Titles For Shakespeare Essay

In honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday tomorrow, we’ve teamed up with Uncommon Goods to create a printable party kit to celebrate the Bard! (Oh, and we're reposting some of our favorite Shakespeare stories to get you in the mood.)

In creating some of the most beloved and enduring plays in the English canon, Shakespeare’s influence on writers can hardly be overstated. Some works—like 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King—take explicit inspiration from The Bard by adapting characters and storylines; others draw attention to relevant themes by using a Shakespeare line in their titles. In addition to creating new words and coining still-used phrases, Shakespeare wrote the titles of dozens of films and books before their authors did. 

1. BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY: THE TEMPEST, ACT V, SCENE I 

Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!” - Miranda

Aldous Huxley took the title of his famous dystopian novel from a speech in The Tempest, delivered by Miranda when she first sees new people arrive on her island. The phrase is later uttered in the novel when the “savage” John looks at a society consumed by its fixation on technology and hedonistic pleasure.  

2. INFINITE JEST BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE: HAMLET, ACT V, SCENE 1

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy…” - Hamlet

The famously long and complex novel, laden with footnotes and endnotes, has become a mainstay accessory for the hipster and literary masochist alike. Hamlet utters the titular line while holding up the skull of his childhood jester; perhaps fittingly, Wallace’s working title for the book was A Failed Entertainment.

3. WHAT DREAMS MAY COME BY RICHARD MATHESON: HAMLET, ACT III, SCENE I

“To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.” - Hamlet

Richard Matheson’s 1978 novel was adapted into a film in 1998, directed by Vincent Ward and starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The book and film, which deal with a man’s journey post-death, take their title from Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy. 

4. THE SOUND AND THE FURY BY WILLIAM FAULKNER: MACBETH, ACT V, SCENE V

“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” - Macbeth

Faulkner’s stream of consciousness novel about the Compson family in Mississippi is frequently ranked as one of the best works of the 20th century. Critics often point to the preceeding line in the Macbeth soliloquy from which Faulkner took his title, “told by an idiot,” as a subtle reference to his story’s narrators: Benji, Quentin, and Jason.

5. UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE BY THOMAS HARDY: AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT II, SCENE V

“Under the greenwood tree, who loves to lie with me, And turn his merry note unto the sweet bird's throat, Come hither, come hither, come hither:” - Amiens

Thomas Hardy originally published Under the Greenwood Tree, the first of his Wessex series, anonymously. Although Hardy believed the book should be called The Mellstock Quire (which would later be the subtitle), it was released with a name inspired by a song in As You Like It.

6. BAND OF BROTHERS BY STEPHEN E. AMBROSE: HENRY V, ACT IV, SCENE III

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother" - Henry V

Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 WWII novel was made into a 10-part television miniseries of the same name, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who had previously collaborated on the World War II film Saving Private Ryan. The phrase “band of brothers” comes from the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Henry V, delivered by Henry before the Battle of Agincourt. 

7. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN: JULIUS CAESAR, ACT I, SCENE II

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” - Cassius

John Green’s uber-successful novel about two teenage cancer patients was turned into a 2014 movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.  While Shakespeare’s tragedy resulted from betrayal and war, Green wrote a more intimate tragedy about young love. 

8. THE MOON IS DOWN BY JOHN STEINBECK: MACBETH, ACT II, SCENE I

 “The moon is down. I have not heard the clock.” - Fleance

John Steinbeck’s novel, about a military occupation in Northern Europe by an unnamed war enemy, was published illegally in Nazi-occupied France and secretly all across Europe with the intention of motivating resistance movements. The Moon is Down earned Steinbeck the Norwegian King Haakon VII Freedom Cross.

9. REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST BY MARCEL PROUST: SONNET 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Proust’s seven volume novel is famous both for its length and the famous episode involving reflection on a madeleine cookie.  Although it gained fame in English under the title Remembrance of Things Past (in translation from C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin), the literal translation of the French, À la recherche du temps perdu, or, In Search of Lost Time has also grown in popularity. 

