Eileen Battersby marks St George’s Day with a kaleidoscopic celebration of our noisy neighbour’s contribution to world culture
Today is believed to be Shakespeare’s birthday, or so 18th-century biographers decided as his baptism took place on April 26th. April 23rd is most certainly the date upon which he died in 1616, aged 52, having produced a body of work which almost single-handedly defines literature.
Any nation, rampaging imperialism aside, which can claim William Shakespeare is entitled to feel rather self-satisfied. By dying on his birthday he confirmed an innate flair for exits as well as entrances. Shakespeare was the complete showman: he knew about stagecraft, made clever use of historical sources, knew the art of spinning a great yarn and how to entertain an audience and could challenge the emotional range of all actors (and continues to do). Shakespeare remains the test of any serious actor.
His feel for imagery is second to none. Shakespeare was a poet blessed with theatrical flair and a rare understanding of the social hierarchy and most particularly he was a psychologist, attuned to the vagaries of human nature. As if that was not enough to be celebrating, today is also St George’s Day. Ironically it is not a public holiday in England. In fact St George, depicted through the ages on horseback slaying a dragon, probably never even saw one. Many countries acknowledge a St George. Yet he is England’s national saint.
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A final reminder that on this Thursday, April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters.