Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Go Fishing with Shakespeare

Shakespeare's birthday is worth a blog, although new blog posts ordinarily come up monthly on Shakespeare in Fiction and Fact. (This will in fact be the third April post, since the extraordinary discovery of a new scene from Romeo and Juliet on the oddly meaningful date of April 1st demanded its own story.) Shakespeare is 449 today, and celebrations of his birth among Shakespeare maniacs are in full force on both sides of the Atlantic. If you want to wander down or teleport to the Bankside, London, you can hear world-class theater historians discussing such topics as why the Globe playhouse was round and how Elizabethan London looked when it was plastered with playbills. Washington, D.C., that intellectual town, has declared it open house at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where are stored most of the original First Folios. (These are huge first editions of Shakespeare's complete plays put out by his fellow actors in 1623, and We Capitalize Them.) (Pun unintentional.) In Chicago, they're doing their annual "Chicagoans Talk Like Shakespeare Day," so stay away from there. It's best, I think, to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday in Kalamazoo, where spring has finally arrived and where, though students at Western Michigan University are now taking their Shakespeare finals, many will later be gathered at Shakespeare's Pub downtown on Kalamazoo Avenue. What is that, you say? It's a beautiful old squarish stone building with "Shakespeare" engraved on the front wall, and inside it's a sports bar! But it wasn't always a bar. For seventy years it was the national headquarters of the still enormously successful Shakespeare Fishing Tackle company, begun in 1897 by William Shakespeare, Jr.,
a Kalamazoo fisherman. Shakespeare (junior) invented a fantastic device for winding fishing line evenly back on the spool, superior to anything yet seen. People, you can't possibly imagine how important this type of thing is in Michigan unless you live here. The Shakespeare Fishing Tackle company grew so successful that it took its slogan, "Go Fishing with Shakespeare," and left Kalamazoo, which is regrettably what most successful Kalamazoo companies do, like for example the Gibson guitar company, who thought there was more going on musically in Nashville (they were so wrong). But Shakespeare Fishing Tackle left its beautiful building, and now, even though you can't order rods there anymore, people use it for stand-up comedy, which is not so bad, and something Shakespeare would have liked. (I mean, the first Shakespeare. Would have.) And now, since you want to know, would Shakespeare have gone fishing with Shakespeare fishing tackle, using the state of the art Synergy spincast reel which in the year 2000, according to the Shakespeare website, "took the tackle world by storm," a storm reminiscent of the storm in act 3 of King Lear? Would Will Shakespeare have purchased the Warner Brothers "Looney Tune" character fishing kit for his children -- or for himself -- and used the Ugly Stik 100% graphite rod? We already know Shakespeare would have driven a Subaru (we just do), and it's more than likely we can make predictions about his fishing preferences. The last place to look for evidence is his plays, which are the last place to look for any genuine information about Shakespeare's personal life, and of course the first place people always look for it, because Shakespeare's plays are there. Who fishes in Shakespeare's plays? His characters mostly fish metaphorically, and most of their references to fishing are obscene, so because this is a somewhat family-oriented blog I won't record them, except to say that if you want to know what it means to go "groping for trouts in a peculiar river," or to have your "pond fish'd," check out act one, scene 2, of Measure for Measure and act one, scene 2, of The Winter's Tale. A G-rated reference to fishing occurs in Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra is reminded how she played a prank on her lover Mark Antony while she and he were angling competitively in the Nile (as I'm sure they did while not playing billiards, which Shakespeare also has them doing). She paid a diver to hang a cultured, salted fish on Antony's hook so he would be freaked out when he drew it up. (They didn't have the Synergy spincast reel.) In this scene Cleopatra imagines whiling away the time while Antony's in Rome by again catching fish, "think[ing] them every one an Antony," and saying "Ah, ha! y'are caught." And then she starts talking about a drunken party where she and he cross-dressed, so the rating is no longer "G." Anyway, it's Shakespeare's birthday, so go fishing, cross-dress, visit the Globe, or grope for trouts in a peculiar river -- like the Kalamazoo, which is one strange river. Do you want to know more about Shakespeare and fish? Do you? Then check out this blog, "Shakespeare the Angler," by Dr. John Day: http://compendium.legiodraconis.com/shakes.html.


  1. Ha! You are hilarious. Why the heck doesn't Google have a Shakespeare image on its home page today?

  2. Thoroughly enjoyable post! And informative. Thanks!

  3. How witty, Grace! Shakespeare and fishing: who knew they went so great together? I look forward to your account of the SAA, especially since I couldn't attend this year. Will people be lampooned?