Talk about leaving your mark.
Even though he’s been dead for nearly 400 years, William Shakespeare is still the world’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 don’t think you’re influenced by Shakespeare, well — you are. Because every time you use an expression like “It’s a foregone conclusion,” “all’s well that ends well” or “it’s come full circle,” you’re using a phrase coined by the Bard.
“Audiences know more Shakespeare than they think they do,” said Zoe Saba, artistic director of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival since 1997.
This year’s festival, starting July 14 at the River Oaks Amphitheater in Paso Robles, showcases two plays — “The Comedy of Errors” and “As You Like It”—which, like all Shakespearian works, have had a significant impact on modern culture. “As You Like It,” written later in Shakespeare’s career, is generally seen as a work written during the height of the playwright’s creative arc.
“There’s a wonderful depth in that play,” said Teresa Thuman, who is directing “The Comedy of Errors” for the festival and has directed “As You Like It” in the past. “It has some of the greatest speeches Shakespeare ever wrote.”
It was that play — a romantic comedy about lovers who find love and freedom in the country — that gave birth to the phrases “too much of a good thing,” “for ever and a day” and “neither rhyme nor reason.” But it’s best known for “all the world’s a stage,” which begins a monologue spoken by a character named Jaques.
Progressive rock group Rush would name its 1976 live album “All the World’s a Stage.” Artists such as Weezer, Bob Dylan and Elvis would sing the “world’s a stage” line in songs. And a character in the comic book “V for Vendetta” would utter the line.
“Everyone knows that phrase, and it shows up everywhere,” said Cynthia Totten, who is co-directing the play with Saba.
The speech that features the expression—describing the so-called seven ages of man—has had a lasting impact as well.
“In that speech, he goes from the cradle to the grave,” Totten said. “It is poetry, but it captures our life story.”
Even lesser known lines from the play can be found in works by other artists. The beginning of one line — “Under the greenwood tree” — inspired the title of a Thomas Hardy novel in 1872 and a Donovan song in 1967.
Meanwhile, “The Comedy of Errors” — the title itself a popular expression — features the line “something in the wind.” The play, about separation and reunion, inspired the film “Big Business,” a modern day interpretation starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, and it’s been adapted for operas, musicals and TV shows.
Like “Big Business,” the festival’s take on “The Comedy of Errors” will be contemporary, featuring a plot that takes place in ’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 aren’t always as they appear.
While “As You Like It” has the memorable speeches, Thuman said, “The Comedy of Errors is a tighter, shorter, play.
“It’s so much more focused on the action,” she said.
Both plays will use Shakespeare’s original language, which is both the thing that draws people to him and the thing that scares them away. But the context of Shakespeare’s work, Saba said, is better understood in a more physical embodiment.
“It’s hard to read Shakespeare,” Saba said. “It’s meant to be seen. It’s meant to be acted.”
Of course, the actors are always aware of the famous passages, thinking, “Everyone’s waiting for me to say those lines,” Saba said. But the best actors don’t want to draw attention to the well-known expressions or speeches.
“You don’t want it to pop too much out of the action of the play,” Thuman said.
At the same time, audiences do take note of a line they recognize.
“People are often surprised — ‘Oh, that’s where that comes from!’ ” Totten said.
While the festival has delved into Shakespeare’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.
“They’re crowd pleasers,” Saba said. “And we certainly want to encourage people to come see live Shakespeare.”