Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shakespeare's Birthday

No one really knows when William Shakespeare was born. In fact, there are a lot of things about Shakespeare that are unknown. It isn't known, for example, what Shakespeare really looked like, what his religious beliefs were, what his sexual preference was, even whether all the works with which he is credited were actually written by him.

But April 23 is a reasonably good date to use as his birthday. April 23 was a date that, if it wasn't his birthday, fell around the time of significant dates in his life. It is known that he was baptised on April 26, 1564, so it is logical to assume he was born a few days before that. His first child was born on May 26. And it is also known that he died on this date in the year 1616.

April 23 is also the date on which St. George's Day is traditionally observed.

If this really is Shakespeare's birthday, it's been 445 years since the birth of the greatest writer in the history of the English language. And it wasn't many years after what would have been his 400th birthday that my sixth–grade English teacher decided to show us Franco Zeffirelli's film of "Romeo and Juliet" starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. I have attached a clip from that film with this post.

The movie was nearly 2½ hours long so, since our class periods were about 50 minutes long, my teacher had to show it to us over three days. But it may be the best film production of that play, possibly because the lead roles were played by actors who were close in age to what Shakespeare intended. Many of the previous productions featured much older Romeos and Juliets.

Today, nearly 450 years after his birth, Shakespeare remains, as Sir Laurence Olivier said, "the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God."