Saturday 10 December 2016

Eamonn Sweeney's Shakespearian sporting dictionary should be read by every writer

Eamonn Sweeney: Hold the Back Page

Published 01/05/2016 | 17:00

King Richard III would surely have approved of Leicester emerging as champions from a winter of discontent for the Premier League’s biggest clubs. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
King Richard III would surely have approved of Leicester emerging as champions from a winter of discontent for the Premier League’s biggest clubs. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

You may have noticed that there's a bit of fuss at the moment about some Shakespeare chap who apparently wrote a few plays in England a while back and died 400 years ago last month. The Bard didn't write much about sport, though the scene in King Lear where Kent insults Oswald by calling him "thou base football player" does raise the possibility that Shakespeare may have been an Elizabethan manifestation of that fascinating character, Hurling Man.

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Were Shakespeare alive today it's possible that having been born and reared just down the road from Birmingham he might be tempted to write a play on Aston Villa's current season, which has after all combined two of the three genres he specialised in, comedy and tragedy. He might perhaps choose to embody the travails of the club in the character of Joleon Lescott, the Noblest Brummie of Them All. After all, Lescott will soon be history at Villa Park.

But while Shakespeare may have written little about sport, he has left a lasting mark on its lexicon. Sportswriters and fans alike quote him at the drop of a hat. They might not always know they're doing it and they mightn't always get the quotes or their meaning exactly right, but all the same if William Shakespeare had never lived, sport, like everything else, wouldn't be spoken about in quite the same way.

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