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How We Almost Lost Shakespeare Forever

Shakespeare. You know who that is, right?

The most famous playwright and poet in all of history.

Britain’s official favorite-person-ever.

Shakespeare was writing during a time that English was dropping a bunch of its rules, and he leaned into that trend by using the language in ways it had never been used before, inventing a lot of our common words in the process.

Bedroom. Freezing. Distasteful. Bump. Useful. I’m not going to name all of them, but if you’re a nerd like me, here’s the link, knock yourself out.

He entertained peasants and royalty. During his relatively short career (1589-1613) the man wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets, and two long narrative poems. He was prolific, he was talented, he changed the way we use English much like Jimmy Hendrix changed the way we use the electric guitar.

Given all that, it’s only natural that his works are still around, right?

Wrong.

It’s actually very unnatural for us to have Shakespeare’s works. Of the man himself, we have zero portraits. He was a genius and huge success, but never commissioned a selfie. We have five of his signatures, and in NONE of them does he spell his name “Shakespeare” like we do today.

During his lifetime, his plays were printed in pamphlets so that they could be sold to other acting troupes. The paper quality was low, they weren’t intended for archival purposes.

After his death, two of his closest friends published all but two of his plays in a collector’s edition of sorts, using calfskin binding and fine French paper. “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” is now regarded as one of the most influential books ever published in the English language. We call it “the First Folio.”

One book. The loving tribute of three devoted artists to their friend.

The man was a genius. The work was brilliant. Dozens of people had memorized the words, and recited them for audiences by the hundreds. But without that book, the works of Shakespeare would have likely died with their creator.

The lifespan of a spoken word is very short. But that same word written down, or recorded, is immortal. Click To Tweet

That is why we save the story.

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