Brain Pickings

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

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What Central Park wildlife has to do with Freud and Abe Lincoln’s assassination.

An ambitious and entertaining new book by Esquire columnist Stephen Marche explores the many, often unsuspected ways in which the great playwright shaped just about every facet of contemporary culture. How Shakespeare Changed Everything is equal parts homage to the iconic bard and rigorously researched, fascinating look at how his work permeated aspects of pop culture and everyday life far beyond his genre and his era.

From how Romeo and Juliet introduced the concept of adolescence to the 1,700 words Shakespeare coined (including lackluster, fashionable and the name Jessica) to how his plays provided the foundation for Freudian psychology and concepts of healthy sex life, Marche blends light trivia-worthy historical factoids with a deep respect for the legendary writer’s legacy.

Shakespeare is the foremost poet in the world. All of the scriptwriting books cite him as the dominant influence on Hollywood. He has had more influence on the novel than any novelist. The greater the artist, the more he or she was influenced by Shakespeare. Dickens and Keats were more inspired by Shakespeare than anybody, and their familiarity with Shakespeare seems to have made them more original, not less.” ~ Stephen Marche

Perhaps most fascinating of all is to consider how mind-boggling this wide-spanning influence would’ve been to Shakespeare himself. Unbeknownst to him, he “founded” spiritual movements, informed war strategies, validated romantic rituals, and shaped the very core of our moral codes. He even changed North American wildlife when, in 1890, one man decided to release 60 English starlings in Central Park in an effort to introduce every bird Shakespeare ever mentioned to North America.

[Shakespeare has] been the unwitting founder of intellectual movements he would never have endorsed and the secret presence behind spiritual practices he could never have imagined. He has been used as a crude political instrument by all sides in conflicts of which he could never have conceived. His vision has been assumed by saints and by murderers. At the bottom of all these slippery chains of consequences and perverted manifestations of his talent dwells the unique ability of Shakespeare to place his finger on people’s souls.” ~ Stephen Marche

For a taste of How Shakespeare Changed Everything, the National Post has a handsome excerpt.

Thanks, Julia

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LE GUN 1,2,3: Bleeding-Edge Illustration from Around the Globe

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What flying to Paris has to do with creative entrepreneurship and global provocations.

In 2004, a small group of graduates from London’s Royal College of Art founded art collective LE GUN and quietly started publishing one of the most compelling art and design magazines to come by in decades. Dedicated to celebrating the work of illustrators from around the globe, LE GUN instantly charmed audiences and critics, but its small scale and indie roots made access to it limited and coveted. Now, my friends from Mark Batty Publisher have gathered the first three issues of the magazine in LE GUN 1,2,3 — an impressive, handsome tome that captures LE GUN‘s rich spectrum of creativity and provocative, relentlessly original artwork.

In the book’s introduction, RCA professor Andrzej Klimowski, who advised the founding team, tells the project’s inspired story — a tale of imagination, transformation and creative entrepreneurship.

Many middle-aged people turn to their medicine cabinets for vitamin pills or, more drastically, turn to the knife for cosmetic surgery or the botox injection in a desperate attempt to hold onto their youth. I need only brush shoulders with the artists of LE GUN to be imbued with the elixir of life, which is so vital that it makes my hair stand on end.” ~ Andrzej Klimowski

With 400 pages and weighing in at over 6 pounds, the tome is, without any exaggeration, enormous.

Esoteric and beautiful, LE GUN 1,2,3 is an absolute treat of imagination, artistry and visual eloquence from cover to heavy cover.

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Happy Birthday, Frank Capra: 5 Essential Films

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What war propaganda has to do with vintage Hollywood romance and the American political process.

114 years ago today, Frank Capra was born in Sicily, but soon enough immigrated to the United States — to Los Angeles, to be precise — where he grew up, studied chemical engineering, and became a nationalized US citizen in 1920. Throughout the next decade, Capra threw himself into writing and directing silent films, then switched to making “talkies.” By 1934, he was reeling off a string of classics — films that exuded an unbounded optimism that’s quintessentially American: It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — they’re all part of the great Capra filmography. And, of course, you can’t overlook a string of propaganda documentaries that Capra directed (along with John Huston and John Ford) to galvanize support for World War II.

Thanks to Google Video and the Internet Archive, you can now revisit five Capra films online, plus many other great films from the same era. Let’s give you a quick tour:

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

This romantic comedy, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, won every major Academy Award in 1934. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. It was a first, and the feat has only been repeated twice since.

MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON

This epic drama features Jimmy Stewart in one of his finest performances. Today, the film inspires the fanciful belief that one individual can effect change in Washington. But, when it was first released, American politicians and journalists attacked the film for merely suggesting that corruption might influence the American political process.

MEET JOHN DOE

Although less well known than other Capra classics, the American Film Institute ranks Meet John Doe 49th on its list called 1100 Years… 100 Cheers: America’s Most Inspiring Movies. Needless to say, It’s a Wonderful Life, the all-time Capra gem, sits at the very top of that list.

WHY WE FIGHT: PRELUDE TO WAR

Once World War II broke out, Capra was commissioned by the US government to direct a seven episode propaganda series called “Why We Fight.” Prelude to War appears above. Other titles in the sequence include The Nazi Strike, The War Comes to America and beyond.

TUNISIAN VICTORY

Finally, later in the war, Capra was called upon again by his government. The mission this time was to explain what was happening on the war front in North Africa. And that he did. Tunisian Victory hit theaters in 1944.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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