April 21, 2009

A Very Bardy Birthday

On this very week, dear reader, our own Bard turns 445.

I say week as no one really knows the day upon which Shakespeare was born. The actual birth day of a child went unrecorded for the most part in Shakespeare's time as so many infants did not live until their baptism. Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th, 1564 in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon.

Now, there are varying opinions on what this means. Some will say that traditionally, baptisms are held three days after the baby's birth (placing the Bard's Birthday on April 23rd). The Prayer Book of 1559 offers instructions to have infants Christened before the first Sunday or holy day following the birth unless there were some extenuating circumstance, in which case a curate's permission could be obtained to hold the Baptism on another day. A little bit of Calendar work tells us that in 1564, the 23rd day of April just so happened to fall on a Sunday. That Sunday, due to its proximity to the Feast Day of St. Alphege and the feast day of St. Mark has traditionally been an unlucky day, which means that Shakespeare's Baptism may have been one of those extenuating circumstances. So, like most aspects of the Bard's life, his day of birth still remains a mystery.

What it does mean, however, is that heads are being turned towards the Bard once more as the day of his probable naissance approaches. In fact, the Mayor of Chicago has proclaimed this April 23rd to be "Talk Like Shakespeare Day". In case you were having strange flashes of "Talk Like a Pirate Day" (September 19th of every year, more information can be found at talklikeapirate.com), yes it's just like that.

Now I don't know about you, but I am truly torn about this proclamation. On the one hand, it is wonderful that such attention is being drawn to the Illustrious Bard. It is also fantastic that individuals are being encouraged to think "Elizabethanly" and outside of their normal comfort zone in an effort to connect to a piece of Bardom. It sounds like a fun endeavor, and I do hope that people take it as such. But on the other hand, efforts like this merely encourage the stereotype of "speaking Shakespeare". Yes, CNN does concede that "It isn't as difficult as it sounds", but then they go on to list various ways of "Shakespeareanizing" one's speech (among the suggestions are to not "waste time saying "it." Just use the letter "t" ('tis, 'twill, I'll do't)", to "add the letters "eth" to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth)", and "to add weight to your opinions, try starting them with "methinks," "mayhaps," "in sooth" or "wherefore."".

Really, guys, it's not that hard. Most people speak Shakespeare every day without even knowing they are speaking Shakespeare. If in your life something has ever come full circle, been Greek to you, as obvious as the nose on your face, a wild goose chase, a foregone conclusion or the be-all and end-all, you're speaking Shakespeare. If you have felt faint hearted, fancy free, as merry as the day is long, more sinned against than sinning, stony hearted, like a laughing stock, like you’ve seen better days or not slept one wink, you're speaking Shakespeare. If you’ve ever been sick at heart, lain low, waited with baited breath, put your best foot forward, felt something in your heart of hearts or seen something in your mind’s eye, had a method to your madness or a spotless reputation, played fast and loose, gilded the lily or been snatched from the jaws of death, you're speaking Shakespeare. If you’ve ever been given cold comfort, been eaten out of house and home, killed with kindness, told the naked truth, been sent packing, seen a sorry sight, worn your heart upon your sleeve, had something set your teeth on edge, felt as though the world’s your oyster, had too much of a good thing, given the devil his due or waited forever and a day you're speaking Shakespeare. If someone has ever broken the ice, been dead as a doornail, the devil incarnate, had a heart of gold or a knit brow. If you’ve refused to budge an inch. If you know that every dog will have his day, as good luck would have it you're speaking Shakespeare.

So... why go on making faux intellectual statements about how to "Shakespeare up" your speech? Why not just take some time to pay homage to all of the things you actually say every day which came from the Man himself and don't make you sound like "that guy" at the office? You'll still be honoring the spirit of the holiday, you'll probably learn more than you will by throwing "forsooth" in now and again, and you won't make yourself into the laughing stock of corporate functions.

And if all else fails, just take a moment to read your favorite speech. Don't have one? You can borrow one of mine. Love's Labor's Lost; Berowne; line 1639 "Oh tis more than neede...". King Lear; Bastard; line 335 "Thou nature art my Goddesse....". Hamlet; Hamlet; line 1829 "Speake the speeche I pray you as I pronounc'd it to you...". Midsummer Night's Dream; Helena; line 240 "How happy some oer othersome can be..."

Happy Birthday, Will. The world is truly a better place for having you.

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