First aired on Q (13/7/11)
"William Shakespeare is the most influential person who ever lived."
This is the opening line of literary critic Stephen Marche's new book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything. Yes, Stephen Marche believes that Shakespeare is even more influential than Jesus Christ.
"I sort of look around the world and I don't see any evidence of Jesus at all," Marche explained to Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "Whereas Shakespeare, if you look at our sex lives, if you look at the birds in the sky, if you look at political history, if you look at our attitudes towards race..."
However, this immense influence wasn't initially evident to Marche. He started out wanting to write a book about Shakespeare, yes, but wanted to explore "Shakespeare in pop songs, Hollywood, Bollywood and culture." It was only after he began his research did he realize that Shakespeare was everything. He told Ghomeshi that "it just became very bizarre to me how he managed to have all this immense influence over the physical world."
No other writer has had as much influence over the English language as Shakespeare. 1700 words in the Oxford Dictionary of English are attributed to him including advertising, alligator, fashionable, glow, hush and dawn. Even the popular girls' name Jessica came from the Bard's pen.
Shakespeare changed our attitudes towards sex. He inspired the widespread use of skull iconography. The Bard is to blame for starlings in Central Park and President Lincoln's assassination.
"What I'm talking about is not that people are moved by Shakespeare, and therefore he has this influence," Marche said. "Quite the opposite. You're influenced by Shakespeare even if you've never read him or even if you don't like him."
Shakespeare shows up in unexpected places, at unexpected times, and you might not even know he's there. And, if you agree with Marche, that's exactly why he is more influential than Jesus.
Do you agree with Marche? Is Shakespeare the most influential person who ever lived? And if not, who was? Let us know in the comments below.
How Shakespeare Changed Everything
by Stephen MarcheBuy this book at:
"Shakespeare is all around us. From nightclubs to Broadway musicals, in voting booths in the American south and the trees of Central Park — William Shakespeare's literary power is so intense and widespread that it intrudes into the material world. Esquire columnist Stephen Marche takes us on a delightful tour through the continuous stream of Shakespeare's influence, summoning up the Bard in the most unexpected places:."
Read more at HarperCollins Canada