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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Shakespeare, Friendship, and Fairies -- STOP IT PLEASE

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”  -- William Shakespeare.  NOT!

If you see a fairy ring
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tiptoe as you pass;
Last night fairies frolicked there,
And they're sleeping somewhere near.
If you see a tiny fay
Lying fast asleep,
Shut your eyes and run away,
Do not stay or peep;
And be sure you never tell,
Or you'll break a fairy spell.

-- William Shakespeare.  NOT!!!

As others have pointed out, the first one (about friendship) is something you'd find in a Hallmark greeting card, not Shakespeare.  And in response to those of you who ask whether perhaps he wrote it in a letter to a friend, the answer is NO, THE ONLY WRITINGS WE HAVE FROM SHAKESPEARE ARE PLAYS, SONNETS, AND A WILL.  If you can find a letter from him, you would be an instant celebrity, and would cause numerous Shakespeare scholars immense joy.  And anyway, Shakespeare never used the word "grow" in the self-helpish way it's being used here, and neither did any of his contemporaries.  I seriously doubt that usage existed before the 1800s, if even then.

As of this moment, a Google search for ["a friend is one that knows you as you are" and "shakespeare"] results in 14,600 hits.  According to a poster here, the same search yielded 780 Google hits on May 25, 2006.  According the Words Going Wild blog, this misattribution showed up on over 7000 websites on August 16, 2010.  So the good news is that while the number of websites went up by a factor of 10 in the four years from 2006 to 2010, it's only doubled in the four and a half years since then.

 Here's what comes up if you make an "image" search out of it.

Searching on the phrase in Google Books has it turn up in the published book, "The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life" The authors' own self-help regimen obviously didn't include Shakespeare, or the finer points of checking one's sources.

It is also shows up in "Life Lessons of Wisdom & Motivation - Volume I," although that one appears to be self-published (the Swiss Cheese theory is just about one step removed from being self-published).

I wonder who the first person was to put up that quote, and what they were thinking.  If it were me, I guess I'd be a little bit impressed with myself.

So if you need to quote Shakespeare on friendship, please don't use that one.  Try one of these (taken from here):

Keep thy friend
Under thy own life's key.
(All's Well That Ends Well 1.1.65-6), Countess to Bertram

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.
(Hamlet 1.3.62-3), Polonius to Laertes

A friend should bear his friend's infirmities.
(Julius Caesar 4.3.85), Cassius to Brutus

Friendship is constant in all things
Save in the office and affairs of love.
(Much Ado About Nothing 2.1.166-7), Claudio

I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.
(Richard II) 2.3.46-7, Bolingbroke to Percy

The band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity.
(Antony and Cleopatra 2.6.150), Enobarbus

To set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes,
Recanting goodness, sorry ere 'tis shown;
But where there is true friendship, there needs none.
(Timon of Athens 1.2.20), Timon

I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.
(The Merry Wives of Windsor 3.1.133), Antonio

To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
(The Winter's Tale 1.2.135), Leontes

Thy friendship makes us fresh.
(1 Henry VI 3.3.87), Charles to the Bastard of Orleans

Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish her election,
Sh'ath sealed thee for herself.
(Hamlet 3.2.75-7), Hamlet to Horatio

I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you.
(The Tempest 3.1.60-1), Miranda to Ferdinand

If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to thy friends; for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
(The Merchant of Venice 1.3.133), Antonio to Shylock

There is flattery in friendship.
(Henry V 3.7.102), Constable to Orleans

That which I would discover
The law of friendship bids me to conceal.
(The Two Gentlemen of Verona 3.1.5-6), Proteus to the Duke

Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time.
(Troilus and Cressida 3.3.180-1), Ulysses to Achilles

There are plenty of quotes that are widely but wrongly attributed to Shakespeare, but for most of those (e.g. "what a tangled web we weave, when first we begin to deceive" at least sound like something he could have said.  This 20th century Hallmarky pablum about friendship doesn't come close.

  • Here are a list of false attributions, from a list here:

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697).

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- Sonnets from the Portuguese (#43)

I love thee, I love but thee With a love that shall not die Till the sun grows cold And the stars grow old.

Bayard Taylor, from the Bedouin Song

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Bible 1 Corinthians 13

Love of heaven makes one heavenly.
Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
Walter Scott, Marmion.

The object of art is to give life a shape.
Jean Anouilh, The Rehearsal.

’Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam(1850).

And here is a list of common misquotes, borrowed from here:

From “The Life and Death of King John”
Misquote: “Gild the lily”
Actual Quote: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily”.

2. From: “Macbeth”
Misquote: “Lead on, Macduff”
Actual Quote: “Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’”

3. From: “Macbeth”
Misquote: “Bubble bubble, toil and trouble.”
Actual Quote: “Double, double toil and trouble.”

4. From: “Hamlet”

Misquote: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”
Actual Quote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

5. From: “Hamlet”

Misquote: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well.”
Actual Quote: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio – a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

6. From: “Hamlet”

Misquote: “The rest is science”
Actual Quote: “The rest is silence”

7. From: “Romeo and Juliet”

Misquote: “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet.”
Actual Quote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

8. From: “Richard III”

Misquote: “Now is the winter of our discontent.”
Actual Quote: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

9. From: “Falstaff”

Misquote: “Discretion is the better part of valour.”
Actual Quote: “The better part of valour is discretion”

10. From: “Hamlet”

Misquote: “To the manor born”

Actual Quote: “but to my mind,—though I am native here and to the manner born,—it is a custom more honour’d in the breach than the observance.” (referring to drunken carousing).


