The greatest writer of English, almost certainly the greatest writer of any language, was born 450 years ago today in John Shakespeare’s home on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. Mother Mary Arden Shakespeare and child did fine. The world is so much the better for this blessed event.
William Shakespeare is still read with profit today, though his plays are rarely staged anymore, and when they are they are too often given some disfiguring twist: the cast of Hamlet in punk dress and talking on smart phones, Puck and Oberon as homosexual lovers, Othello as a cross-dresser. But our Bill will outlast this kind of literary vandalism and will continue to be read for generations to come. Hamlet, Falstaff, Bottom the Weaver, Beatrice, Rosalind, Malvolio, Mercutio, and the worlds they live in are too fascinating, amusing, and edifying to be forgotten in a post-everything haze. Our Bill is forever.
Personal note: On a pilgrimage to Stratford in 1995, in one of the various museums there I ran across a list of names of Shakespeare’s tavern pals — the Bard did enjoy unwinding with the boys — which included the name Robert Thornberry. What a thrill to think that one of my relations, no matter how distant, had actually buried his nose in the froth with the Bard himself, even if all The Great One ever said to my cousin was, “It’s your round, you naughty varlet.
So with dinner tonight, please raise your glasses to the Bard of Avon. Happy birthday, Bill. Thanks for the treasures you gave us.