Ides of March Fears: Shakespeare’s Huge Impact
Of course we all know about the Ides of March, forever popularized by Shakespeare in his play, Julius Caesar, but there’s much more to think about for us mere mortal writers!
3 Striking Events Which Occurred on this date:
The Ides of March was Caesar’s death day and as such was a turning point in Rome’s history. The Republic was over. Hundreds of years later Shakespeare’s play immortalized both Caesar and “Beware the Ides of March.”
Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate his throne in Russia on this date in 1917 bringing about the start of events which led to the Communist takeover in the U.S.S.R.
On this date in 1939, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia as the Second World War began to ramp up.
We could go on and on with examples of bad things which happened on March 15 (check out the link above for a few), but the point is without the wily William Shakespeare, the Ides of March just wouldn’t be a “thing”. We wouldn’t be making lists of happenings on this date because such an antiquated expression would have passed into near oblivion along with Caesar’s language–Latin–and his death date, too.
But a writer over four hundred years ago chose to have his whole play revolve around “Beware the Ides of March”. Because his writing was so erudite yet spoke to the people all those years ago and amazingly still does today we know about the word “Ides” and its place in the Roman calendar in Caesar’s time. Pretty cool.
What a lesson in word choice for us writers! Think about it. If Caesar’s line had been “Beware March 15th!” would it have had the same punch? Would it have pricked our curiosity and made us wonder just what it meant? No. We would have understood immediately and moved from that line to the next.
Instead, our brains stop and notice that expression. Many of us immediately look for its meaning but even those who don’t realize it’s something different. It’s part of the supernatural aura of a soothsayer or person who understands the supernatural who is warning Caesar. We notice.
We writers need to chose our words with the same thoughts about just what difference our choices can make to our stories. Even those who are not writers in the professional sense can make the same magic by picking words not just because they’re easy or because everyone else uses them, but rather because they underline our points, they invoke emotional responses and they stick a notion to our readers’ subconscious mind where it can be nurtured and grow. Oh, words can be so powerful!
As you read through this excerpt from the back cover of The Loyalist Legacy, pick out the words–verbs mostly–that have the most effect in painting the story. I think there are three or four that show the fear and futility of William and Catherine’s uncertain situation.
After the crushing end of the War of 1812, William and Catherine Garner find their allotted two hundred acres in Nissouri Township by following the Thames River into the wild heart of Upper Canada. On their valuable land straddling the river, dense forest, wild beasts, displaced Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William knows he cannot take his family back to Niagara but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and their children, he hurries back along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return home in time for spring planting.
Here is my list. Did you choose them? Others? crushing, allotted, wild, laced, threatens, longs, hoping.
This isn’t a right or wrong quiz but as writers we must look at each word we use and make sure it has the appropriate connotation for the feelings we are looking to create in our readers. “Fat” has a negative connotation and “plump” is more positive. They both describe the same condition but one is more palatable.
So today as you go about your busy life, think about Shakespeare and his word choice. Worked for him, why not for the rest of us? And beware the Ides of March!
The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck, The Loyalist Legacy
by Elaine Cougler
Available at Amazon.com and many other places.