Shakespeare? It’s in the DNA


Are you old enough to remember when floppy disks were actually floppy? Or maybe when disks were 3″ wide? (Yes, kids, that’s what that little icon to “save” your work to your hard drives and flash drives represents, a hard little disk that held approximately two Word files or a half a dozen pictures (but not at the same time).

Maybe you think data storage has reached its pinnacle. It is rather startling to realize you carry more technology in your pocket on your smart phone than was available for the moon landing (but with considerably less LOL cats).  But when you understand that there is now over one trillion gigabytes of information in the world, not even the iPhone 204 can keep up with that pace. (Here’s what 10 trillion gigabytes looks like in numbers: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000…. ten plus twenty one zeroes).

Every method of storage we have thus far employed has had long-term storage problems. CDs and DVDs scratch and wear out, as do magnetic tapes. But what about DNA, nature’s storage system? DNA is compact and durable. We can extract DNA information from bones that are millions of years old.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually science-in-action. Nick Goldman heads up a research team at European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K. Goldman and his fellow scientists are studying DNA data storage and Goldman has written a paper on the process which appeared  in the journal Nature last week.

In an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR’s “Science Friday,” Goldman explains that DNA utilizes a storage system much like computers use ones and zeroes so “[w]e wrote a computer program that embodied a code that would convert the zeros and ones from a hard disk drive into the letters that we use to represent DNA, and then we – our collaborators in California  – were able to actually synthesize physical DNA.”

Once the scientists realized this was possible, they decided what they would first try to encode and store:

[W]e chose a photograph of our own institute because we’re sort of self-publicists at heart, I guess, and an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream,” all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a PDF that contained in fact the paper, the scientific paper by Watson and Crick that first described the structure of DNA itself.

All of this information, Golman says, is saved  on the equivalent of a speck of dust. How large of an area would contain all 10 trillion gigabytes of the world’s information? It would “fit in the back of a station wagon.”

Shakespeare in His Time: New Audio Guides for Authentic Pronunciation


Might the actors who comprised Lord Chamberlain’s Men have sounded more like Americans from the East Coast? That is the conclusion that Sir Trevor Nunn, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, has come to, after working closely with the actor Kevin Spacey.

However, the renowned Shakespeare scholar John Barton, contends that the speech was likely a blend of both English and Irish accents. And some historians complain that the accent isn’t as much of a problem as the pacing, which, they argue, is too slow in modern productions.

In the past, you would have to attend a play in which the actors were truly trying to offer a “real” rendition of Shakespearean speech. But  now the British Library has taken the advice of those who have studied how to render authentic sixteenth century English dialect. Several audio versions have been released. Listen and judge for yourself:

Extract from Romeo and Juliet

Or, perhaps you’re in the mood for a sonnet? Here’s Sonnet 116:

And here is another excerpt from Macbeth:

Ben Crystal, a British actor who has long advocated for making Shakespeare accessible, curated the ambitious project.

“For the first time in centuries,” he explains, “we have 75 recorded minutes of sonnets, speeches and scenes recorded as we hope Shakespeare heard them. It is, in short, Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before.

“The modern presentation of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in period pronunciation has already attracted a wide following, despite the fact that hardly any recordings have been publicly available,” he said.

For more information on the project, click here.

Shakespeare and Fry and Bly, Oh My! : Literary Quotes On Storms

At eNotes, we want all of our followers and customers to know we are thinking about you in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and wish everyone a speedy and safe recovery. Hopefully, you have power and can read this… but if your battery is running low, I hear there is a Starbucks on Broadway where you can charge up AND whose wifi is still working… See??

To cheer you up, we thought you might enjoy reading some insights from literature and writers about stormy weather. So here ya go.

1.  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

King Lear, Act 3.2 by William Shakespeare

2.  Stephen Fry

Here are some obvious things about weather

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy, you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out but it will.
One day.

3.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

4.  “Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?” Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

5.  “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” ― Mark Twain

6.  “Tut, Tut, looks like rain.” Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne 

7.  “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ~ Carl Reiner

8.  “After three days men grow weary, of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

9.  In Rainy September by Robert Bly 

In rainy September when leaves grow down to the dark
I put my forehead down to the damp seaweed-smelling sand.
What can we do but choose? The only way for human beings
is to choose. The fern has no choice but to live;
for this crime it receives earth water and night.

And finally, at Number 10, a word from the coming year’s Farmer’s  Almanac 

“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling! Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing- others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.”

