Friday, 8 April 2016

Nature and Fortune thy birth, dear boy,Nature and Fortune join'd to make thee great*
(*Constance in King John)
I know I’m not the only one becoming irrepressibly excited about the approaching 400th anniversary of a certain fellow’s death. In 1616 on April 23rd Mr William Shakespeare, gentleman, died in Warwickshire. The date of his death is recorded in two separate places, so the place and time of his death is undisputed. 52 years before that, in 1564, on April 26th he was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, in the same town where he died, Stratford-upon-Avon. Practice in Elizabethan and Jacobean Stratford was to baptise children three days after birth, so the conclusion is that Shakespeare died on his birthday. (Some recent scholars – see The Shakespeare Circle edited by Edmondson and Wells – have argued that a more likely birthdate was April 22nd but tradition is probably going to smother the scholarship for a few more decades, and, in any case, we’ll probably never know.)  So, let’s hear it for April 23rd – Shakespeare’s death date and, as near as dammit, his probable birthday.

St George and Cervantes
It’s a neat coincidence that April 23rd also happens to be the celebration day of England’s patron St George, dragon-slayer and rescuer of maidens. (Never mind that the historical equivalent of St George probably never set foot in England – he’s still a great symbol of manliness. I especially like his “voice” in the third stanza of Ursula Fanthorpe’s poem Not My Best Side which you can hear if you click this link to a youtube performance.) April 23rd is also the anniversary of the death of one of Spain’s greatest writers, Cervantes, whose character, Don Qixote, famously thought that the arms of a windmill were dragons that needed fighting. The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently staging Don Quixote in Stratford-upon-Avon and I’m looking forward to seeing it with the great David Threlfall later this year.
Main pic: David Threlfall and Roger Rees in the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby

The most prolific imdb credits in history
The Internet Movie Database (today 8th April 2016) credits Shakespeare as a writer 1,148 times, a record that will probably never be beaten and with a script-writing tally that will no doubt keep rising. It’s especially remarkable that the movie industry began 300 years after Shakespeare died. (I suppose the cynic in me can say that his work is used so often because there are no writer’s fees to pay….) He has also inspired many other artists to create ballets, operas and musicals.
Giving the Royal Family a run for their money….
In 2013 the English Tourist Board calculated that Shakespere tourism accounted for upwards of £600,000,000 per year. Shakespeare-related merchandise and branding is (laughably) everywhere in Warwickshire – with coffee shops, bookshops, restaurants, bed and breakfast accommodation, photographs, paintings, sculptures, posters, pens, fridge magnets, lunch boxes, mugs, t-shirts, soft toys and diverse other “unconsidered trifles”, great and small. Thousands have made tidy profits from Shakespeare without ever producing one of his plays or reading aloud one of his poems. The impact of Shakespeare’s work on the economy of the country is definitely worth celebrating so I, for one, am looking forward to the anniversary events.