Monday, April 28, 2008

Queen of quotable prose?

April 25 was the anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, and The Writer's Almanac paid tribute with this research tidbit that reveals another eloquent woman:
Some scholars have suggested that Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays attributed to him because he had no formal education. A group of scientists recently plugged all his plays into a computer and tried to compare his work to other writers of his day, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and the Earl of Oxford. The only writer they found who frequently used words and phrases similar to Shakespeare's was Queen Elizabeth I, and she was eventually ruled out as well.Shakespeare used one of the largest vocabularies of any English writer, almost 30,000 words, and he was the first writer to invent or record many of our most common turns of phrase, including "foul play," "as luck would have it," "your own flesh and blood," "too much of a good thing," "good riddance," "in one fell swoop," "cruel to be kind," "play fast and loose," "vanish into thin air," "the game is up," "truth will out" and "in the twinkling of an eye."
The reference reminded us of Virginia Woolf's essay (adapted from an eloquent series of lectures, A Room of One's Own, in which she looked at the question of whether women writers could reach the same level of quality as Shakespeare. Her conclusion--centered around a made-up sister for Shakespeare to make her example come alive--was that women of the day, even if so gifted, would have been denied the openings to grow their eloquence as writers. Check out the online version here. (Photo by mharrsch)