This morning, My Kid the English Teacher sent me a photo—a stencil of Shakespeare with The Kid’s rendition of “Happy Birthday/death day to me!”
Gotta love a high school English teacher with a sense of humor.
Today marks both the birth—and death—day of the great poet, though there’s some mystery and myth about the coincidence of these dates, since church records show he was interred at Trinity Church on April 5, 1616. Not even the great playwright could pull off a stunt like dying after he was recorded to have been buried.
He continues to be surrounded by myth, as in the 150 years following his death, rumors have swirled around that perhaps he didn’t write all those great plays. While official records do say that someone named “William Shakespeare” did indeed exist, there is apparently no official record of that person being an actor, poet or playwright.
Though court records exist naming him as a member of the King’s Men theatre company, tales still exist claiming that perhaps Sir Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the actual author of many of the works attributed to Shakespeare, due to his more extensive education. One has to wonder if sheer talent trumps formal education—the volume of Will’s works must prove that he had true talent.
Most academics believe that he wrote Henry VI, Part One (his first play) around 1589; he would have been about 25 years old then. Surprisingly, he never published his own plays. They’re only available to us today because of his fellow actors John Hemminges and Henry Condell, who posthumously recorded his works in dedication to him. They published 36 of his plays.
I will admit that, in high school, I found Shakespeare incredibly dull. Of course, I didn’t have a teacher who could rap a sonnet (as my kid does with his students). Be that as it may, Shakespeare has become beloved, and I think he’s one of those authors you can only appreciate once you’ve got a little life experience behind you.
I went to a Catholic school and it’s kind of hard to believe that we were taught Shakespeare’s plays when, if you dissect them, the man was pretty bawdy! See The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV: Curtis tells Grumio, “Away, you three inch fool”—you can guess what he’s referring to as only being three inches long. Grumio replies that he’s at least as long as his foot.
He was also pretty obnoxious in his treatment of Jews and people of color. Didn’t really matter much to him—he was rather equal in his disdain.
On the plus side, Will created over 1,700 words that we now use commonly, including assassination, birthplace, dawn, generous, lonely, moonbeam, ode, scuffle, rant, skim milk, tranquil, unreal, varied, worthless and zany. Not to mention a plethora of excellent insults.
So, happy birthday, Will. “If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed; If not, ‘tis true this parting was well made.” (Julius Caesar, Cassius at V, i)
Author: Pat Perrier
Editor: Travis May