Birthday Bard

William 'the Bard' Shakespeare

“There was a star danced, and under that was I born.” – William Shakespeare

This weekend, as some of you more learned and cultured people (or perhaps you live in Stratford or watch the news) out there might know, marks the celebration of William Shakespeare‘s birthday. Of course, no one actually knows the exact date of his birth, since during Shakey’s time there wasn’t such a thing as a birth certificate, rather lives were more usually measured (or, at least, noted) by religious ceremonies. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon, so it is generally assumed (given the practice of the time) that he was born around 23rd April. Since we happen to know that Will died on 23rd April 1616, the use of that date for his birthday is strangely appealing. It’s also Saint George’s Day, who is the patron saint of England, and that kind of puts the lid on the pot so far as nationalist championing of Shakespeare is concerned.

Not being interested in drawing connections between Palestinian martyrs and geopolitical entities, particularly ones that were unformed at the time of said martyrs death (George reputedly died 23rd April 303, England didn’t become a unified state until 927 AD. The Anglo-Saxons, from whom England takes its name, didn’t begin to settle until 410 AD at the very earliest. ), I am not particularly worried about when Shakespeare was actually born. But I am keen that his birth, death, and all the other parts of his life should be celebrated.

There are many for whom Shakespeare is nothing but a name, more familiar through popular culture osmosis than through any particular familiarity with his works. He’s even being used in GooglePlus’s latest advert if you hadn’t noticed. Most British (and presumably other English-speaking countries’) schoolchildren will associate his name with tedious hours in classrooms answering questions of dramatic intent and the like, whilst wearing bored expressions. This is a sentiment so universally understood that Blackadder: Back & Forth was able to play on it with the aid of a working time machine:

I have to admit that when I was one of those British schoolchildren poring over Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar and Othello, I too wasn’t particularly enamoured of the Bard. After I had ceased to be forced to pick it apart bit by bit like a disappointed jackal at the carcass of a zebra discarded by hungry lions, I revised my opinion. There is good reason why Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. Especially for me, as a writer, Shakespeare is somewhat of a role model. Not only was he a fantastic playwright, but he was a damn fine poet as well – two things that I aspire to be. I can only hope, dream, and pray to non-existent gods that 396 years after my death people are still going on about me. (*spoiler* They won’t be.)

I don’t want to talk too much about why Shakespeare is still popular today – the myShakespeare project is already doing that. Though I will point you in the direction of Mr Tim Minchin’s contribution, since he sums up much of my own feeling:

More what I wanted to say about this was that writers don’t often have a lot of time to celebrate, particularly those of us who are still struggling to get our names and our work out there to the public, still sitting in small rooms in front of refill pads, typewriters, and laptops (well, obviously not all of those at the same time. That’d be idiotic.). We spend a lot of time crafting, thinking, editing, revising, and all the other elements of writing. That’s how it should be, of course, but it does mean that we don’t necessarily have time to do anything else (particularly with full time jobs and studying, and families to look after). And those of you who are not writers, but are readers, you probably don’t do much to celebrate reading either. Reading and writing are key life skills but they’re also very personal things when they’re hobbies. Apart from the occasional book release, book signing, or local literary festival, there’s not much opportunity to go wild about reading and writing.

What I’m saying in rather a roundabout way – which bodes well for my novel writing! – is that we should take the opportunity on Shakespeare’s birthday to celebrate not just his works, which are extensive and fantastic, but to champion all that’s good about reading and writing. Let’s take a moment to appreciate all the great times we’ve had because we read this book, or wrote that story. Let’s put down the pen, step away from the typewriter, shut down the laptop, and grab a drink and toast the Bard for everything that’s good about literature. Who’s with me?

You can show you’re solidarity with me by sharing your favourite Shakespeare play, poem, and stage/film adaption in the comments. Or come to the pub and have a drink with me. Cheers, either way.

Favourite Shakespeare play: Toss up between Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Favourite Shakespeare poem: Sonnet 29.
Favourite Shakespeare character: Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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