The exact cause of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, 398 years ago, remains a mystery to this day – but if the “Bard of Avon” was as immortal as his impact on English literature, he would have celebrated his 450th birthday this week.
Though the poet, playwright and actor’s exact date of birth can’t be confirmed, it is believed to share the date of April 23 with his death, only amplifying today’s significance.
Whether you consider yourself a Shakespeare junkie or modestly familiar with his work, you’ve no doubt been exposed to the Bard at some point; even if your knowledge merely extends to the quote “To be or not to be: that is the question.” Whatever the case may be, today we celebrate his life and legacy in his place.
Regarded as the “best writer in the English language,” Shakespeare’s work has certainly stood the test of time. Over and over again, we study, perform and reinterpret the same works which have captivated us for centuries.
It’s tough to know the complete scope of Shakespeare’s work, due to possible collaborations and the general uncertainty surrounding his life – not to mention the two periods of time (1578 – 1592, 1585-1592) referred to as the “lost years,” in which we have few documented facts about his activities.
Though there is still much about the Bard’s life we’re not fully informed on, we know that nearly 40 plays (some which he took part in), 154 sonnets and five poems make up the general scope of his work.
Over decades, dozens of comedies, tragedies and histories written by Shakespeare graced the Globe Theatre, among various other London stages – all the way from his early Comedy of Errors to his later Cymbeline; let's not forget the entrancing Hamlet. Even today, most of Shakespeare’s plays are regularly performed worldwide - and not to mention still provide foundation and inspiration for many actors and playwrights.
There are examples of that even locally - take the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and its mission statement, for example:
“With Shakespeare as our standard and inspiration, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF, produces bold professional theater, develops new plays, and provides innovative educational experiences that enrich our community."
In early 2013, we had nearly a month-long Shakespeare festival right here in Tampa – this festival, held at various locations such as the Mahaffey Theater and The Dali Museum, included events such as Shakespeare-inspired films, Shakespeare in song, art exhibits, dramatic readings and excerpts from plays.
You can bet that a slew of commemorative events are taking place worldwide, as we speak, in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday. Tonight, Wed., April 23, the The Live Canon Ensemble is was scheduled to recite all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets in an event called “The Birthday Bard” (V&A Museum, London).
Events such as The Birthday Bard are only precursors to the Shakespeare craze which will surely ensue in 2016, marking the quatercentenary of his death.
But for now, there are endless ways to celebrate the life of one of our most iconic and inspirational figures – perhaps re-read Othello, or maybe just spend a day speaking in Early Modern English.