10. PALE FIRE BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV: TIMON OF ATHENS, ACT IV, SCENE III

"The moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun…" - Timon

Pale Fire is both the title of the postmodern novel itself and the 999-line poem with which the novel opens, written by the fictional character John Shade. Although Nabokov points out that Shade titled his poem from Timon of Athens, some critics have noted a possible secondary reference to the Ghost’s comment in Hamlet on the glow-worm ginning “to pale his uneffectual fire.” 

11. THE DARK TOWER SERIES BY STEPHEN KING: KING LEAR, ACT III, SCENE IV

“Child Rowland to the dark tower came, His word was still “Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man.” - Edgar

This one also came about a little indirectly: Stephen King was inspired for his fantasy series about a mysterious gunslinger and a Man in Black by a poem by Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”  If there’s any doubt where Browning got the title, the epigraph of the poem is “See Edgar’s Song in 'Lear.'”

12. TIME OUT OF JOINT BY PHILIP K. DICK: HAMLET, ACT 1, SCENE V

“Let us go in together, And still your fingers on your lips, I pray. The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” - Hamlet

Philip K. Dick is most famous for his novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which was later adapted into Bladerunner—but it’s his 1959 novel that takes its title from Shakespeare. 

13. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES BY RAY BRADBURY: MACBETH, ACT IV, SCENE I

“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.” - Second Witch

Compared to Macbeth’s trio of witches, the mysterious carnival at the heart of Ray Bradbury’s 1962 fantasy novel only employs a single witch.

If you want to celebrate the Bard's Birthday in style, don't forget you can up the Shakesperience with one of our Shakespeare Soiree Printable Party Kits!

literature

Terry Nyquist
English 306
12/12/03

I think I am probably the last person on the planet to figure this out. When I first heard of Harold Bloom's 1999 book, I had no idea what the title meant, what it referred to. Somehow I had missed initially that very subtle nuance, Shakespeare, the title of the book. I was fixated on the subtitle: The Invention of the Human. "What a great, intriguing title, sort of an oxymoron, but why is it the title of a book about Shakespeare's plays," I wondered. Not flicker of light. Well, about three weeks ago, I figured it out. It took me that long. And then, of course, I bought the book, so I peeked inside to see whether Bloom did a little explaining, which of course he does. Nonetheless, it still feels like my epiphany. The following are my thoughts, not Bloom's, and if any of them are the same, he just siphoned them off the same universal thought collective that I drew from. The subtitle to his book did inspire me, however.There's a reason why Shakespeare is quoted in the Western world more often than the Bible, why his plays and poems are published in practically every language--even Klingon, apparently--why his works have not only survived over four centuries, but are celebrated, performed, hotly debated, critiqued, interpreted, adapted, referenced, paid homage, and studied by scholars and novices alike. Shakespeare invented a language to describe and convey the complexity of the human mind, our emotional interactions with other humans and our planet, and our quest to understand the meaning of our existence. In his characters, great or humble, a wise fool or a foolish king, we see truths about ourselves. We catch glimpses in a mirror whose reflection we recognize as our own or of someone we know, a celebrity, a person in power, a face in the news--or we just see an image that excites the vague itch of familiarity, somehow, somewhere. Shakespeare reveals the capacity of the human mind to house impossible paradoxes and the myriad riches of intellect and imagination.

As I was researching my final project I was struck by this thought. How is it possible after four centuries of scrutiny and analysis that I--or anyone--can examine one of Shakespeare's plays and discover a unique interpretation, propose an original idea? I found the answer in my exploration--the "infinite variety" of the human imagination and experience. If Shakespeare's works explore the multifaceted, convoluted nature of the human psyche in his characters--Cleopatra's narcissism, Othello's jealousy, Hermione's sorrow, Hamlet's despair, Lady Macbeth's ambition, Macbeth's depravity, Antony's empathy, Leontes' cruelty, and Iago's evil, to name but a few--how can there be a finite number of interpretations or meanings? Every person who experiences Shakespeare will attach his own completely original meaning, unique to his experience, and far beyond what Shakespeare himself could have ever imagined. The potential for original thought regarding Shakespeare's canon is limited only by the number of individuals exposed, the variety is as infinite as human personality.

Works

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. London: Fourth Estate, 1999.

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

. The Pelican Text Revised. New York: The Viking Press, 1969.

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