How to Use Shakespeare as an Excuse in Modern Life

Shakespeare is not just a mine of useful quotes and creative insults. He’s been used as an excuse too. When I covered Gothic literature in October 2021, I pointed out how Horace Walpole used Shakespeare as his reason for writing The Castle of Otranto, claiming that Shakespeare was closest to nature and art should imitate nature. 

This got me thinking: what other things can Shakespeare be used as justification for? 

Unsurprisingly, I came up with quite a list. Here are the five which I think have the greatest applicability whether you’re a writer, reader, solopreneur, or business owner: 

  • Dropping off the radar
  • Being tactfully ambiguous
  • Insisting on the physical act of writing
  • Making up your own words
  • Never quite leaving home

Dropping off the radar for a while

I’m thinking specifically of the so-called “Lost Years” . Few specifics about Shakespeare’s life are known for certain in the first place. But “The Lost Years” are when Shakespeare drops off the radar entirely. 

We simply don’t know where he was, what he was doing, or who he was with. All we know is that by 1592 he’s in London and writing plays. What happened between 1585 and 1592? No one knows. More importantly, it doesn’t seem to matter much. 

As frustrating as those lost years are for scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts, they’re a boon for the working world because see, if even the most widely regarded writer to ever life “unplugged” for a while, then so can we. 

What does unplugging look like for us? 

  • Taking a career break
  • Taking a break from social media to work on ourselves
  • Turning off our phones to spend quality time with other people or ourselves
  • Take a chance to perform self-care 

Our lives today are more public than ever. Now, we don’t just live with the weight of opinion within our own corner of the world. We live with the weight of opinions across the globe if we’re actively posting and self-publishing. 

So, if you need to take some time for yourself but you still feel guilt for doing so, you have the perfect justification: Shakespeare dropped off the radar too. 

Be tactfully ambiguous in your opinions

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

Emily Dickenson

This seems counterintuitive in an age where “authenticity” is touted as one of the great virtues. Shouldn’t we just be honest all the time?

Well, that only works in a society where cancel culture doesn’t also exist. 

Which is never. Even Shakespeare knew that. You could be “cancelled” in Elizabethan England for even being suspected of treason. Or if you got on the wrong side of the Puritans. Who, by the way, DID cancel Shakespeare posthumously in 1642 when they banned plays. So did the Chinese Communist government in 1966. 

But, if you look at Shakespeare himself, can you tell what he did and did not believe just from his writings? Probably not. Can you pin down his politics, religion, or social opinions? 

You can make conjectures, but no, you can’t. He was in a highly censorious society too. He knew what he could and could not write. 

Perhaps we should learn the same.  

Not choosing technology

One of my favorite things to say when technology fails is “if pen and paper were good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for the rest of us.” 

Technology is a wonderful tool. It keeps us connected, allows us to work in ways which were only pipe dreams before, and creates greater opportunity for those who are differently abled to live and support themselves in society. 

But computers crash. If you lose electricity, there goes most of your technology. The internet doesn’t always connect. Systems get hacked, and data can get lost. 

So, what’s your back-up? Pen and paper, speech, signs, symbols. All old-fashioned and only needing materials to form (like your hands) or draw. In other words, the only way to communicate is by creating. Which means we all need a means of creation without technology. 

There comes a time and a place, where it just feels good to physically work whether that’s writing with a pen or pencil, drawing, painting, knitting, baking, or something which doesn’t require an internet connection and computer screen. 

You learn and connect differently when you must physically do something. 

Technology is a wonderful thing, and it has opened more doors than some can even imagine—particularly for the differently abled. But it doesn’t negate the need to nurture the old-fashioned ways of creating too. 

Making up your own words

This is still controversial. Purists will argue that you cannot make up words and then enforce it when it suits them. Of course, because when you’re a keyboard warrior, policy maker, provocateur, or a reactionary, you live for creating drama. 

Shakespeare didn’t care two straws about that. He ended inventing some of the words we use every day

Consider some of the words which have come into being in the past couple of decades: 

  • Adulting
  • Tweeting
  • Selfie
  • Instagrammer
  • Influencer

These are now as commonplace as the words Shakespeare invented. Made up your own word? Share it in the comments below! After all, if Shakespeare can do it…

Never quite leaving home shouldn’t be stigmatized but celebrated

Shakespeare was born, raised, married, and buried within the same country town. He may have lived in London, but his life was in Stratford too. And, as recent scholarship has suggested, he made more frequent trips back to Stratford than was previously thought. 

One of the favorite jabs aimed at Millennials is that we’re either still living at home or waited longer to move out on our own. I am in the “still living at home” category. Even today, it’s still painted as being abnormal and possibly unhealthy. 

But is it really? When I talk to my mother about this, she recalls a time when children lived at home until they were married off, even if they were sons. Sometimes not even then. In fact, if you look at historical trends, leaving the family home wasn’t considered normal until the mid-20th century or so. 

Pew Research even shows that more U. S. adults than ever are living in multigenerational homes—almost 18% of the population. 

So why remaining in the family home still stigmatized? 

Shakespeare never really left his hometown. He owned his childhood home at the time of his death. Presumably, his family lived there all under one roof until he bought New Place. That was natural and normal in those days. 

Even if you consider the fact he worked in London, there is evidence which suggests he visited home more than was previously thought. Money could be made in London which couldn’t be made in Stratford. But home, apparently, really was Stratford for him. 

In other words, he never moved out—not really. When he retired, where did he go? Home to Stratford. When he died, where did he want to be buried? Stratford. Home. 

So, if you are in a multi-generational home and you get the “why don’t you move out” speech when you’re all happily settled, you have the ultimate answer. 

“What? It worked for Shakespeare.” 

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