LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: THE BARD’S LEGACY PROVES A BREATH OF FRESH AIR IN A WORLD STEEPED WITH GREED
The greatest writer that the English speaking world has ever known celebrated his 450th birthday last week. William Shakespeare, the venerable Bard, has global brand recognition and a selling power that is unstoppable.
For example, Forest City, NC, aims to revitalize their economy with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in America. It’s planned to be the largest reproduction of the theatre in the states and will be located on Shakespeare Drive off S. Broadway next to Plaie House Lane.
I am not making this up.
At first glance it may seem like an absurd idea—a little community in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains deciding to build a replica of the Globe and use Shakespeare to draw tourism. However, naysayers can look no further than a small community in Canada, conveniently named Stratford, which in 1953 produced their first summer Shakespeare Festival in a tent. It is now the largest North American Shakespeare Festival with four permanent theaters, a six-month-long season and 3,652 seats that are filled twice a day. Add in the performers, technicians and administrators, and it equals a huge amount of beer, food and lodging sold to tourists.
Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp, “The Sound of Music”) plays the festival every year, and people continue to travel from across Canada and the US to see the big names and quality performances from the still unknowns (like Christopher Walken as Romeo years before anyone thought of “The Deer Hunter”). My point is: In 1952 it sounded preposterous that this very small town that was a little over an hour drive from anywhere would become a cultural center—but it has.
To put Shakespeare’s selling power into perspective: Stephen King, the man with the best publishing contract in America, is estimated to have sold 350 million books, give or take a few million. By contrast, Shakespeare has sold over 4 billion—yes, “billion” with a “B.” And that’s just what’s been tracked. It doesn’t, for example, include translations sold behind the iron curtain during the Cold War.
He may have the longest IMDB page with 997 writing credits, though only three “miscellaneous crew” credits. His first film credit is from 1898 for a short silent flick, “Macbeth.” Not bad for a guy who died 282 years earlier. Imagine if he were actually collecting royalties on his film work alone. He would be richer than the Koch Brothers put together.
Perhaps it is his royalty-free catalogue for which the world must be most grateful. Because of that, Shakespeare in the Park flourishes, as does Wilmington’s own Shakespeare on the Green at Greenfield Lake, which attracts people from across the region—especially theatre classes from surrounding counties. Not to mention, the Globe Theatre—the one in London—is taking “Hamlet” to every country on earth to celebrate the Bard’s 450th. Just imagine the money that will get spent in all the locales; the cast and crew have to be housed, fed, transported, etc.
In the land of collectibles, things change drastically. For years, when I came home from the bookstore in the evenings, Jock would ask me if I had found a “First Folio”? There are 40 remaining copies of the “First Folio of Shakespeare’s Plays,” which was published in 1623 and is considered to be the source when discussing his works. In layman’s terms: It’s as close to a “first edition” as we have for the Bard. The most recent sale of a “First Folio” went for over $4 million.
To that end, there are two rare-book dealers who believe they have found the dictionary that William Shakespeare used. Purportedly enthusiasts have found a copy of John Baret’s “Alvearie” or “quadruple dictionary,” printed in London in 1580. It is the right time period for the Bard and is heavily annotated by one user’s hand. Current speculations about the value of the book—if it is indeed proven to be Shakespeare’s with his handwriting on the pages—could be $100 million. The dealers have done very high resolution scans of the pages and put them up at https://shakespearesbeehive.com/members/view-barets-alvearie.
I’ve been drooling over them for days like a 13-year-old boy with a girlie magazine. Am I convinced that this is truly his handwriting? No, not entirely. But the possibility is incredibly thrilling.
Even those desperate for conspiracy theories that William Shakespeare was not the author of his own works continue to make money for his name. “Anonymous,” the film that posed the Earl of Oxford was the author, had a $30 million budget and brought in $4,463,292 from the US box office. According to IMDB, it was also a hit in Kazakhstan where it grossed 6,430,600 in tenge (or a little over $35 thousand).
The best part about the Bard is that no one owns him or his “brand.” None of the festivals, theatres, publishers, or universities can restrict his use. So, when spending money on something associated with Shakespeare, it goes to other artists, arts organizations, and printers in one of the most successful and unacknowledged communal ownership projects ever to hit the planet. People can sell and trade things with his image and his words, but no one can ever enforce or prohibit ownership or enjoyment of his work.
He feeds and undermines economies across the world, and we are all happy to be part of it. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes close to 2,000 words originating with William Shakespeare. Not a single word or phrase is copyrighted or trademarked.
What a gift this master has given to artists and audiences throughout the world, almost 400 years after his death. Not only is it a privilege to share his work with each other, but, even more so, that it continues to speak to the human condition and shine light on experiences.