Shakespeare’s Use of “Once Upon a Time”

Have you ever thought about the strangeness of the words “once upon a time?”

I recently finished reading Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and it was amazing. If you haven’t read it, it’s about this guy Prospero whose brother stranded him on an island so that he could take his place as the duke of Milan (pretty sleazy guy). But years later Prospero uses his magic powers to strand the brother, king, king’s son, and a lot of other people on the island through a crazy storm (i.e. tempest) in order to seek revenge!! Plus there’s romance and a “monster” and all kinds of good stuff. It’s an awesome play I’d definitely recommend checking out! (Although I initially picked it up because I really wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s book “Hagseed” which is heavily based on it…another book I would definitely recommend, especially for fans of stories within stories (within stories…).)

The version I was using for Shakespeare’s play had footnotes that explained the confusing/weird words, and one of the explanations caught my eye. Stephano, one of the guys newly stranded on the island, says at one point:

“I was the man i’ the moon when time was”

The footnote translated “when time was” as “once upon a time,” and I love it. It sounds so mysterious, otherworldly, enchanting. It made me consider how easy it can be to not actively think about familiar phrases like “once upon a time” and other idioms (like the ones I talked about in Top 20 Ridiculous Idioms and 10 More Ridiculous Idioms).

That started me thinking about music, of course, too. Most of the time I’m so busy singing along with pop songs that I don’t really listen to the different instruments supporting the voice or even the singer’s voice itself. But when I do really zoom in while listening it’s amazing what I’ve never heard before. Each instrument or sound really adds to the song, even when I’m not actively thinking about it–just like the specific combination and choice of words in a story. Of course, I’m still going to sing along with music most of the time and not always listen super closely, and I’m not going to dwell on every single minuscule word of a story. And that’s totally okay. But it’s also cool to recognize the details that usually lie below the surface by consciously bringing them to the surface!

So what’s the coolest phrase or detail you’ve read in a book or heard in music? Let me know in the comments below!!

27 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Use of “Once Upon a Time”

  1. Love this post! The Tempest is awesome 🙂 And I love zooming in and catching cool phrases like that. In the case of music… recently I was listening to “Here Comes the Sun” and I noticed the strings’ part and how it overlaps with the synthesizer (at least I think that’s what it is…)–anyway, it struck me just how much it added to the song! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Little did Shakespeare known that his final and arguably semi-autobiographical opus will be read as a prelude to ‘Hagseed’! As they say, Fair is foul, and foul is fair… As for stories within stories (within stories), I have had enough of them in ‘The Blind Assassin’. I did love The Handmaid’s Tale though and had read it long before it became a Hulu sensation, and where she didn’t finish even the one story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love The Tempest! Julie Taymore did a film version with Helen Mirren playing the gender-swapped role of Prospera. It’s fantastic!

    As far as captivating phrases from books, films, or music, there are too many to count, but the first one that came to mind was a set of lyrics from the Smashing Pumpkins song, ‘Porcelina of the Vast Oceans’:

    “Porcelina, she waits for me there
    With seashell hissing lullabies
    And whispers fathomed deep inside my own
    Hidden thoughts and alibis
    My secret thoughts come alive”

    It’s a long song, but it was unlike anything I’d ever listened to before (I was in high school when I first heard it), and I’ve never forgotten it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh wow, I love those lyrics!! Seashell hissing lullabies is such an amazing line. And wow again, that film version sounds really interesting with Prospera! Does she still have a daughter or do they gender swap anyone else?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. my coolest phrase would be “The crooks already know these tricks; honest men must learn them in self-defence.”
    But here is the thing why do/must professional writers fancy it all up for the rest of us when a sentence could be said using the most normal way but with wit and creativity rather than usage of fancy words which people like me have difficult time comprehending.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take up art. Art is the only work open to people who can’t get along with others and still want to be special.”
    ― Alasdair Gray, Lanark

    “in the caves of my heart, where pain taps out its rhythms and sorrow sets its loss, i am without direction.”
    ― Nick Bantock, Windflower

    “Foolish man. You cannot turn me into a phantom because you are frightened. You do not dismiss a muse at whim. – Sabine Strohem”
    ― Nick Bantock, Griffin and Sabine

    Liked by 1 person

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