450 is coming! But when?

This year is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and countless Shakespeare devotees will be celebrating on April 23rd. Note that I didn’t say his birthday is on April 23rd. Know why? One of the secrets they let you in on when you’re a Serious Shakespeare Scholar is that Shakespeare’s birthday is only assumed to be April 23rd. We have records that say the Bard was baptized on April 26th, and based on how many days it usually took Renaissance parishes to set up baptisms, scholars have settled on the 23rd as the most plausible day he was born. But that’s not the whole story: said scholars (who are inevitably worshippers at the Altar of Bill) also prefer the 23rd as the official birth date because a) we do have records stating that Shakespeare died on April 23rd, 1616, and b) April 23rd happens to be St. George’s Day—the same St. George who is the patron saint of England. So you set up two quasi-mystical effects by naming April 23rd as Shakespeare’s official birthday: the full-circle effect, by having Shakespeare’s birth and death occur on the same day (also handy for those in Stratford and elsewhere already planning Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary in 2016), and the Saint Shakespeare effect, by implying that the patron saint of English literature was born on the feast day of the patron saint of England. That’s a hefty load of significance to drop on one random day in April. But if there’s one takeaway from all this—one thing you can use to irritate Shakespeare nerds and pseudointellectual hipsters alike—it’s that all these amazing coincidences are valid IF Shakespeare was born on the 23rd. The 23rd is a heavily biased guess on the part of Shakespeare scholars. We don’t know when Shakespeare was born, and we probably never will.

Mighty Tiny Bill is starting to get feisty on his shelf. “Of course I was born on St. George’s day!” he squeals in his elfin countertenor. “I am the Alpha and Omega of English letters! Remove me from my transparent prison so you may bow down before me and bask in my Immortal Fame!”

Sorry, Mighty Tiny. You were manufactured, when, in 2005? You have no idea when Big Bill was born. You have no idea when I was born. Your argument is crap. You stay in your Original Packaging.

Mighty Tiny’s plastic box pops up and down on the shelf like microwave kettle corn. I, meanwhile, intend to sleep like a baby tonight.

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2 responses to “450 is coming! But when?

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