Category Archives: William Shakespeare

There Have Only Been Two Geniuses in the World — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

mays08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous actress Tallulah Bankhead was an ardent baseball fan, and she was particularly impressed by the outstanding skills of the great athlete Willie Mays. Apparently, she stated that there have only been two authentic geniuses in history:

Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

I am not sure if this ascription is accurate because Bankhead died in 1968, and the earliest citation I have seen is from the 1980s. Would you please examine this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Tallulah Bankhead did make a remark of this type. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in 1962. The detailed citation is given further below.

In 1960 “Ebony” magazine published a profile of Bankhead in which she praised Willie Mays and expressed her allegiance to the San Francisco Giants baseball team: 1

Willie Mays: “A perfectly charming man . . . the greatest all-around ballplayer in the world . . . a master showman with a spectacular touch” says Tallulah . . .

Her well-known devotion to the National League Giants started in 1939 and persisted after that club had abandoned New York’s Polo Ground for San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. The Giants’ failure to win the pennant last year was a disappointment to her, but she is speculating enthusiastically about their chances in 1960. “With the help of those good Alabama men, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, they might do it this time,” she says.

On October 23, 1962 “The Chicago Daily Defender” printed a small set of miscellaneous quotations under the title “They Said It”. The statement under examination was credited to Tallulah Bankhead. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“There have only been two geniuses in the world — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare. But dahling, I think you had better put Shakespeare first.”
—Actress Tallulah Bankhead

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1960 January, Ebony, Volume 15, Number 3, A Southerner Looks At Prejudice By Allan Morrison, Start Page 29, Quote Page 30 and 33, Published by Johnson Publishing Company. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962 October 23, Chicago Daily Defender, They Said It, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

The Plays of Shakespeare Were Not Written by Shakespeare but by Another Man of the Same Name

Mark Twain? Oxford Student? Frenchman? Lewis Carroll? Schoolchild? G. K. Chesterton? Israel Zangwill? Charles Lamb? Benjamin Jowett? Aldous Huxley? Anonymous?

quill08Dear Quote Investigator: Determining the accurate provenance of famous plays and poems can be a contentious topic. According to tradition the composer of the Iliad and Odyssey has been referred to as Homer, but some question this ascription and wonder whether there may have been more than one “Homer”. The authorship of the works ascribed to Shakespeare has also been challenged for many years. Candidates for the Bard’s secret identity have included Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe. The fractious arguments about origins have inspired a family of jokes. Here are two examples:

The Homeric Poems were not written by Homer, but by another person of the same name.

The plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name.

These remarks have been connected to well-known humorists and literary figures, e.g., Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton, Lewis Carroll, Israel Zangwill, and Aldous Huxley. Would you please explore the history of these expressions?

Quote Investigator: Because these jokes can be stated in many ways they are difficult to trace. The earliest strong match known to QI was published in “The Spectator” of London in 1860. A news item by an unnamed writer discussed the possible discovery of a new planet and then made a joke about Shakespearean authorship theories: 1

This rivals the new discovery about Shakespeare,—that the well-known plays and poems were not by William Shakespeare, but by another person of the same name!

An analogous quip about Homer was published in a periodical in Oxford, England in 1874. Celebrated writers, such as Mark Twain and G. K. Chesterton, did employ versions of this joke, but they did not claim coinage. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1860 January 14, The Spectator, Volume 33, The “New Planet” and Its Discoverers, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Column 1, Published by Joseph Clayton, Wellington Street, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Would Challenge You To a Battle of Wits, But I See You Are Unarmed

William Shakespeare? Mark Twain? Oscar Wilde? Winston Churchill? Abby Buchanan Longstreet? Frank Fay? Pierre de Roman? Joey Adams? Apocryphal?

thinker07Dear Quote Investigator: There exists a collection of similar jokes based on word play and the terms: battle, armed, wit, and half-wit. Here are some examples:

1) I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed.
2) Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.
3) Never, ever, enter a battle of wits half-armed.
4) In a battle of wits he comes only half prepared to the battle.

The first of these has been attributed to the luminary William Shakespeare. But I have searched his oeuvre and this statement was absent. Versions of the popular quip have been attached to the powerful quotation magnets Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that the Bard of Avon penned this jest. Attributions to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill are also unsupported. The earliest evidence of comparable word play located by QI appeared in an 1866 novel which the author, Abby Buchanan Longstreet, released under a pseudonym. Longstreet described a character blushing and then employed an instance of the trope. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The blood swung its reddest pennant out over the boy’s cheeks, but Trissilian’s mood was not to be resented, or resisted. A battle of wits was to be fought, and the Boy in Blue was unarmed to-night.