Top Ten Better Book Titles

Better Book Titles is an amusing collection of attempts to rename well-known works of literature. The results are pithy and appropriate, summarizing everything you really need to know about a book right on its cover (ex. Oedipus Rex becomes “How I Met Your Mother,” The Giver = “Love in the Time of Death Panels,” and Atonement translates to “Kids Say the Darndest Things”). There are so many entires to browse and chuckle over in the archive, it was difficult to comprise just one “top ten” list from them! Take a peek at the selection below, then tell us which book you’d like to rename in a comment.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Sing It, Shakes! Shakespeare in Pop Music

In the Merchant of Venice, the Prince of Morocco warns, “All that glisters is not gold.” This sage advice has been repeated in some unlikely sources, from Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to Marilyn Manson’s “Posthuman.”

Here are some other instances of modern musicians who pay lyrical homage to Shakespeare:

Line from Highway 61 Revisited, referencing Twelfth Night: “The fifth daughter on the twelfth night told the first father that things weren’t right.”

Line from “Get Over It” on the Eagles album Hell Freezes Over referencing Dick the Butcher from Henry V: “Old Billy was right, / Let’s kill all the lawyers-kill ‘em tonight.”

Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet” from Solid Rock. No mystery here. The whole song re-tells it in a way any hip 80s teen can understand! “Juliet says, hey, it’s Romeo you nearly gimme a heart attack / He’s underneath the window she’s singin’ hey la my boyfriend’s back.”

Mel Brooks’ “To Be Or Not To Be” from The Hitler Rap.  Even if Shakespeare had entertained the idea of other artists re-purposing his work, it is unlikely he had anything like Mel Brooks and his “borrowing” from Hamlet in mind:

Say Heil – Heil – seigety style

we gonna whip it to the people Teutonic style

To be or not to be

Baby, can’t you see?

Before There Was Rosalyn’s song, “The Warrior,” contains an allusion to Julius Caesar“Cowards die many times.”

My Chemical Romance’s song “The Sharpest Lives” contains (yet another) reference to Romeo and Juliet :  “Juliet loves the beat and the lust it commands / drop the dagger and lather the blood on your hands, Romeo.”

In the song, “This Town, Your Grave,” the band Innerpartysystem alludes to Macbeth with this line:  “Washing your hands in blood won’t take away the stain.”

Sincerely, Will: Has a Seventh Shakespeare Signature Been Found?

This week, the Folger Shakespeare Library announced that it may have located an authentic signature by William Shakespeare in their collection.  You might wonder how such a thing might have gone overlooked for so long….until you know that the Folger houses some 256,000 volumes of Renaissance works. There are millions of pages in these thousands of books, and in one of them is the faint but legible signature of “Wm Shakespeare.”

If the signature is proven genuine, it will be priceless. Only six verified signatures are known to exist. This, therefore, would be the seventh.

The Folger’s excitement at the find might best be described as “cautiously optimistic.” There have been many signatures in the past that have been declared frauds.  Fortunately, technological advances are making determining the authenticity of the signature easier.

A group known as the Lazarus Project is using an advanced technique called multispectral imaging. The researchers take very high-resolution photographs of old text, art or objects using twelve different wavelengths of light, ranging from ultraviolet to infrared, beyond the boundaries of the human eye. Next, they use software to combine these images into the clearest possible picture of the text.” Multispectral imaging can reconstruct writing that has suffered all kinds of damage, from erasure to water damage.

Shakespeare scholars are eagerly awaiting word from the Lazarus Project, particularly due to the type of book in which the signature appears. Archaionomia is a collection of Elizabethan laws. If this volume did indeed belong to the playwright, it may mean that he knew more about law than was previously understood and this knowledge may have informed many of his plays. “One of the interesting questions for Shakespeare scholars is what Shakespeare read,” says George Heyworth, a professor of English at the University of Mississippi.  “If we know what he read, then we know what he was thinking when he wrote his plays.”

Gang Glast Aglay: Shakespeare, Starlings, and a Good Idea Gone Bad

“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’” ~ Hotspur, Henry IV, Part I

What do you get when you combine the good intentions of a well-meaning Shakespeare lover who also loved birds? Well, THIS….

In 1890, a New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin released eighty starlings into New York’s Central Park. He wanted to introduce every species mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to America. Not a great idea. Those eighty have become two hundred million and they are considered an invasive species. Starlings take up many of the resources that native birds rely upon, such as nesting space and food.

Here are lines from several plays in which Shakespeare mentions birds.

Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor can
Her heart inform her tongue,–the swan’s
That stands upon the swell at full of tide,
And neither way inclines.

Antony and Cleopatra 3.2.56-60

Go thither; and, with unattainted eye,
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.

Romeo and Juliet 1.2.88-90

He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch; for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

Macbeth 4.2.8-11

Cock-crow at ChristmasSome say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long

And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad

The nights are wholesome then no planets strike,

No fairy tales, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet 1.1.157-164


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