Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Bard Bits: Out of Date or is that a clock ticking?

Shakespeare didn’t make the IMDb “goofs” in his day, since IMDb wasn’t up and running during the Elizabethan era, but he certainly has his share of them scattered throughout his plays. Norrie Epstein routs out some of his gaff’s in her book The Friendly Shakespeare as does Mental Floss in one of their posts.

Julius Caesar
Set in 45 BC, Ac
t 2, Scene 1 states:

Peace! Count the clock.

The clock hath stricken three.

According to Mental Floss the first mechanical clock was was found in England in 1283, more than 1300 years after Caesar’s death.

Julius Caesar ... Wall Clock
Ding dong, the Bard got it wrong.

Titus Andronicus
The Roman conqueror Titus Andronicus offers up the greeting of “bonjour”–or maybe Titus was multi-lingual. Titus : Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Osheen Jones, Dario  D'Ambrosi, Raz Degan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Matthew Rhys, Harry Lennix,  Angus Macfadyen, Kenny Doughty, Blake Ritson, Colin Wells, Julie Taymor,  Adam Leipzig,
Merci, let’s get our greeting right

King Lear
Although the play supposedly takes place during the eighth century, Shakespeare adds in more modern bits by having Lear call for his tailor and Gloucester requesting his spectacles in order to read Edmund’s letter.

King Lear': Act 3 Analysis
I can see clearly now, I need new clothes

Antony and Cleopatra
In Act 2, Scene 5, Charmain is invited by Cleopatra to play billiards. Yes, billiards. The earliest recording of the game is around 15th century Europe. The game is postponed due to lack of interest and a sore arm, when in likelihood neither knew how to play the game since it hadn’t been invented yet. Their solution is go fishing, a pastime that goes way back into the past.

Cleo's Bar Pool Team on Twitter: "Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" Act  2, Scene 5 .... Cleopatra says : "Let's to billiards" So what more evidence  do you need !"
Cleo was a pool shark or not

Henry VI
Henry VI was King of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, so when Shakespeare mentions Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote The Prince in the 16th century, the obvious mention is showcasing Machiavelli’s influence or it could have been Shakespeare liked to drop the name of a popular author of the time.

The Essential Writings of Machiavelli - Penguin Random House Common Reads
Such a nice guy deserves a mention in the play

Troilus and Cressida
Shakespeare’s love story during the Trojan War is at odds with the mention of Aristotle, born in 384 BC. In Act 2, Scene 2, Hector compares Paris and Troilus to the young men “whom Aristotle thought unfit to hear moral philosophy.” Unless there was an Aristotle available during Hector’s time, he had decent handle on wisdom from another time.

Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy: Adler, Mortimer J.:  9780684838236: Books
Hector is a philosopher as well as a warrior

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Chinese are accredited with inventing gunpowder around 850 AD, which is ancient. However, Shakespeare set A Midsummer Night’s Dream in ancient Greece. In Act 3, Scene 2, Puck states how Bottom’s friends will run and flee, much like wild geese hearing “the gun’s report.”  In other words, Bottom’s crew will vacate the area as if a gun had been fired. The Greeks were certainly talented, but no guns were about at that time.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Full Text - Act III - Scene II - Owl Eyes
Boom! Bottom gets his crew’s attention

Shakespeare’s “goofs” may or may not have been intentional. For all we know he decided to have a bit of fun and drop in contemporary aspects to spice up the play. In any case these anachronisms provide a “spot the oops” moment in the play.

Have you spotted any other “goofs” in his plays?

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10 thoughts on “Bard Bits: Out of Date or is that a clock ticking?

  1. I am not so familiar with the plays, but suspect my English teachers explained away errors the way you’ve suggested. After all, Disney writers like to include modern references in their songs.

  2. Let’s not forget that in Edward III, the character Lord Percy twice makes allusions to the actress, Ginger Rogers when describing the gait of the Earl of Derby. Rogers was definitely not around during the Fourteenth century reign of Edward III.

  3. Where was his editor?! LOL. Love these goofs.

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