#Shakespeare400-Darwin Disses the Bard

157 years ago today, Charles Darwin sent the first three chapters of his book The Origin of Species to his publishers. He was 50 years old. The theory of evolution contained within made it one of the most influential books ever published, but Darwin had held off publishing for almost 20 years, worried about the response to his radical theories.

During that 20 years, Darwin experienced another evolution. He developed a dislike of Shakespeare.

According to his autobiography:

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirtDarwiny years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music.”

After the Origin of the Species was published in full, Darwin received a similarly critical review from The Examiner:

“Much of Mr. Darwin’s volume is what ordinary readers would call ‘tough reading;’ that is, writing which to comprehend requires concentrated attention and some preparation for the task.”

Looking for other reviews, I found one word that kept appearing….“boring.”

Perhaps Darwin should have revisited Shakespeare for a little advice before writing volumes about evolution.

What great advice might he have received?

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action” (Hamlet 3.2.17)



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