Skip To Content
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Librarian in Residence: “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit”

By Jessica Green on February 23, 2016

Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.

“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit” – Celebrating Shakespeare 400

Mention “Shakespeare” to most people and they are transported back to their high school English class where an overenthusiastic teacher is attempting to instill a love of plays in language that barely resembles English. Despite this sometimes hazardous exposure, it has been four hundred years since William Shakespeare wrote his plays, which remain some of the best known works in the English language. In recognition of this, organisations all over the globe have joined together to celebrate Shakespeare 400 with performances, events, and all sorts of creative activities.

Here in Ottawa, the University of Ottawa has taken the lead and is featuring all sorts of events leading up to April 23 which is both Shakespeare’s birthday and death day. You can catch a flick at the Bytowne where they are featuring all kinds of versions of the plays, from live recordings to big budget Hollywood efforts. And when summer rolls around, A Company of Fools will be touring the capital with their version of Pericles.

At OPL, we have no lack of books about Shakespeare and the plays. I doubt there is another author that has had so much ink spilled over so many facets of his life and works. For an entertaining introduction, Bill Bryson offers a funny and revealing look at how little we indeed know about Shakespeare the man. If a dense historical tome is more your speed, Peter Ackroyd digs down into Tudor times in his biography of Shakespeare. You can even learn about the words that Shakespeare coined into the English Language and remain in use by reading Jane Sutcliffe’s new book.

If those books are far too serious for your tastes, why not borrow the Shakespeare Insult Generator? You too can call friends and foes alike “currish fen-sucked moldwarps” or “knotty-pated finch eggs”.  There’s always Ian Doescher who has redone the Star Wars movies in Shakespearean language, so you can read “Verily a New Hope”, “the Empire Striketh Back”, or “The Jedi Doth Return” at your leisure. Interested in Shakespeare as a vampire? How about the Fool from Twelfth Night as a detective/spy? Or the Fool from King Lear in hilarious adventures with some familiar characters, scenes, and settings?

As you can see, I have barely scratched the surface of what is out there in terms of books, DVDs, performances and all other things Shakespeare. Make sure you enjoy some of the finest wordplay in the English language during this 400th anniversary.

Quick Picks

  • The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley: Set during the 16thCentury in the Holy Roman Empire, Dismas, the relic master, tries to fob off a fake Shroud of Turin on his patrons and has to steal the real shroud as penance. It results in a pretty funny caper story involving mercenaries, Albrecht Durer, and saint’s relics.
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Rosemary joins the crew of the Wayfarer, a ship that builds hyperspace tunnels in order to escape her past. It turns out she’s not the only crew member with something to hide, and as they travel to a mysterious planet, many of the secrets are revealed . I really enjoyed this book and hope there’s a sequel in the works, as the characters are fantastic.
  • The Man Who Wasn’t There by Anil Ananthaswamy: This is very much in the spirit of Oliver Sacks where Anathaswamy looks at some unusual neurological conditions, like people who are convinced they are already dead, or who wish to have a limb removed as what is there is no longer part of the self. Very interesting.