"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Literature in the News: Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Today, the 23rd of April, is held as both William Shakespeare’s birthday and day of his death.   We know for sure he died on this day in 1616 but his birthday is assumed to be on the same day.  We have a record of his baptism, which happened on the 26th of April in 1564, but tradition in his day had babies baptized three days after birth, so it is assumed he was born on the 23rd.  So as it turns out this is the anniversary of his birth and death. 

And this morning I noticed in the papers that this was the 450th anniversary of his birth.  I noticed there were several commemorations.  I sort of kicked myself for not pulling together a blog last night to also commemorate such an anniversary, and then I said, well, I’ll just have to remember for his really big one, his five hundredth.  And then I realized I’ll be a 102 then, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be damned if I’m still writing this blog at 102.  ;) 

So I put a commemorative post together late on the 23rd even though most people will probably see it the next day.  What else can I do for the greatest writer in the English language, and arguably in the top three greatest writers of all languages.  To date I’ve read 26 of the 36 acknowledged solely written plays.  There are two plays in which he collaborated, Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsman.  Henry VIII is usually accredited as mostly written by Shakespeare while Two Noble Kinsman as not.  I have not read either of them.  There are also other plays where it’s thought he may have contributed.  Here is a listing of all the plays he may have had a hand in. 

Three controversial points about Shakespeare’s life that I’ll give you my opinion on.   

First, Shakespeare’ religion.  It has been long time rumored, going back to the seventeenth century, that Shakespeare was actually a Roman Catholic in an age of Catholic persecution in England.  In recent years the entire body of evidence on his religion has been put together and I think it is indisputable that Shakespeare was most certainly Roman Catholic, and possibly even a supporter of the  underground subversive movements attempting to undermine the Protestant government.  I don’t come to such a conclusion lightly.  I had known of the lurking Catholicism both in his plays and the rumors, but I had been skeptical.  When the totality of the evidence was put together by Joseph Pierce in his biography, The Quest for Shakespeare, I was completely convinced.   One of these days I will have to put together a post summarizing the evidence.  But I have never seen anything remotely rebutting the evidence. 

Second, Shakespeare’s sexuality.  It has been claimed that Shakespeare was either homosexual or bi-sexual.  The claims are based on what amounts to a couple of lines from a few sonnets that perhaps can be construed as professing love for a man, his patron that supported his writing.  well, the man supported his writing, so yes Shakespeare’s profession of love for the man might appear to go overboard.  Given the thousands of other lines and drama he wrote that have no suggestion whatsoever, and given he was a married man with children, I find that claim of his other than heterosexuality to be insubstantial.   

Third, that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.  You will see all sorts of theories that either some other Elizabethan man wrote the plays or they were a mix of people or even that Shakespeare didn’t exist.  Well, all the semi-credible theories (frankly there are no credible theories) have been taken apart by Shakespeare biographers and scholars and the conclusive evidence is that a William Shakespeare existed and wrote his 36 plays by himself.  This claim has become one of those ridiculous conspiracy theories that just never seem to die. 

So let’s start with a summary of the global celebrations that are going on.  Fox News summarizes it here, but of particular note is Shakespeare’s hometown celebration:  

Of course, you would expect Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, to do it up right in honoring the day of his birth. To start, they’ll be creating a giant model cake that will require the power of a horse-drawn carriage to pull it along during an annual birthday procession. Led by actors, diplomats and local dignitaries, the parade to the playwright’s grave at Holy Trinity Church has taken place for 150 years. 

This year’s birthday celebrations will be held the weekend after the Bard's birthday on April 26 and 27. Afterward, the tens of thousands in attendance can delve into a “real” birthday cake and enjoy street entertainers, music, sonnet readings, theatre workshops, tours of his houses and even try to spot some famous actors in town for the event. 


Of course you can take Victoria McNally’s advice at Geekosystem (not sure if that’s a blog) by taking up these ill advised suggestions to celebrate from Shakespeare’s plays.    She provides 25 suggestions, but here are a few:

1. Convince a friend that his wife is cheating on him through the clever placement of handkerchiefs.

2. Trick your significant other into developing feelings for an ass. No, like, a literal ass.

3. Get a group of your buddies together and dress up as trees.

4. Blackmail nuns into having sex with you. (Alternately, demand that people you’ve had sex with become nuns.)

5. Bake a pie. (Do not tell anyone what you’ve made the pie from. Laugh maniacally.)

I’m going by memory here but I believe No. 1 is from Othello, No. 2 from A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, No. 3 from Macbeth, No. 4 from Measure for Measure, and No. 5 from Titus Andronicus. 

The aforementioned Joseph Pierce has a piece in The Imaginative Conservative outlining why Shakespeare is timeless, titled “TheEternal Shakespeare.”  Here is an excerpt.

The reason that Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time is that he serves the Heilige Geist and not the zeitgeist. The truths that inspire his Muse and the truths that emerge in the fruits of his Muse (his plays and poems) are the truths of the Holy Spirit. Such truths do not merely stand the test of time they are the very truths by which time itself is tested. This timeless aspect of truth is very important for us to understand but perhaps a little difficult to grasp. It might, therefore, be useful to employ a famous philosophical riddle: If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it fall does it make a sound? The answer is that of course it makes a sound because the sound of the tree falling is not dependent on anyone hearing it. We might rephrase the riddle thus: If Shakespeare’s works are neglected so that they are no longer performed or read, will Shakespeare and his works cease to be relevant? The answer is that of course they are still relevant because the goodness, truth and beauty of the works are not dependent on our ability to see or understand them. Indeed, it could and should be argued that a culture that could no longer read Shakespeare because of its illiteracy and barbarism was suffering the woeful consequence of neglecting the truths that Shakespeare’s plays reveal!