Because this witticism can be expressed in many ways searching for it was difficult. Hence, earlier examples probably do exist. QI hopes this article provides a useful sampling for readers and future researchers.

In December 1927 a thematically connected quip appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper. But this item did not reference a battle or armaments: 2

He—Mabel says she thinks I’m a wit.
She—Well, she’s half right.

In December 1928 Walter Winchell’s widely-distributed gossip column printed an instance of the joke. The punch line was credited to the comedian and actor Frank Fay who was engaged in a sharp disagreement with an interior decorator: 3

“Mr. Fay, is this going to be a battle of wits?”
“If it is,” was the indifferent retort, “you have come unarmed!”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1866, Remy St. Remy, Or: The Boy in Blue by Mrs. C. H. Gildersleeve (Abby Buchanan Longstreet), Quote Page 236, Published by James O’Kane, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1927 December 30, The Tyrone Daily Herald, Merry Moments: Half One, Anyway, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Tyrone, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1928 December 12, Lexington Herald, The Diary of a New Yorker by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Lexington, Kentucky. (GenealogyBank)

The Purpose of Life Is to Discover Your Gift. The Meaning of Life Is to Give Your Gift Away

William Shakespeare? Pablo Picasso? David Viscott? Joy Golliver? Emilio Santini? Anonymous?

gift07Dear Quote Investigator: A popular adage presents a fascinating answer to a perennial philosophical question about the significance of life:

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

This statement is often attributed to the famed playwright William Shakespeare or the influential painter Pablo Picasso on social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. I know that means absolutely nothing about who really said it. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence linking this expression to William Shakespeare or Pablo Picasso. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1993 book by the radio personality David S. Viscott. This citation is detailed further below.

An interesting thematically related statement was included in an 1843 essay titled “Gifts” by the prominent lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson who argued that a gift is only worthwhile if it is integrally related to the gift-giver 1

Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a stone; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.

In 1993 the volume “Finding Your Strength in Difficult Times: A Book of Meditations” by David Viscott was published. The author was a psychiatrist who hosted a pioneering radio talk show in the 1980s and 1990s during which he provided counseling to callers. Viscott’s statement was composed of three parts instead of two: 2

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

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Notes:

  1. 1843 July, The Dial, Volume IV, Number I, Gifts (Essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson), Start Page 93, Quote Page 93, Column 1, Published by James Munroe and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1993, Finding Your Strength in Difficult Times: A Book of Meditations by David S. Viscott, Life, Quote Page 87, Contemporary Books of Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)

When I Saw You I Fell in Love, and You Smiled Because You Knew

William Shakespeare? Arrigo Boito? Jeane Westin? Anonymous?

arrigo02Dear Quote Investigator: I have a question about a quotation depicting communication between lovers. The following words are often ascribed to William Shakespeare:

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.

Sometimes the play Romeo and Juliet is named as the source, but I have not been able to find this line in the famous story of star-crossed lovers. I performed a comprehensive computer search to look through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and was unable to find this quote. Did the Bard write this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1893 the Italian-language opera Falstaff with music by the influential Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi was first performed. The work was a lyrical comedy in three acts with a libretto by Arrigo Boito that was based on The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare plus some material from King Henry IV. 1

In Act 2, Part 2 of the opera the character Fenton says the following to the character Nannetta: 2

Come ti vidi
M’innamorai,
E tu sorridi
Perchè lo sai.

These Italian words can be translated into English in several different ways. This version is popular today:

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.

The confusion between attributing the statement to William Shakespeare and Arrigo Boito is understandable because the opera Falstaff was derived from Shakespeare’s oeuvre, but QI has not found the line above in the original plays by the Bard.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2006 (Online Version 2008), The Grove Book of Operas, Edited by Stanley Sadie and Laura Macy, Second edition, Entry: Falstaff, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; accessed May 29 2013)
  2. 1893, Falstaff: Commedia Lirica in Tre Atti, (Lyrical comedy in three acts), (This work was written in Italian), Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Arrigo Boito, (Character Fenton speaking), Quote Page 77, Column 1, Edizioni Ricordi: G. Ricordi & Co., Milano, Italy. (Google Books full view) link