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Happy Birth(and death)day to The Bard!

Today marks the day that William Shakespeare died and is generally accepted as the day on which he was born. If he were somehow alive, The Bard would be 448 years old.

Photo credit: BookFiend on Etsy

When I say it’s “generally accepted”, I mean that it’s sort of like a truth universally acknowledged that a William Shakespeare who died on the 23rd of April must certainly have also been born that day too. No one really knows when he was actually born, but the record says that he was baptized on the 26th of April, so “they” just decided it would be cool for his birthday and death day to coincide (that only happens to the really awesome people, I guess). (Information from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearebirth.html)

It’s rather convenient for the literary history romanticizers that his real birthday is unknown. This way they can get all excited that he was born and died on same day, regardless of the fact that they mostly just made that up. That however, is not to say that this historical information is that much less accurate (in my opinion) than other “certain” or “proved” historical facts. I think that almost all history is in some way romanticized or biased or expanded upon to make a good story. After all, each individual’s memory of his/her own experiences isn’t even objective and completely accurate, so how can minor details that have been passed down over hundreds of years be?

It reminds me of when I was in England last summer and went to visit the last house Jane Austen lived in before she died, now called Jane Austen’s House Museum. Even her famous writing desk, the very one on which she’s universally acknowledged to have written her manuscripts on, is perhaps just a romanticism. The guides informed us that it’s probably likely that it just may have been the desk on which she wrote, because it had gone to a neighbour when she died and then the neighbour gave it back for posterity, years and years later, because Jane had gotten famous. So they somehow take this information and turn it into a “fact”, well it certainly must have been her writing desk — where else would she have written her manuscripts?

The desk on which Jane (supposedly) wrote her six brilliant novels.
Photo credit: http://district5060gse.blogspot.ca

Everything, in fact, had a similar story, all though, other than the desk, I can’t even recall very much else in the house that was actually there when Jane was (aside, of course, from her donkey cart). Even still, they managed to create a thoroughly romanticized effect. “And this bed,” the sign read, “is kind of, sort of, maybe similar to bed Jane might have, probably slept on.” It was placed in the room that she surely shared with her sister, Cassandra, although interestingly, the museum didn’t place a bed in there for her big sis to supposedly have slept on.

That being said, I not so completely cyinical as I may, at this moment sound (in fact, I try never to be cynical) and these thoughts certainly never even occurred to me while I was actually at Jane’s house. When it was all right in front of me, I was actually quite overwhelmed with the scene they had created. I quite literally burst into happy/excitable-tears the moment we arrived at my favourite author’s house, where once upon a time ago, she actually lived and I couldn’t stop tearing-up nearly the entire time we were. All I’m really trying to get across, is that not everything is as it seems (what a useful cliché that is) and that sometimes it’s important to give things some thought, before wholly accepting them as truth.

And now, in honour of Will’s kinda, sorta, maybe birthday, a quotation from Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the same trip to England. (It’s interesting to note, that the theatre itself is also romanticized: it’s an “exact” reproduction of what the theatre standing in Shakespeare’s time *may* have looked like.) This passage is right at the end, once Benedick and Beatrice have finally admitted to being in love with each other, but are still keeping up their silly/witty banter. I love this scene, especially because it’s very similar to a scene that I love at the end of Pride and Prejudice. (These two works are why I’m convinced that Will and Jane invented the rom-com.)

Benedick: I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

Beatrice: For them all together, which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them: but for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?

Benedick: Suffer love. a good epithet, I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.

Beatrice: In spite of your heart, I think. Alas poor heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours, for I will never love that which my friend hates

Benedick: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.

What do you think about the romanticism of history? Do you ponder about the legitimacy of things as much as I find myself doing?

 
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  1. Pingback: Another Award! Another Award! « A Solitary Ramble

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