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How Sport Is Rooted In Shakespeare

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Sports are elemental. Themes of love, loyalty, betrayal, and yes, sports, are woven throughout the works of one of the greatest writers in English literature, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). 

Shakespeare mentions nearly 50 different games and sports in his plays (Brewster). Many of these activities were practiced in preparation for war and thus consisted of military training like archery, horseback riding, and jousting (Brewster). However, there were also purely recreational activities, such as tennis, which were embraced by the aristocratic and wealthy class… “When we have matched our rackets to these balls / We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set / Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard” (I.ii.261- 263). Here, man’s ambition and desire for expansion is described in tennis terms.

The prevalence of sport allusions in Shakespeare’s work hints at the importance of sport to the human spirit. Personal challenges are often equated with sports endeavors. Support is offered with exhortations that are perpetuated through the words of sportswriters and before them, cheering throngs in stadiums, amphitheatres and outposts throughout the world. When an individual is dealt a blow, personal, professional or physical, we reach for athletic references or examples of victories achieved against all odds. The underdog was conceived on the playing field. Our need to compete, win, endure, overcome is both fed by our attraction to sports and reflected in the pursuit of athletic greatness.

Even the way that we perceive the natural world around us mirrors this orientation and bias. Cheetahs are our sprinters, antelope our jousters, monkeys our acrobats. Our ability to move and create with our bodies is fundamental to our existence. It is a perspective that will serve us well when we are not serving well or we are no longer serving to win matches, but to stay healthy and teach our children to serve and to serve our communities and ourselves.

Works Cited

Brewster, Paul. “Games and Sports in Shakespeare.” Games and Sports in Shakespeare.