My childhood friend Wendy has always had two particular gifts – or rather, one gift and one affliction. She understands every word of any Shakespeare play, however or wherever it is performed. She also can’t resist making puns.
I knew she would love Wild Bios: William Sheepspeare, which
is a very peculiar book whose stated purpose is to introduce babies (“ages 0 to 2″) to William Shakespeare. But it is mostly a picture book that makes puns involving sheep.
“Another author trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes,” Wendy said, predictably, when I showed her the book. “But maybe it’s shear joy.”
Believe it or not, Wendy’s spontaneous puns are less groan-worthy than much of the wordplay in “William Sheepspeare.” In 16 pages, each with one illustration and one or two sentences, it offers the life and work of the “Baa-rd of Avon” who married “Anne Hoofaway” and “flocked” to London where he joined “Lord Chamberlamb’s” acting company, and wrote comedies like “As Ewe Like It,” “ram-ances” like “A Winter’s Tail” and “shearious tragedies” like “Julius Fleecer.” As a result “William cud purchase a new home in Stratford for his lambily.”
I have to cut this short!
Why, I wondered, would the authors ( Courtney Acampora and Maggie Fischer, writers; Benedetta Capriotti, illustrator) choose to focus on sheep?
As it turns out, if you Google “Shakespeare and Sheep” (without the quotation marks), you get more than ten million results. “Shakespeare and rhinoceros” only gets 800,000. On the other hand, “Shakespeare and Dog” gets more than 63 millon.
Still: “Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford Upon Avon sits just outside the famous Cotswolds Hills, where wool was the primary industry.”
And: In Henry VI, the king yearns for the life of a shepherd
So many days my ewes have been with young;
So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean:
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece: …
Ah, what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy
To kings that fear their subjects’ treachery?
And: A 2015 production of King Learat Hoxton Courtyard Theatre in the U.K. used actual sheep as the cast wearing specially designed costumes