In a recent competition we asked entrants who they would rather receive a letter from. Our process for choosing the possible letter-writers was of course a tough process of elimination and deliberation.
After receiving the much awaited results we thought to expand upon some of the most popular answers with a little bit about some of the letters they had already written in their lives. Below are the results, scroll down further to find out a little more about them.
A choice that would no doubt have yielded the most valuable letter of the bunch, since there are in fact no surviving or verified letters from the playwright himself that we know of. However what we do have is the fact that his plays themselves are stuffed with letters, like a bursting postbox. Of all his plays just 5 don’t contain letters, and there are 111 letters in total. What would you hope to hear about from Shakespeare? A secret from his plays, something about life in the Renaissance, or a love sonnet to you?
My favourite example of a letter in his plays comes from Twelfth Night, in which Malvolio is tricked into believing he is finally receiving a letter from the noble lady (Olivia) he is enamoured with. It’s a letter that contains the great line ‘be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.’ but also the letter hilariously encourages Malvolio to smile endlessly and wear cross-gartered yellow stockings, which Olivia actually hates (who wouldn’t?). Sadly Malvolio ends up being locked in a dark room and thought insane for the way he interprets this letter’s commands.
M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and
yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for
every one of these letters are in my name. Soft!
here follows prose.
‘If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon ’em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
THE FORTUNATE-UNHAPPY.’ 142
Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is
open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross
acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade
me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;
and in this she manifests herself to my love, and
with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits
of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will
be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and
cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting
on. Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a
‘Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.’ 158
Jove, I thank thee: I will smile; I will do
everything that thou wilt have me.
Churchill came a very close second in our poll and as a well admired figure in British history, known for his rousing oratory skills as well as his wit I’m sure he would have written a very entertaining letter. For the time of year I chose an example that shows a rather different side of Churchill, in what is a very touching letter to his wife Clementine.
Their marriage was a lasting and happy one but they also had fiery arguments. Clementine was a determined, dignified, loyal, sympathetic and yet also challenging partner. She was the critic Winston heeded above all others. During their fifty-six year marriage, Winston and Clementine wrote warmly to one another whenever they were apart. They even wrote love notes back and forth to each other while living in the same house. Their letters and notes often ended with drawings illustrating their pet names for each other. I think we could all learn a little something from them.
My darling Clemmie,
… you wrote some words very dear to me, about my having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love… What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey.
Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and, to millions, tragic and terrible years?…
With tender love from your devoted,
J. K. Rowling
J.K Rowling receives numerous letters from adoring fans, but always seemed to find the time to respond to those who truly needed the support of someone to whom they so looked up to and appreciated the work of. Such was one tragic example of a girl who wrote to her to thank her for creating Harry Potter, her ‘best friend’ after both of her drug-addicted parents were murdered and she was left to care for her siblings at just 16 years of age.
To see this touching correspondence click here. I think letters like these show a glimpse of how much of an impact writing can have on people’s lives.
Don’t wait to receive, go and write!
Now whilst we can’t actually get you a letter from any of them, we hope you will be inspired to write some of your own letters to whomever you like, and whether it be funny, romantic or supportive, receiving a hand written letter will no doubt have a positive impact.