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Expert Comment: Shakespeare's Birthday

William Shakespeare Monday 22 April 2013

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme” (Sonnet LV). He was not wrong. Tomorrow we commemorate the day Shakespeare was born, and also the day he died. The truth is that there is no definite evidence that he was born on 23rd April 1564 or that he died that same date in 1616. According to the Stratford church register he was baptised on 26th April and buried on 25th April. However, we want him to be born on 23rd April, because that is St George’s Day, and nobody expresses the ideal of England more vividly and forcefully than Shakespeare:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise …
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England (Richard II, 2.1.40-50)

In many ways Shakespeare is our patron saint more than St George, we are more familiar with his ideas, his words, than with the armoured allegorical figure. In fact, the England that St George represents is the England Shakespeare dreamed for us.

Yet Shakespeare is bigger than England. Indeed, according to Harold Bloom he is the patron saint of humanity: “Shakespeare invented us, and continues to contain us. … Shakespeare has influenced the world far more than it initially influenced Shakespeare”. Shakespeare had our thoughts, our feelings, our intuitions before we did, and to read his words is to recognize ourselves. Indeed, as Hamlet points out, the purpose or telos of dramatic poetry “is to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her image, and the very age and time his form and pressure” (3.2.20-22). But as Shakespeare’s friend and rival Ben Jonson wrote of him, “He was not of an age, but for all time”, so we are indebted to him for holding the looking-glass up to ourselves and forcing us to recognize our excellences and deficiencies across time.

It is the debt that the world owes to Shakespeare which entails World Book Night falling on April 23rd. It is the reason why Liverpool’s In Other Words literary festival begins on this date, and the reason why Liverpool Hope’s contribution to this festival, a public lecture series entitled Time, History and Memory begins tomorrow evening: . We hope you will join us in remembering and commemorating five influential authors, beginning with a lecture on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, “All in War with Time”, at 5pm in the Senate Room tomorrow. Please do come along to remember what all the fuss is about, indeed to celebrate “The living record of your memory” and to guarantee for Shakespeare that

’Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity,
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom. (Sonnet LV)


Image: William Shakespeare. Copyright tonynetone (2008) Licensed under CC BY-ND.

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