Forget the Authorship Debate: Follow the Real Shakespeare on Twitter

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 28 2011 2:16 PM

Follow Friday: The Ghost of William Shakespeare

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For the ghost of William Shakespeare, this week is sort of a wash. In the debit column, there’s the dopey new Roland Emmerich film Anonymous, which besmirches the name of the man from Stratford by positing that his plays were actually written by a nobleman in Queen Elizabeth’s court. But on the plus side, this week saw the beginning of the second go-round of the Twitter feed @IAM_SHAKESPEARE, which for the past two-plus years has been robo-tweeting the Bard’s works 140 characters at a time, one tweet every ten minutes. On Tuesday, having made it through the complete works, the feed turned over and started again with the sonnets (as of this writing, we’re midway through number 29, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”).

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

It’s difficult to get across just how much I love @IAM_SHAKESPEARE. It’s different from the other literary-quote feeds I follow—@TweetsOfGrass, @LarkinQuotes—worthy as those are. Something about the automated inexorability of @IAM_SHAKESPEARE—a line every ten minutes, regular as clockwork—really does make it seem like the Elizabethan poet is, as per the bio on his profile page, “tweeting from the grave.” This isn’t some dude somewhere deciding an individual quote is cool and posting it; it’s a 24-hour stream of the best the English language has to offer, and there’s an ever-renewed joy in scanning the scroll of contemporary ephemera that is a Twitter page (What did @WheresAndrew order for breakfast? How’s @CrankyKaplan’s mood today?) and coming across a tweet like:

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I am gone for ever. Exit, pursued by a bear

@IAM_SHAKESPEARE was created in 2009 by Joshua Strebel, a Phoenix-based web developer who had written a program that could automatically pull tweets from a pre-existing database of entries (the script was originally created with a friend of Strebel’s who maintained a popular fake Shaquille O’Neal page.) Annoyed with the vacuousness of much of what he saw on Twitter every day, Strebel decided to use this automated script to up the ante of the language in his feed: “If Twitter was inane, meaningless, and trite,” he told me in an e-mail, “Shakespeare is the complete opposite. If Twitter was murder to grammar and long-form thoughts, Shakespeare is the complete opposite.”

One of the best things about @IAM_SHAKESPEARE is its flexibility—the feed can be anything you want it to be. Sometimes a single line can evoke a complete dramatic moment, like this stage direction from the chilling climax of A Winter’s Tale, when a statue of the long-lost queen comes to life:

[HERMIONE comes down from the pedestal]

At other times, @IAM_SHAKESPEARE can be almost like a tarot deck or a Magic 8 ball, coming up with the image or word of advice you didn’t know you needed. Single-word “widows” at the end of a line of verse can make for wonderfully enigmatic Shakestweets like this one, which popped up one night as if to admonish me for staying up too late:

sleep.

Last but not least, Willy Shakes’ 23,374 followers are a witty bunch who jump at the chance to talk back to the Bard, sometimes completing his thought for him in rhymed iambic pentameter:

PGoedi TR @IAM_SHAKESPEARE When day's oppression is not eased by night, // I come home late and pick another fight.

And why are you even on Twitter if not to eavesdrop on a conversation between the Swan of Avon and a user named Thunder Pussy, who asks:

audreybjunior now just what in the flim flam is going on here Willy? RT @IAM_SHAKESPEARE And new pervert a reconciled maid.

Of all the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, the biggest may be that more people don’t follow @IAM_SHAKESPEARE. If you love the English language, laughter, wisdom, beauty, and surprise, get thee to his Twitter page and click.