Talk about leaving your mark.
Even though heâ€™s been dead for nearly 400 years, William Shakespeare is still the worldâ€™s best-known author. Over the centuries, his writings have inspired great novelists, filmmakers and painters. And the man credited with standardizing the English language is still quoted more than any other writer.
In fact, even if you donâ€™t think youâ€™re influenced by Shakespeare, well â€” you are. Because every time you use an expression like â€œItâ€™s a foregone conclusion,â€ â€œallâ€™s well that ends wellâ€ or â€œitâ€™s come full circle,â€ youâ€™re using a phrase coined by the Bard.
â€œAudiences know more Shakespeare than they think they do,â€ said Zoe Saba, artistic director of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival since 1997.
This yearâ€™s festival, starting July 14 at the River Oaks Amphitheater in Paso Robles, showcases two plays â€” â€œThe Comedy of Errorsâ€ and â€œAs You Like Itâ€â€”which, like all Shakespearian works, have had a significant impact on modern culture. â€œAs You Like It,â€ written later in Shakespeareâ€™s career, is generally seen as a work written during the height of the playwrightâ€™s creative arc.
â€œThereâ€™s a wonderful depth in that play,â€ said Teresa Thuman, who is directing â€œThe Comedy of Errorsâ€ for the festival and has directed â€œAs You Like Itâ€ in the past. â€œIt has some of the greatest speeches Shakespeare ever wrote.â€
It was that play â€” a romantic comedy about lovers who find love and freedom in the country â€” that gave birth to the phrases â€œtoo much of a good thing,â€ â€œfor ever and a dayâ€ and â€œneither rhyme nor reason.â€ But itâ€™s best known for â€œall the worldâ€™s a stage,â€ which begins a monologue spoken by a character named Jaques.
Progressive rock group Rush would name its 1976 live album â€œAll the Worldâ€™s a Stage.â€ Artists such as Weezer, Bob Dylan and Elvis would sing the â€œworldâ€™s a stageâ€ line in songs. And a character in the comic book â€œV for Vendettaâ€ would utter the line.
â€œEveryone knows that phrase, and it shows up everywhere,â€ said Cynthia Totten, who is co-directing the play with Saba.
The speech that features the expressionâ€”describing the so-called seven ages of manâ€”has had a lasting impact as well.
â€œIn that speech, he goes from the cradle to the grave,â€ Totten said. â€œIt is poetry, but it captures our life story.â€
Even lesser known lines from the play can be found in works by other artists. The beginning of one line â€” â€œUnder the greenwood treeâ€ â€” inspired the title of a Thomas Hardy novel in 1872 and a Donovan song in 1967.
Meanwhile, â€œThe Comedy of Errorsâ€ â€” the title itself a popular expression â€” features the line â€œsomething in the wind.â€ The play, about separation and reunion, inspired the film â€œBig Business,â€ a modern day interpretation starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, and itâ€™s been adapted for operas, musicals and TV shows.
Like â€œBig Business,â€ the festivalâ€™s take on â€œThe Comedy of Errorsâ€ will be contemporary, featuring a plot that takes place in â€™60s Las Vegas. Set in the back alleys of Sin City, gangsters replace dukes in a culture of shady deals, showgirls and comic mix-ups.
To make things even more confusing, women dress as men and men dress as women, adding to the popular Shakespearian notion that things arenâ€™t always as they appear.
While â€œAs You Like Itâ€ has the memorable speeches, Thuman said, â€œThe Comedy of Errors is a tighter, shorter, play.
â€œItâ€™s so much more focused on the action,â€ she said.
Both plays will use Shakespeareâ€™s original language, which is both the thing that draws people to him and the thing that scares them away. But the context of Shakespeareâ€™s work, Saba said, is better understood in a more physical embodiment.
â€œItâ€™s hard to read Shakespeare,â€ Saba said. â€œItâ€™s meant to be seen. Itâ€™s meant to be acted.â€
Of course, the actors are always aware of the famous passages, thinking, â€œEveryoneâ€™s waiting for me to say those lines,â€ Saba said. But the best actors donâ€™t want to draw attention to the well-known expressions or speeches.
â€œYou donâ€™t want it to pop too much out of the action of the play,â€ Thuman said.
At the same time, audiences do take note of a line they recognize.
â€œPeople are often surprised â€” â€˜Oh, thatâ€™s where that comes from!â€™ â€ Totten said.
While the festival has delved into Shakespeareâ€™s tragedies in the past, it has leaned toward comedies since its move to Paso Robles in 2009. In the warm summer air, the River Oaks venue is conducive to stories of love, humor and good old-fashioned mixups, the directors said.
â€œTheyâ€™re crowd pleasers,â€ Saba said. â€œAnd we certainly want to encourage people to come see live Shakespeare.â€