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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Wiliam Shakespeare, The Tempest Illustration, Obvious State

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." - William Shakespeare


From Act IV of The Tempest, this line is spoken by Prospero, as he compares his magical illusions "melted into air, into thin air," to the transient nature of our lives. 

Our illustration, inspired by his enchanted art, features the island as an inverted book whose tendrilled pages entangle with a sinking ship. When Prospero later abjures from magic, he promises that "deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book."  Many scholars contend that this was the last play Shakespeare wrote alone, perhaps his farewell to the Elizabethan audience.

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Exit Pursued by a bear, William Shakespeare The Winter's Tale, Obvious State Illustration

"Exit, pursued by a bear." - William Shakespeare

"Exit, pursued by a bear" is a stage direction from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale that is infamous for its hilarity and difficulty to stage. It's one of the best literary inside jokes (welcome to the club!).

Generally, Shakespeare limited his stage directions to the most basic instructions - [Exit Hamlet], [Enter Ophelia], [Dies] - simple enough. But in this particular direction, a lot of things happen at once without any warning or supporting dialogue. Antigonus has been tasked with abandoning the baby Perdita in a desolate place, but he's having second thoughts. Suddenly a storm wrecks his ship, and then… he "exits, pursued by a bear."

Wait WHAT? So, apparently there’s a bear in the woods, and it has entered. Hungry. Without so much as an “O help!” He is chased off stage and dispatched. How can this sudden deluge of violence and fur not be funny? How do you stage it without destroying the tone of the scene? Do you embrace the surprise and have a little fun?

We went with “a little fun,” and for this illustration, a bear materializes out of the woods without warning and "just because."

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Shakespeare There's Special Providence in the fall of a sparrow, Hamlet, Obvious State Illustration

 "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow." - William Shakespeare

From the final act of Hamlet. The entire quote reads:

"Not a whit, we defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all."

Augury was the ancient Roman practice of divination through birds (the root of words like "auspicious" and "inauguration"). To illustrate the concept of an invisible design as visualized through birds, we chose a "murmuratiom" - a flock of tens of thousands or more birds. Although each individual bird is simply reacting to the birds immediately around it, the murmuration as a whole becomes an organic, undulating chaotic structure, a living system with its own emergent will.

Even the smallest sacrifices are part of a grander design that we cannot fathom with our limited perception. Perhaps the "will of the Gods” that our ancestors were trying to divine was simply an emergent structure we might call a murmuration of humans.

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Shakespeare as you like it quote, The fool doth think he is wise illustration, Obvious State

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." - William Shakespeare

Here's to Feste, Touchstone, Lear's fool and the whole lot. The smartest guys in the room. And no wonder: you have to be pretty cunning to entertain the king while insulting him.

This quote is from the character Touchstone in As You Like It, who in turn is paraphrasing “the heathen philosopher,” likely Socrates ("the one thing I know is that I know nothing”). Although Touchstone’s words fall on deaf ears, his message - that the ultimate gift of knowledge is an awareness of the extent of your ignorance - is certainly not wasted on the audience.

True knowledge is humbling because it teaches you what a fool you were five minutes ago. Go through that enough times and you get the message: right now, you are the fool your future self will be embarrassed by. 

Shakespeare’s earlier fools (pre-1600) were played by the actor Will Kempe. Kempe was a notorious ham and improviser, which Shakespeare hated (and admonished in Hamlet: "let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them”). However, he was succeeded by the great Robert Armin. He played Shakespeare’s more interesting fools - Touchstone, Feste, Lear’s Fool, etc - who increasingly served as philosophical foils, using humor, music, madcap logic and twisted rhetoric to peel away the other characters' layers of self-deception and ignorance.

And  they sang songs about "cakes and ale." What's not to like?

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