In case you somehow neglected to mark your calendar, today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. His 446th birthday, to be specific. Shakespeare has been far better eulogized and analyzed than on some geek blog — we recommend A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess‘ amazing biography of Shakespeare and Harold C. Goddard‘s insightful essays for that — but suffice it to say, Shakespeare is a towering influence over all of literature and entertainment.
Though Shakespeare’s influence tends to be thought of in the context of academics and books, he’s also had a steady influence on geekdom. After the jump, five geeky ways you can bring in the Bard’s birthday:
1. Watch Star Trek.
If you watch closely, Shakespeare has an enormous influence over Star Trek: Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha has a very comprehensive list of influences over the years. Lots of Trek titles are Shakespeare references, Captain Picard loved to recite The Bard, and oh — William Shatner is a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
If you have a desire to overdose on awesomeness, here is Data performing Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1:
On a very different note, here is William Shatner rapping Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
2. Read some Neil Gaiman.
Comic and fiction legend and all-around good guy Neil Gaiman is a big Shakespeare fan, and some of the most memorable Sandman comics featured him. Sandman #13: “Men of Good Fortune,” which features the immortal Hob Gadling, may be my personal favorite in the series, and there’s a great aside there between Shakespeare and his sometimes-rival Christopher Marlowe. Sandman #19, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is another beautiful comic, featuring an otherworldly adaptation of the Shakespeare play; it won the World Fantasy Award in 1991.
3. Listen to Avril Lavigne’s “Billy Shakespeare.”
Actual 3. Watch The Brak Show‘s bizarre Hamlet episode.
Remember The Brak Show? The exceedingly strange Adult Swim spinoff show about a minor villain from Space Ghost? Well, it had a Hamlet episode, and it was really weird and wonderful and surprisingly faithful to the source material, culminating, much like the original play, in a lightsaber battle. (Yes, Brak is wielding his lightsaber with his hair.) We can’t embed the video here, alas, but you can watch it at Adult Swim’s site.
4. Beef up your vocabulary.
Shakespeare knew an astonishing number of words. He used 31,534 different words in his collected writings; one statistical analysis estimates that he probably knew about 66,534 overall.
If you want to feebly attempt to catch up, Freerice.com is a fun and addictive online word game that tests your vocab and gets progressively harder. And for every answer you get right, they donate rice to the UN World Food Program, so you can justify your online time-wasting on moral grounds.
5. Go, you know, read an actual Shakespeare play.
Easier said than done — not because his plays are as tough to read as many folks imagine they are, but because you’ll need to sink some time into it if you really want to get the most out of it. Speed-reading Shakespeare = kind of pointless. If you want to tackle one in a day, Macbeth is probably your best bet: It’s Shakespeare’s shortest play (roughly half the length of Hamlet), it’s action-packed (read: murder-packed), and it’s still one of his best. We are going to go out on a limb and say significantly better than The Brak Show, even.