There is a history in all men’s lives… and in all men’s books… and the usual destiny of histories is to be told. Here then is a short history of “Your Daily Shakespeare,” which is a fully-fledged Shakespearean dictionary, and equally “an Arsenal of Verbal Weapons to Drive your Friends into Action and your Enemies into Despair.”
Perhaps I should start by mentioning Dr. Johnson’s wise pronouncement that “Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” In defense of my blockheadedness I can offer some justifications, well knowing that “excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.”
If, for instance, any of the neo-cons, zio-nazis and other puppets in power were to call me a blockhead, I would ask them if they are talking to themselves in the mirror, or, more literarily, “Do you whip your own faults in other men?”
But qualifying as a blockhead according to Dr. Johnson, the undisputed 18th century prose-master of the English language, adds a kind of solemnity to the charge, while reducing the sting of the accusation.
Still, two almost concomitant events triggered the idea of “Your Daily Shakespeare.” First the salutary effect that a quote, said by actor Laurence Olivier in a movie, had on me at a time when I was particularly ‘down in the dumps’ as the saying goes.
I had the complete works of Shakespeare at hand, but no easy way to locate that quote. Yet, the match between the quote, the mood and the situation in the movie was so perfect that my curiosity was justified. That episode prompted me to read with greater diligence Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. I had time and opportunity to do so, as much of my working time was spent on air travel.
As for the second triggering event, I gradually discovered more quotes perfectly and wittingly describing people or situations I had encountered, both in my private and working life. There must exist – I thought – a Shakespearean dictionary matching situations to one or more applicable quotes. I started the search. This, by the way, was before the Internet, e-bay, Bookfinder, etc.
The legendary Foyles at Charing Cross yielded no results, nor did other well-known book-shops in London. I then began scouring old books and curiosity shops… until in a small Dickensian-style store near the British Museum, I came across my find. It was a book printed in 1832, by Thomas Dolby. The title said, “The Shakespearean Dictionary, forming, a General Index to all the popular expressions and most striking passages in THE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE, from a few Words to Fifty or more Lines – an appropriate synonym being affixed to each extract, with a reference to the context.”
Happy with the discovery, I was disappointed with the find. It is easy to criticize, but here the shortcomings were too many, vis-a-vis what I was looking for.
To start, the text was printed in font 5 or less, there was actually no reference to the context, the classification was too general to be useful – and, most importantly, it lacked an analytical index.
Oscar Wilde briefly crossed my mind, “If I want a good book to read, I write it,” well realizing that the spirit, but certainly not the substance of Wilde’s quote would apply to the as-yet-to-be-compiled dictionary. For, in Shakespeare’s shadow, I can be compared to a third-tier valet, holding the mantle of a king.
Still, I began to collect, distill, sort and write. In the meantime… I tested and verified the hypothesis that a good quote at the right time and place succeeds where other means may fail.