23rd April

The precise anniversary of Shakespeare’s death falls on April 23rd.

With remarkable convenience for commemorative purposes, this is also most likely his birthday. I say most likely because, while we have documentary evidence of his death, it was not births that got recorded in 16th century England, but baptisms, so we know that Shakespeare was baptised on Wednesday 26th April 1564, and baptisms usually happened roughly three days after birth.*

For a long time British historians were absurdly pleased about this date because it also happens to be St George’s Day, the commemorative day assigned to the patron saint of England. Odd as it seems, there was actually some fuss around when to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his death, with some suggesting the ‘real’ date would be 4th May, since Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar, with its loss of 11 days, did not happen until 1752.

Printed page showing schedule of performances and text of poem "The Pen and the Sword".
From the commemorative programme of a Sydney fundraising performance. Original held by the State Library of NSW

In Australia the more noteworthy incident was that the 300th anniversary almost coincided with the first time ANZAC day was celebrated, on 25th April 1916. This turned events originally conceived as fundraisers for a Shakespeare memorial into fundraisers for the war effort. It did not dampen the enthusiasm for the events themselves, however. They merely morphed to incorporate the Aussie digger alongside Shakespeare, including patriotic tableaux, and a poem entitled “The Pen and the Sword” by Dulcie Deamer. It’s easy to laugh at the Edwardian jingoism of these efforts, but what comes through is the conviction of the participants that Shakespeare is there to be used – to be used by all, and in whatever way speaks to the needs of that moment. So perhaps not quite so different from our present attitude as we might think.

Shakespeare TwentyScore is not inclined to quibble about specific dates, nor about what kind of uses people find for Shakespeare. If there is one thing Shakespeare certainly learned from, and taught to, the world of theatre he helped create, it is that everything is fair game. We plan to celebrate in every way anyone can think of, and to do it all year.

* Bright yellow book cover showing cartoon of Shakespeare.For a more detailed look at this and other biographical details see Is It True What They Say About Shakespeare? by Stanley Wells. The packaging of this book makes it look dodgy as all get out, but it’s actually extremely solid, and Wells is probably the most venerable scholar of Shakespeare living today. Read Will Sharpe’s amusing review of this book in the Shakespeare Bookshop Newsletter.