It’s worth reading the entire piece.  Finally, today’s Wall Street Journal had a hilarious piece in their Op-Ed where Kim Askew in the persona of a Hollywood movie producer tells “Bill” how to improve his plays for the movie industry. 

Dear Bill, 

Thanks for the screenplay pitches—you're certainly a prolific guy! We're confident that some of the ideas, with a few tweaks, would have real blockbuster potential. I'm happy to pass along this feedback from the studio creative team… 

And here are a couple of the suggestions that come back from the creative team.   

King Lear : Retooled as an action flick, this could be a great starring vehicle for a geriatric hunk like Liam Neeson. How about a rewrite where Lear, a retired CIA operative, has to rescue his daughter Cordelia from an undercover crime syndicate? (Love the cliff dive, by the way . . . can totally see this filmed like a Bond sequence.) 

Titus Andronicus : This slasher flick is solid in terms of blood, guts and body count but would doubtless land us in NC-17 ratings territory. Just riffing here, but what if we lose the rape, cannibalism and beheadings and re-imagine it as dark animated tale for kids? "Game of Thrones" meets "Frozen." 

Othello: We like this one, except (stay with me here) we want you to rethink the location. And time period. Let's set it in the distant future on another planet (maybe Venus stedda Venice?) with the Moor being either an alien or cyborg. If we lose the murder-suicide ending and the Moor lives to fight another day, this could pop as a trilogy.

Too funny.  Read the rest for a few more suggestions. 

And now for a confession.  My poor wife has had to put up with my love of Shakespeare by me insisting that we keep a bust (shown just below) of the man prominently placed on a pedestal in the corner of our dining.  The bust is staring at me as I write. 
I have always said that if there is a single person I would love to hang out with in heaven, it is William Shakespeare.  Happy birthday Billy!


  1. Oh my word! I hope she makes YOU keep that thing dusted off.

  2. I have an inkling that the movies mentioned are ones that already exist and it is implied that many movie plots are not so original as they thought. :) The first one sounds like "Taken,"starring Liam Neeson, the second, perhaps "Titus," starring Anthony Hopkins, and the last sounds a little like Star Wars, or Star Trek? I don't really know, just struck me that way,

    1. Actually I saw the Anthony Hopkins Titus Andronicus. It was pretty good, and other than the setting in the contemporary time, faithful to Shakespeare. At least that's what I remember.

  3. Manny! I can't say that I know that much about William Shakespeare but I must say that you are educating me cause I did read this post of yours and normally I would just sooner settle to looking at a his Statue.

    Long story short, when YA get to heaven and find that William Shakespeare is there, can YA ask him for me, me and me if there's any truth to the the rumor about him being homosexual and/or bi-sexual. I know that YA believe that those claims are far from being factual but especially nowadays with all the propaganda agendas being followed by YA know "WHO", "ONE" can never be too careful if YA know what I mean? :)

    I don't want to push "IT" but could YA also ask him if there's any truth to the rumor that Victor 'Marie' Hugo, YA know that so called French Romantic writer of the 19th century, anyway can YA ask Billy if Marie "I" mean Victor Hugo was teasing him? Well, I'm sure you've heard that Victor Hugo wrote in so many French words the following..... 'Dieu s'est fait homme; soit. Le diable s'est fait femme!'...... If my French serves me right, "IT" means something like this...... 'God created Himself as "MAN"; Therefore. The Devil must have created himself as "Woman"!'

    Good Luck while talking to him in heaven Manny and..............................................................


    Go figure brothers and sisters in Christ! (LOL)

    God Bless Peace

    1. LOL, if I get to heaven, and that's a big if, I will ask Shakespeare. By the way, I'm currently reading Les Misrables. Loving it.

    2. I saw the movie and although my wife and I don't usually go to musical movies, we really loved, "I" mean liked this "ONE"! (lol)


      God Bless

    3. Oh I saw the movie too. I didn't think the singing was that good. Russell Crow? I had the feeling the actors were picked for their name recognition and not their singing ability. But the acting and visual experience of the movie was good.

    4. So true Manny but don't tell anyone but my wife appreciated that! (lol)

  4. To Blog or not to Blog
    That is the question.
    Whether it is nobler in the mind
    To keep one’s thoughts to oneself
    Than reveal them to all
    On screens large and small.
    And by doing such
    Suffer the slings and arrows
    Of outrageous readers
    Who’d rather Block you
    Than read your feeble Tweeters.
    Or to bravely face your qualms
    And courageously Blog on
    Regardless of your audience
    Be it great or be it small;
    Just Blog on into eternity
    And have yourself a ball!

    1. Hahaha! That's great. Did you write that yourself?

    2. Yes I did, Manny. I wrote this back in 2010 here: http://timeforreflections.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/enough-of-all-this-blogging.html

      God bless.

  5. To comment or not to comment
    That is the question.

    Sorry for being a hog!
    but I don't have a blog.

    1. Hey, you're almost Shakespeare yourself. :-P

    2. Thanks!

      Also (Laughing Out Loud)