Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Maybe!

398 years ago today, William Shakespeare died.  So says the parish record.  It's not a nice round number, but there it is.

Traditionally, it's said that Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, too.  The math is nice and round, and there's one less number for Shakespeareans to remember.

But the truth is, we don't know.  The parish record indicates that one William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th, 1564.  And we know that in practice, in the area, babies were baptized within a few days of birth.

I find the obsession with Shakespeare's birthday a bit irritating.  For me, the baptism stuff is more fascinating, more cool because there are records to look at, and we can think about how we know what we think we know.  But for some reason, the baptism narrative isn't what makes it onto NPR this morning.  (The text version acknowledges the uncertainty, though I don't remember the radio version doing that.  The lack of memory may be my morning fog.)

Still, whether a day or two early or late, the exciting thing is, Shakespeare still rocks!

A friend asked me the other day if I thought that Shakespeare knew his works would have lasting impact.  It's an interesting question, isn't it?

I think he did.  He certainly knew that old works could have lasting impact, since he knew how important he found Ovid, Plutarch, and Homer.  Whether he thought about the ways their works had been made more and more available with the advent of movable print technology, I don't know.  I think he probably took printed books for granted, as we do.  But he knew that printed stuff gets reproduced again and again, and plays with that idea.

And he knew that in his theater tradition, plays got played again, came back into repertoire, even after they'd found their way into print.

At any rate, I hope he had some inkling of how good his works are, how utterly astoundingly good!

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