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April 23 is Talk Like Shakespeare Day

Talk Like Shakespeare Day

William Shakespeare: Bard, babe magnet

Did you miss Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day on January 24th? Do you need to recapture the fun you had on International Talk Like William Shatner Day on March 22nd? Rejoice! Today is Talk Like Shakespeare Day, begun in 2009 by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater to celebrate the Bard’s birthday.

Church records confirm that William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564. Since this was typically performed three days after birth, it’s believed he was born on April 23, 1564. He died on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar in use at that time. Many sources report his birth in the Julian but his death in the Gregorian calendar, which would make it May 3, 1616.

In 2016, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed this day Talk Like Shakespeare Day in honor of Shakespeare400, a yearlong celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. He prescribed a lot of thees and thous. But if we truly want to talk like Shakespeare, wouldn’t it be helpful to hear how a gentleman born in Stratford-upon-Avon would have spoken?

According to scholar John Barton, Shakespeare’s accent would sound to us like a blend of modern Irish, Yorkshire, and West Country English accents. Recordings compiled by National Public Radio feature pieces performed as Shakespeare probably heard them.

Here’s a recitation of one of his most popular sonnets: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment…”

If you’d rather celebrate the holiday without having to hire a dialect coach, just memorize a few of the greatest insults Shakespeare ever wrote. Here are nine of our favorites:

Thy food is such as hath been belch’d upon by infected lungs.
Pericles

Would the fountain of your mind were clear again, that I might water an ass at it.
Troilus and Cressida

If you spend word for word with me, I shall make your wit bankrupt.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

I find the ass in compound with the major part of your syllables.
Coriolanus

Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!
Henry IV, part I

Your bedded hair, like life in excrements, start up and stand on end.
Hamlet

Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.
All’s Well That Ends Well

Thou wert best set thy lower part where thy nose stands.
All’s Well That Ends Well

Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.
Love’s Labour’s Lost

Want more? Use CNN’s Shakespeare Insult-o-Meter to choose the gender of your intended victim, select the severity of invective you desire and let the generator do the rest.

Happy Talk Like Shakespeare Day! And don’t forget to save some energy for International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th. Then cleanse your palate with National Gibberish Day on September 20th.

Copyright © 2019 Worldwide Weird Holidays

August 4 is U.S. Coast Guard Day

u.s. coast guard dayToday is U.S. Coast Guard Day.

After the Continental Navy disbanded in 1785, no proviso existed in the U.S. Constitution for the establishment of a permanent maritime force.

In 1790, Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Department of Treasury Secretary, founded the service that would become the Coast Guard.

Established to enforce tariff laws and manned by crews of civilians, the fleet became known as the system of cutters, named for the type of vessel used: armed ships, usually single-masted, that measured at least 65 feet in length.

From 1798 through 1800, the U.S. and France fought an undeclared naval war known as the “Quasi-War,” precipitated by the U.S. reneging on the repayment of loans received from France during the American Revolutionary War.

Congress passed legislation authorizing President John Adams to reestablish the U.S. Navy and conscript revenue cutters from the Treasury Department during the conflict.

In September of 1800, Adams and Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, signed a treaty ending hostilities between the two countries.

The Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life-Saving Service, created in 1848 to save shipwrecked sailors, merged in 1915 to become the U.S. Coast Guard.

Happy U.S. Coast Guard Day!

Copyright © 2018 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day

Today is Guy Fawkes Day. It celebrates the day a traitor to the King of England was thwarted in his attempt to blow up the entire government while it met upstairs.

The plot developed as a way to end state-sanctioned religious persecution by killing James I and replacing him with a Roman Catholic monarch. Guy Fawkes, going by the name John Johnson, leased a cellar under the House of Lords in which to stockpile gunpowder.

Most agree that an anonymous letter informed Parliament of the plan, while some theorize that the government knew of it already and allowed it go on, foiling it at the last moment to ensure massive outrage against the Catholic conspirators.

In any case, Fawkes was found in the cellar with a pack of matches and 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was taken to the Tower of London and tortured. Twelve others were arrested for their involvement; four died in a shootout with English troops. The eight remaining men joined Fawkes in the Tower. In January 1606, they were all found guilty of high treason and condemned to death.

guy fawkes day execution

By law, the men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Hanging wasn’t the be-all and end-all back then. When properly administered, the execution was just getting started. According to this particularly gruesome Wikipedia entry, a condemned man was:

1. Dragged, usually by a horse, on a wooden frame to the place where he was to be publicly put to death.
2. Hanged by the neck until nearly dead. A short rope was used to prevent his neck from breaking and keep him alive.
3. Brought back to consciousness, if necessary, and placed on a table. His genitalia were removed and his intestines pulled through an incision made in his abdomen. During that time, pieces of his organs were burned nearby so he’d witness as much as possible in case he died before disembowelment was complete.
4. Decapitated and his body hacked into four parts. The head was usually par-boiled in brine to preserve its appearance, then exhibited in the Tower of London, while the quarters were covered in pitch to create a longer-lasting display. The king chose where to send them for optimal crime-deterring value.

