May 20 • 12:04 PM

Beware the Ides of March and Pi Day

March 15, 2017
I enjoy writing the 'All the Liblong Day' columns. Writing is the easy part. Finding a new idea to write about is the hard part. So this week I'll write about two subjects I know almost nothing about: Shakespeare and math. Two days in March illustrate each.

My English teacher, Mrs. (Joy) Wilson, was big on Shakespeare. She had us read a couple of his works. I don't even remember which ones. She also took us to the Hilberry Theater at Wayne State University in Detroit to see one or two of his plays.

Do you like Shakespeare? Bully for you if you do. Hats off to you if you can understand it. I mean, take this for example from "Macbeth":

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men

May read strange matters. To beguile the time,

Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,

Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under't.

Huh? I have no clue what that means.

How about this one from "As You Like It:"

Hath not old custom made this life more sweet

Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods

More free from peril than the envious court?

Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,

The seasons' difference; as, the icy fang

And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,

Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,

Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,

'This is no flattery.'

Please email me if you know what that means and explain it.

I certainly understand the fact that Mr. Shakespeare's works have been around since the 16th century so they must say something that people understand and enjoy.

Wikipedia tells me that Shakespeare "was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet, and the 'Bard of Avon.' His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright."

Now that's impressive. I really do wish I could understand and enjoy it.

The only thing I remember about Shakespeare is from the play "Julius Caesar," The Ides of March. Today, March 15, is the Ides of March. I remember it because it's also classmate John Halsey's birthday.

In the play, a soothsayer says to Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March." And sure enough, in 44 B.C., when Caesar was at the senate, his old pal, Brutus, and about 60 other conspirators, cut him to shreds. Literally. "Et tu, Brute?" Caesar asks as he is stabbed to death.

That's the extent of my knowledge about Shakespeare. I wish I knew more because when that category comes up on "Jeopardy," I'm hopeless.

Yesterday, March 14, was Pi Day. That's another thing that I don't know much about—math. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide, often without a calculator, though I always use one. It's accurate and faster. But the meatier parts of math? Nope. I never liked it nor understood it. I envied my classmates who were whiz kids at math.

So what the heck is Pi and why do we celebrate Pi Day? In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day. What else would they have to do that's more important?

Wikipedia again comes to my rescue. "The number (pi symbol) is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter "(pi symbol)" since the mid-18th century, though it is also sometimes spelled out as "pi." Being an irrational number, pi cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction (equivalently, its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern)."

Quoting Wikipedia one more time, "Approximations for the mathematical constant pi in the history of mathematics reached an accuracy within 0.04% of the true value before the beginning of the Common Era (Archimedes). In Chinese mathematics, this was improved to approximations correct to what corresponds to about seven decimal digits by the 5th century."

Well, that's easy enough, right? Clear as a bell...3.14 so we celebrate it on 3/14. Clever. An irrational number? I love that phrase. Lots of things seem irrational to me but as long as the rest of the world is O.K. with it, I'm good.

So, I hope The Ides of March are a lot better to you than they were to Julius Caesar and that yesterday, you celebrated Pi Day with your friends. Personally, I like Pie Day better. Make mine blueberry.

Email Rick at

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