Do You Ever Feel Like an Anachronism?

Have you ever heard people say that they were born before their time or after their time? That they should have lived in a different era? They’re more or less calling themselves anachronisms.

anachronism: n. an object, action, or custom that is far outside of its time (either extremely old-fashioned or too far advanced for the time)

That probably sounds a lot like a continuity error, but that’s not what I mean when I say anachronisms (I hope people don’t feel like continuity errors!). Technically, yes, a continuity error could be an anachronism – it is something that wouldn’t actually happen within the time period of the story; however, “continuity error” always refers to a mistake (something unintentional and wrong), and an anachronism could be something intentional (a literary device).

The most common uses of anachronism are including technology that hasn’t been invented yet or behavior that has long since died out.

Shakespeare uses many examples of the first type. He included references to a mechanical clock in Julius Caesar, references guns in King John (and other plays), mentions that Hamlet went to a university that didn’t exist in Hamlet’s time, etc. In fact, almost every one of his plays has some kind of anachronism.

So why isn’t it a continuity error when Shakespeare does it? Because it’s Shakespeare – no, that’s not it (really, people). It not an error because the deliberate nature of the bits that are out of time is pretty clear when you consider the context. For the most part, Shakespeare’s anachronisms are very clear allusions to famous events or events common to his own time. You might even call them a type of fan-service since they’re information slipped in for the sake of the audience’s understanding rather than for the period of the piece (if you’re interested in learning more, check out the article, “Significance of Anachronisms in Shakespeare’s Works.”).

The other type (the obsolete behavior kind) is also obviously deliberate because the other characters generally react to the strangely old-fashioned behavior (or technology). Strange manners of speech, archaic actions such as bowing or carrying a top hat and cane – these types of differences are very noticeable, and characters with modern sensibilities are sure to notice and comment. If a book were set today, a character who uses cloth diapers, hand-washes laundry, or dresses in a retro style of clothing (like the 1950s maybe) would be considered an anachronism.

Which leads me back to people who feel like they’re born in the wrong time. People who might even adopt fashions or behaviors from an earlier era.

So I’ll ask again – do you ever feel like an anachronism?

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