Day 232: To Be Shakespeare Or Not To Be Shakespeare

originally published August 19, 2012

Libraries and libraries of material has been written about William Shakespeare, the brilliant playwright whose works continue to amaze theatre-goers and confuse the unholy hell out of high school students every year. This particular thousand words is not about him. It’s about the other William Shakespeares.

I couldn’t find a better picture of this guy. Finding pictures of William Shakespeares other than that William Shakespeare is going to be a daunting endeavor. This particular Shakespeare was an English tenor. Born in 1849, Will the Tenor had no relation to the Bard.

I should probably point out that none of the Shakespeares mentioned in this article share any DNA with Big Bill. The famousest of Shakespeares had three kids and four grandkids, none of whom spurted the family genes onward. When granddaughter Elizabeth Barnard hauled her luggage to the great beyond in 1670, she wrapped up the Shakespearean legacy, biologically speaking.

Back to Will the Tenor. He became a well-respected tenor in his time, and wrote a few books which are still available, including The Art of Singing and The Speaker’s Art. Shakespeare had become a disciple of Italian singing master Francesco Lamperti, and adopted much of Lamperti’s style into his own.

If, like me, you were instantly impressed with Will the Tenor’s mustache, just wait until you see the ‘stache of his mentor. Lamperti’s facial coiffage looks like it literally exploded off his face.

If opera isn’t your thing, and if iambic pentameter makes your armpits itch, maybe you’d enjoy William Shakespeare, glam rocker.

Born as John Stanley Cave, this Australian singer from Sydney had a hit on the Aussie charts in 1974 with a song called “Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You.” This clip shows Cave – after his strange adoption of the Shakespeare stage name – performing the hit on the Paul Hogan Show, which further reinforces the general North American belief that Crocodile Dundee was truly the peak of Australian culture.

If you don’t feel like watching the clip, or if you’re at work and afraid someone is going to look over your shoulder and suspect you might have a fetish for guys with prominent eyebrows, wearing sparkly pseudo-Olde English costumes and singing in falsetto, let me fill you in on the highlights. Shakespeare’s lyrics (and I know he didn’t write this song, but he doesn’t get a pass on this one) are about as rich and full of textured meaning as anything written by the Bard:

“I can’t stop myself from wanting you.

I can’t stop myself from needing you.

I’ve tried so hard to get over you.

Can’t stop myself from loving you.”

I know. Pretty impressive. Even better than “O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem.” The song sounds like Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits singing bad disco. Still, it hit #2 on the Australian charts, so who am I to question his success? Shakespeare’s follow up single (which feels like a very strange phrase to type) “My Little Angel” made it to number one.

If you want to be amazed by the state of 1975 popular Australian culture, have a listen. “My Little Angel” is empirically terrible, but the astounding portion of the clip isn’t the music as much as the screaming girls you can hear in between the lyrics. Also, why is he labeled as ‘glam rock’? To me, glam rock means acts like David Bowie, T-Rex or Gary Glitter – bands with one foot in rock and roll and the other in a pool of sequins. Shakespeare strikes me as glam-adult-contemporary at best.

But maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. Great artists sometimes start out with watered-down pulp for mass consumption before earning the freedom to explore the potential of their greatness. Except that Shakespeare never got the chance. After being on the short-list to front AC/DC, along with John Paul “Love Is In The Air” Young and Bon Scott, he…

…wait a second. Seriously? Those were the other two guys who could have fronted AC/DC? Wow. Had Shakespeare nabbed the gig, he probably would have outlived Bon Scott. Back In Black-era AC/DC could have looked like this:

In 1975 Shakespeare was convicted for engaging in sexual shenanigans with a 15-year-old girl. He received two years probation and a swift end to his music career. In 1979 he tried to revive his career in nightclubs as Billy Shake, but apart from a brief surge in popularity when “My Little Angel” was covered by another Aussie band in 1990, Glam Will was done. He was homeless by 2001, and after finding his way into government housing, he died penniless in 2010.

That was a downer. Hey, how about William Shakespeare, American football halfback?

William Valentine Shakespeare didn’t change his name. His family claimed to have been direct descendants of the Bard himself, which we have already established is complete bullshit. Halfback Will was a star at Notre Dame though, voted All-American in 1935.

The Associated Press called the 1935 meeting between Notre Dame and the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes the greatest college football game of the 20th century. Notre Dame rallied from a13-0 deficit to win 18-13. The winning pass was a gadget play, a touchdown pass thrown by William Shakespeare.

Though he was the third player ever drafted in the NFL (by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1936), there was no money in pro football back then. Shakespeare chose a career in business, then went off to win a bucket-full of stars in WWII. From what I can tell, Halfback Will was a real mensch.

William Shakespear (slightly different spelling, but it counts) was a British explorer and diplomat in the early 20th century whose death changed the course of history.

Will the Explorer was working his way through the Arabian peninsula along with Ibn Sa’ud, the Emir of the Nejd. Without delving into a lengthy history lesson, Shakespear’s premature death in the Battle of Jarrab affected which potential leader received British support in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

I don’t know what this means in the grand petri dish of history, but who knows? We could all be driving flying cars now if Will the Explorer had made it through that day.

Skipping over Will the Cricketer and Will the 2nd Baronet of Lackenham, I’m going to finish with Will the Inventor.

William Shakespeare, the 19th century South Carolina fisherman, gave the world the level-winding fishing reel. I know less about fishing than I do about Arabian history, but from what I can find, a level reel is better than its non-level counterpart for fishing from a boat. There you go.

Will the Inventor also founded the Shakespeare Fishing Tackle company in 1897, which still exists today, despite a recall of almost a half-million children’s fishing kits in 2005 due to lead paint concerns.

So what can we learn from all this? Not much. But a Shakespeare by any other name… no wait, they all have the same name. Then I guess we learn even less. Oh well.

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