A bauble on a Christmas tree.

7 Christmas Traditions Ruined by Shakespeare

Christmas is very different today than it would have been in Shakespeare’s time – there was no John Lewis back then, for starters.

Unsurprisingly, then, some of his plays are a little bit down on our beloved Christmas traditions.

For your festive entertainment, here are seven Christmas traditions which Shakespeare kinda doesn’t get (but we love him anyway):


1. Gifts

In real life, there’s an absolute menagerie of Shakespeare-themed presents to give your loved ones. William himself didn’t have that luxury.

Gifts in Shakespeare’s plays are quite often disastrous: from King Lear’s attempt to divide his land up between his daughters, to the fateful handkerchief given to Desdemona by Othello.

And then there’s Ophelia – she not only breaks the cardinal Christmas sin of regifting, but she tries to regift TO THE PERSON WHO GAVE HER THE PRESENT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

A quote from Ophelia: "My lord, I have remembrances of yours that I have longed long to redeliver. I pray you now receive them."

Poor form, Ophelia. Poor form.


2. Winter

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

Sound familiar? Exactly. One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes places the words ‘winter’ and ‘discontent’ right next to each other. What a buzzkill.

But hey, there’s The Winter’s Tale! Maybe that’ll be a bit more positive?

A quote from Mamillius: "A sad tale's best for winter. I have one of sprites and goblins."

Wow, thanks Mamillius. I quite fancied watching Elf, but never mind. You do you.


3. Chimney Surprises

This one’s literally just here because of THIS quote in Henry IV, Part I:

“… and then we leak in your chimney, and your chamber-lye breeds fleas like a loach.”

Yes, that’s a guy joking about urinating down someone’s chimney to attract fleas. Merry Christmas everyone.

Santa climbing down a chimney.
Better hope he’s bringing presents down that chimney.


4. Pantomime Dames

Gender in Shakespeare is a pretty fluid thing.

Once you’ve gotten used to the idea of a boy dressed as a girl impersonating a boy who’s playing the part of a girl, your typical pantomime dame seems a bit dull.

No offence, Biggins – it’s us, not you.


5. Rural Walks

There’s nothing quite like taking a long, relaxing stroll out in the countryside on Christmas Day.

Unless you’re in a Shakespeare play. When his characters venture out into rural areas, weird things start to happen.

There’s Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who walks alone into the forest for just a few yards before getting transformed into an ass. Then there’s Oliver from As You Like It, who actually gets on pretty well in the forest of Arden – until he gets attacked by a lion.

But what if you’ve had an argument with your family and want to blow off some steam?

Again, it’s probably safer to stay indoors – King Lear went for a walk on the heath and look what happened to him.

A forest.
Probably best not to go in here – there could be donkeys or lions or fairies or ghosts or vagabonds or bears or storms…


6. Christmas Spirits

We’re not talking about the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present or Future here.

Alcohol, whether it’s a mulled wine by the fire or one too many vodkas at the Christmas party, is a huge Christmas tradition.

It’s a shame, then, that so many Shakespeare characters are so goddamn sensible about the whole thing!

Take Michael Cassio, who reacts to his drunken actions like basically everyone who’s ever woken up after a night out on Wind Street:

A quote from Cassio: "My reputation, Iago, my reputation!... O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!"

And Iago only asked him to stay for one drink – yep, Iago is THAT friend. “It’ll only be a quick half, don’t worry about it.”


7. Christmas Stockings

Twelfth Night. Malvolio. Bright yellow. Nothing more needs to be said.



There we go – seven Christmas traditions ruined by William Shakespeare!

Hopefully you’re not too discouraged from indulging these traditions, and many more of your own, over the next few days – with a few gifts related to everyone’s favourite bard thrown in, if you’re lucky!

We’ll be back after Christmas with our guide to Shakespeare in Wales for January.

Until then, Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas!

Much love,

Shakespeare Cymru