Typically, the pieces were then put on display in different locations chosen by the king to discourage would-be traitors who hadn’t witnessed the execution. Out of public decency, women were only burned at the stake to save subjects from the sight of naked lady parts. (I know: they were so lucky.)

Fawkes jumped from the gallows platform and broke his neck. Though the executioners still carried out the rest of the sentence, they were robbed of the opportunity to do it to him while he was alive.

While the capture of Guy Fawkes and failure of the Gunpowder Plot is still celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, it has less to do with 17th-century terrorism and more to do with throwing a party and having a good time.

Lately, Fawkes’s image has been appropriated as a symbol of protest. In the 1982 graphic novel and its 2006 film adaptation, “V for Vendetta,” the hero is an anarchist who wears a Guy Fawkes mask while battling an authoritarian fascist state. The authors wanted to celebrate Fawkes by turning him into an anti-hero for the modern age. Plastic masks to commemorate the film’s release were given to fans.

guy fawkes day mask

On February 10, 2008, Anonymous, a “hacktivist” group, held its first public demonstration against Scientology and its aggressive censorship. Protesters were urged to cover their faces to avoid identification “by hostiles.” Some took inspiration from the film’s final scene in which a crowd wore Fawkes masks while watching the Houses of Parliament explode and burn. Since then the mask has been used by the Occupy movement and by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Many see the mask as an icon in the fight against tyranny. The Yeomen of the Guard would disagree. The English monarch’s bodyguards since 1485 still search the cellars below the Palace of Westminster before each state opening of Parliament. The spirit of Fawkes, for good or ill, lives on.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 3 is National Sandwich Day

Today is National Sandwich Day. On November 3, 1762, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, invented the—you guessed it!—sandwich. But why, where, how and who?National Sandwich Day Earl

Why?

He was hungry. That’s just about the only subject upon which everyone agrees.

Where?

He was either working long hours at his desk or playing poker in a gambling hall.

How?

He ordered a servant to fetch him salted meat between two slices of bread so he could continue working (or gambling) without smearing grease on his papers (or cards).

A version of events that spread the gambling rumor was reported by P.J. Grosley in his travelogue Tour to London:

A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.

N.A.M. Rodger dismissed this account in his biography The Insatiable Earl:

The alternative explanation is that he invented it to sustain himself at his desk, which seems plausible since we have ample evidence of the long hours he worked from an early start, in an age when dinner was the only substantial meal of the day, and the fashionable hour to dine was four o’clock.

Who?

Thankfully, the 1st Earl changed his mind about taking the title of Earl of Portsmouth and decided to honor the town of Sandwich instead, possibly because the fleet he commanded was tied there in 1660. Ordering a Portsmouth would be tricky to pronounce correctly, depending on which side of the Pond you’re on.

His great-great-great grandson John, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, probably got the idea for his creation on a trip to the Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek platters of dips, meats and cheese were served with layers of bread. The first known use of the word “sandwich” in its current context is attributed to historian Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, who wrote in a journal entry dated November 24, 1762:

That respectable body, of which I have the honour of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty, perhaps, of the first men in the kingdom, in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin, in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch.

By 1773, the word “sandwich” had been used in a cookbook for the first time and would forever be associated with Montagu.

Of course, he didn’t invent the sandwich. Rabbi Hillel the Elder is said to have begun, in the 1st Century B.C., the Passover tradition of placing lamb, nuts and herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread in the 1st Century BC. In the Middle Ages, thick slices of stale bread were used as plates for cooked meats and vegetables. The Dutch have a long tradition of serving bread & butter with meat, fish or other fillings and toppings.

But the name stuck so that’s what we call it and it is, for most of us, the only reason we know anything about John Montagu. Though he must have been a big hit with bakers, he was branded as immoral and incompetent by many of his contemporaries. Recently, some historians have suggested that previous accounts have relied too heavily on sources from his political enemies.

Lord Sandwich was also haunted by his troubled personal history. His wife Dorothy became increasingly mentally ill during their marriage. They separated and she went on to live with her elder sister, continuing to deteriorate until she was declared insane and committed.

Montagu took a mistress, singer Martha Ray—reputed to be the inspiration for “My Fair Lady”— and lived with her and their children openly. Divorce was not an option, let alone living in sin. His reputation was irreparably damaged.  It ended in tragedy when she was shot to death by a clergyman who was later rumored to be her lover, although there was no evidence of anything more than a crush on his part.

There’s also the fact that he was First Admiral of the Navy during the American Revolutionary War. That didn’t go so well for the British Empire, as you may recall.

Clearly, there is too much meat in this story to fit between two slices of bread, metaphorically speaking. You can learn much more at PBS.orgEncyclopaedia BritannicaMontague Millenium, Open Sandwich and Your Dictionary,

Happy National Sandwich Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays