Today is the sort of traditionally celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. We don’t know the exact date. We know he was baptized on the 26th of April 1564, and that he died on the 23rd of April 1616. I’m not sure when it became a tradition to celebrate his birthday on the day of his death.
It does have a wonderful roundness too it, but chances are that he was born on the 24th or 25th, in an era with such high infant mortality it’s unlikely parents would wait three days to baptize their child. (Especially given that plague had returned to Stratford the previous year.) I suppose not having an exact date gives us more days to celebrate.
If you like history, I’d suggest Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of An Era in Twenty Objects, by Neil MacGregor. (I it was originally a podcast, that would be worth hunting down.) In it MacGregor takes a series of objects and uses them to discuss attitudes and elements of the time—witchcraft and religion, weaponry and utensils.
Sadly the images of the objects are not all that wonderful, but the discussions are fascinating. I thought I was reasonably familiar with the era, but the book brought up a lot of things I didn’t know, and fit the things I did into a larger context.
The book is not really about Shakespeare, but his time and his audience. MacGregor sums it up: “…its purpose is not to bring us closer to any particular saint or hero, or indeed even to the figure at its centre, William Shakespeare himself. We know little about what Shakespeare did, and cannot hope to recover his thoughts or his faith with any degree of certainty. Shakespeare’s inner world remains exasperatingly opaque. The objects in this book allow us instead to share the experiences of Shakespeare’s public…”
More colorful, contemporary, objects… I’ve shown off Deridolls before, she does the most wonderful little dolls that fit the life of painting or character or sculpture into a few inches. Several have been inspired by Shakespeare. They’re all whimsical and charming. (And I keep trying to egg her on to do more, but everything she makes is delightful.)
As a bonus, here’s her Christopher Marlowe (looking very dashing in slashed attire based on this portrait), who also celebrated his 450th birthday this year. (It was this past February and I missed all but one of the posts I meant to do that month…)