Tag Archives: history

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.

Celebrating Shakespeare at the National Library

23 April, Canberra.

The National Library of Australia is hosting a conversation between two specialists in early modern drama and publication, Professor Ian Donaldson and Professor Ian Gadd.

Professors Donaldson and Gadd are two of the world’s most venerable voices on the role of English literature in shaping our culture. In particular, Professor Donaldson is and editor and biographer of Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson, and Professor Gadd is an expert in the history of the printing and publishing of books.

This is also an opportunity to hear from Dr Kate Flaherty, the pre-eminent expert on the history of Shakespeare in Australia, who will be chairing the event.

From the website: “To mark Europe Day and the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, Emeritus Professor Ian Donaldson, Univesrity of Melbourne, and Professor Ian Gadd, Bath Spa University, explore how the playwright and poet became a global phenomenon.”

In association with The EU Centre for Global Affairs and the Centre for the History of Emotions, Adelaide

2pm start, tickets $15 (refreshments included)

Full details here.

Detail of a page of the First Folio reading 'Finis'.


Silent Shakespeare

21 March, Adelaide.

The University of Adelaide and Silents Now are having a special screening of the Asta Neilsen Hamlet, accompanied by live, improvised music.

The first Hamlet ever to appear on film was Sarah Bernhardt, in a roughly ten minute piece designed to demonstrate the possibilities of film. The first full length feature film version of Hamlet also starred a woman as the Prince, Danish actress Asta Neilsen.

“To my mind there were just two geniuses of the silent film era: Asta and Chaplin. It is very hard for anyone now to conceive the huge scale of Asta’s personality in Germany. Wherever we went, even in the smallest towns, crowds immediately gathered round her.” – Sven Gade, Director of Hamlet, in The Screenplay of My Life (1941).

For those interested in the extensive, expansive history of actresses playing Hamlet, Women As Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation by Tony Howard details the whole story.

One chance only to get the Asta Neilsen experience, and see the first Hamlet feature film on the big screen.

Tickets are free and can be booked HERE.

Flyer advertising Silent Shakespeare event (details repeated above).