Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stephen Marche's "How Shakespeare Changed Everything"

Stephen Marche is the author of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea (2007) and Raymond and Hannah (2005). He currently writes "A Thousand Words About Our Culture," a monthly column for Esquire magazine, which in 2011 was a finalist for the ASME National Magazine Award for Commentary, in addition to opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic,, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He received a doctorate in Early Modern Drama in 2005 from the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, and reported the following:
On Page 99, I look at the speech in Henry IV, Part 1, where Hotspur mentions starlings.

I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

In 1890, a pharmaceutical manufacturer named Eugene Schiefflin decided that he was going to release every bird mentioned in Shakespeare to the new world, and because of this speech introduced starlings to America. From the sixty birds he released, the starling population has since swollen to 200 million, wreaking havoc on the native bluebird and Flicker populations. So what I'm looking at on page 99 of the book is a good encapsulation of the book as a whole: I'm trying to see, in the lines, the power that Shakespeare had over the world, but not through the vague categories of ideas or attitudes, but in real material terms. Why did Shakespeare inspire people to do nutty things like introduce new birds to whole Continents?
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen Marche's website.

--Marshal Zeringue