manuscript illuminations and stained glass images). He published a book on chivalry (although in my opinion, the best real book on medieval chivalry is Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, most recent edition 2005) and ended up doing a tour of American academic institutions giving lectures (a rough period for young Indiana). Couldn’t have been all that bad though, since Indiana turned out pretty well (at least as far as I’m concerned).

A quote of his: “May those who illuminated this, illuminate me.”