An alert reader has now pointed me to the following misattribution:

If you see a fairy ring
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tiptoe as you pass;
Last night fairies frolicked there,
And they're sleeping somewhere near.

If you see a tiny fay
Lying fast asleep,
Shut your eyes and run away,
Do not stay or peep;
And be sure you never tell,
Or you'll break a fairy spell.

Searching for ["If you see a fairy ring" Shakespeare] yields 2060 Google hits, as of this writing, and I haven't seen any hits to a site explaining that this is NOT Shakespeare.  Ok, I guess for now, THIS IS THAT SITE.

This might have started with the book titled "If You See a Fairy Ring: A Rich Treasury of Classic Fairy Poems," Illustrated by Susanna Lockheart.  Here is a picture of the poem, as it appears in that book:

Published by "Barron's Educational Series" (October 1, 2007).  And yes, that's the same Barron's that's also known for Standardized Test aids etc.  (  Rather sad that an "education" publisher would allow a mistake like this to get out there; this will almost certainly contribute to the miseducation of any child who stumbles across the book, as in many cases it will be the child's first exposure to "Shakespeare."

I don't know how to explain that this isn't Shakespeare.  Maybe it's the contractions.  Maybe it's the use of "tiptoe" as a verb.  Or the lack of any discernible meter.  Or the excessive rhyming.  Or the fact that it's not a sonnet.  Or the fact that it's impossible to imagine this poem in the mouth of any character in a Shakespeare play.  Or maybe it's just the childishness of it all.

Just take my word for it.  Shakespeare did NOT WRITE this verse.

If you like it, that's fine.  That just means you like fairies.  Just please keep Shakespeare out of it!

Here's a real Shakespeare fairy quote:

And now about the cauldron sing, Like elves and fairies in a ring,      
Enchanting all that you put in. 
Macbeth 1.1.

And here's another, featuring elves:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves;    
And ye, that on the sands with printless foot Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him When he comes back; you demi-puppets, that By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose pastime    
Is to make midnight mushrooms; that rejoice To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,— Weak masters though ye be—I have bedimm’d The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds, And ’twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault      
Set roaring war: to the dread-rattling thunder Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak With his own bolt: the strong-bas’d promontory Have I made shake; and by the spurs pluck’d up The pine and cedar: graves at my command    
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let them forth By my so potent art. But this rough magic I here abjure; and, when I have requir’d Some heavenly music,—which even now I do,— To work mine end upon their senses that    
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, And, deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.  [Solemn music.

Tempest 5.1

Come, now a roundel and a fairy song; Then, for the third of a minute, hence; Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds,         5
Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings, To make my small elves coats, and some keep back The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots, and wonders At our quaint spirits. Sing me now asleep; Then to your offices, and let me rest.

Midsummer Nights Dream 2.2.

Puck.  Now the hungry lion roars,           And the wolf behowls the moon;         Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,           All with weary task fordone.      
        Now the wasted brands do glow,           Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,         Puts the wretch that lies in woe           In remembrance of a shroud.         Now it is the time of night      
          That the graves, all gaping wide,         Every one lets forth his sprite,           In the church-way paths to glide:         And we fairies, that do run           By the triple Hecate’s team,      
        From the presence of the sun,           Following darkness like a dream,         Now are frolic; not a mouse         Shall disturb this hallow’d house:         I am sent with broom before,      
        To sweep the dust behind the door.
  Obe.  Through the house give glimmering light           By the dead and drowsy fire;         Every elf and fairy sprite      
          Hop as light as bird from brier;         And this ditty after me         Sing and dance it trippingly.

  Tita.  First, rehearse your song by rote,         To each word a warbling note:      
        Hand in hand, with fairy grace,         Will we sing, and bless this place.  [Song and dance.

 Obe.  Now, until the break of day,         Through this house each fairy stray.         To the best bride-bed will we,      
        Which by us shall blessed be;         And the issue there create         Ever shall be fortunate.         So shall all the couples three         Ever true in loving be;      
        And the blots of Nature’s hand         Shall not in their issue stand:         Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,         Nor mark prodigious, such as are         Despised in nativity,      
        Shall upon their children be.         With this field-dew consecrate,         Every fairy take his gait,         And each several chamber bless,         Through this palace, with sweet peace;
        Ever shall in safety rest,         And the owner of it blest.             Trip away;             Make no stay;         Meet me all by break of day.  [Exeunt OBERON, TITANIA, and Train.        55
  Puck.  If we shadows have offended,         Think but this, and all is mended,         That you have but slumber’d here         While these visions did appear.         And this weak and idle theme,      
        No more yielding but a dream,         Gentles, do not reprehend:         If you pardon, we will mend.         And, as I’m an honest Puck,         If we have unearned luck      
        Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,         We will make amends ere long;         Else the Puck a liar call:         So, good night unto you all.         Give me your hands, if we be friends,         And Robin shall restore amends.

Midsummer Night's Dream 5.2

It turns out there are other people out there trying to police the glut of quotes wrongly attributed to Shakespeare.  Here's a site that lists some more:

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