Things I’m Going to Hell For: Not Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday

“[…]”

Okay, look Bill, I completely know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. I’ve been neglecting you these days. I’ve had my own work and life and neuroses on my mind, and I’ve been ignoring you and disrespecting your role as the original inspiration for this blog.

“[…]”

But in all fairness to me, I think I deserve a little self-focus from time to time. I mean, how many hundreds of blogs, scholarly studies, movies, TV shows, theater productions, spinoff comics, Sparknotes pages, plagiarized student essays, and ads are out there devoted to you? Not to mention the entire Western canon that’s built on your work and your legend. I only have this weensy little space on the Internet to promote myself. You get what I’m saying?

“[…]”

Okay, I know you personally are stuck on my shelf in your Original Packaging, and I’m out here living my life. But lives are more important than plastic. Seriously. Plus, you really shouldn’t be giving the Icy Stare of Doom to someone who can turn you around and make you face her Complete Prisoner DVD set for the next fifteen years.

“[…]”

This year’s an off-year anyway, right? We’re sandwiched in between the 450th year of your birth and the 400th year of your death. This year’s April 23rd was a day of rest and reflection, a time to meditate wordlessly on your greatness before we gear up for the next big cultural shebang. Plus, did you see that awesome comic that Mya Gosling posted on Good Tickle Brain? The one where she compares “Game of Thrones” to your history plays? That was SO funny and spot-on, wasn’t it? And I totally retweeted that! So in a way, I DID lift a finger to celebrate your birthday, didn’t I? My mousepad went click, and everyone who looks at my Twitter feed if they happen across my blog would see in that instant that I heart Shakespeare!!!

 

 

“[…]”

Fine. You’re right. I suck. I totally knew it was your birthday and I let it slip my mind. You can call me all the names you like. Here, I’ll get you started. I’ll consult the Shakespeare Insult Generator I got for Christmas: I’m an artless, beslubbering, greasy, barren-spirited, eye-offending, lisping, lumpish, sodden-witted, wanton, witless measle. Feel better now?

“[…]”

Sorry, Fickle Readers. This might take a while…

 

 

 

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Shakespeare Is Everywhere: “Shakespeare’s Christmas”

Yes, this is a real story, and no it’s not a joke (at least it doesn’t read that way). This title piece in a short-story collection by writer and literary critic Arthur Quiller-Couch (who wrote under the pseudonym–get ready for it–“Q”) is in fact a bizarre yet clever mashup of Shakespearean narrative and mythology. On the surface, Quiller-Couch is fictionalizing the night that Richard Burbage and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, unbeknownst to their landlord, took apart The Theatre and transported the lumber to a storage facility near the Thames, where those same building materials would eventually be used to construct the Globe. Sort of a bizarre moment in Shakespearean history in and of itself, but it did happen on December 28, 1599 (not on Christmas eve, which is when Quiller-Couch’s tale is set). On another level, however, the story is a retelling of Henry IV, Part Two, with Shakespeare as Prince Hal and John Shakespeare, William’s father, as Falstaff.

To be honest, I have yet to wrap my brain around this piece, so I have to offer it up to you Fickle Readers in its pure and unanalyzed state. The story is ripe for criticism, though. I invite you to have at it, and if you have any cool observations, please share.

Merry happy, everyone!

Takin’ a Break from the Shakes

I’ve decided I’m going to take a personal day away from all the Shakesblogging. The lead-up to Shakespeare’s 450th has been fun, and I’d like to squeeze in a few more posts about Big Bill’s special day before I move on to something else. But, man, Shakespeare. Anyone who’s ever studied Shakespeare knows that the sheer amount of material out there will crush you to dust if you’re not careful. It’s one of those paradoxes: you can read forever and never run out of things to discover, but you can also lose yourself to the point where you’re adding “Shakes” to every word you can think of and you’re dropping Shakespeare quotes and allusions like you’re larding the earth with your sweaty fat. (Look that one up, and then see if you can excise the image from your mind.) So I’m going to step away from the Shakesporia if you will (Har!) and spend a little time getting to know some other writers out there. And also play the Simpsons tapping game.

By the way, Mighty Tiny Bill says he did indeed emerge from the womb primed to become the Greatest Writer in the English Language and it’s a sacrilege to think otherwise. Just look at this pictorial evidence that’s hanging in the Folger Shakespeare library as we speak:

Baby Shakespeare

That’s George Romney’s “The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions.” (More info on it can be found here: http://collation.folger.edu/2013/12/mr-folgers-most-expensive-painting/) I’ve tried to point out that this painting is not, in fact, photographic documentation of his early days but is instead a fan pic composed in the eighteenth century, when his fame really started to take off. Mighty Tiny won’t hear it and insists that I’m honor-bound to tear open his cardboard backing and let him track down the proof himself, which he can totally figure out how to do on the Internet since he’s a genius. Nice try, I tell him. If I wasn’t going to let you out for birthday cakes and ale, O So-Called Inventor of the Human, I’m not going to let you out now. And I’m REALLY not letting you out if you keep calling me things like Insolent Wench and Pox-ridden Whore when you don’t get your way. So today, Mighty Tiny isn’t speaking to me. That’s peace enough for now.

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.