"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
(Will Shakespeare)Yesterday was of course St George's feast day, but also the birthday of William Shakespeare, playwright and love-poet extraordinaire We can't know for sure that Will was born on 23rd April: he was definitely baptised on 26th April 1564 and the ceremony would traditionally have taken place three or four days after birth. We know that he died on 23rd April 1616, and folklore holds that he died on his birthday, aged just fitly two years.
Will lived a great deal in that half century; he was a prolific writer and had something of a reputation as a philanderer as well. His work was well received and respected in his own lifetime, but it was in the nineteenth century that his popularity rose to lofty heights. His works have now been translated and performed in every major living language across the world and he's generally accepted as the greatest ever English writer. It seems highly fitting that the birthday of the nation's bard should fall on the same day as the feast of the patron saint.
If your only experience of Shakespeare is of cramming unappetising and dry chunks at school, uninspired by a bored supply teacher attempting drama by pitching their nasal drone slightly higher, do give him another go. My fondness for Shakespeare has grown and evolved since any formal English literature studies ended and as my adult life has unfolded. Amid any speculation about Will's personal life, his sexuality and promiscuity, his political leanings and religious beliefs (his mother, Mary Arden, was certainly a devout Catholic), there's much more to the excellent wordsmith than initially greets the schoolkid's reluctant eye.
Themes of passion and sensuality, loyalty and guilt, ambition and mercy, prejudice and reconciliation all shout, whisper or sing through his works. His wisdom is apparently borne of his own very human foibles; his wit holds the wry humour of one who recognises his foolishness. Aside from the beauty of some of the sonnets, there's a timeless relevance to "Romeo & Juliet", "Othello", "Richard III", "The Merchant of Venice", "Macbeth".... I was twelve years old when I first read "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and it still feels as magical to me today:"Look in the almanac; find out moonshine."
"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god."
"No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud."
"Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight."
"He jests at scars, that never felt a wound."
"What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?"
"Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse."
"Thy love is better than high birth to me."
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts."
"The course of true love never did run smooth.”
"Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires."
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
"Expectation is the root of all heartache."
"Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove."
"Nothing is so common as the desire to be remarkable."
"Sit by my side, and let the world slip: we shall ne'er be younger."
"Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers."
"If there is a good will, there is great way."
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
"No sooner met but they looked;
No sooner looked but they loved;
No sooner loved but they sighed;
No sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason;
No sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy;
And in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage."
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood,
Leads on to fortune
All the voyage of their lives
Are bound in shallows and in miseries."
"How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world."
"Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy."
"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves."
"God has given you one face, and you make yourself another."
"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once."
"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late."
"But Oh, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes."
"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."
"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice."
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
"I wasted time, and now doth time waste me."
"My crown is called content, a crown that seldom kings enjoy."
"Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself."
"Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered."
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
"I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed."
"This above all; to thine own self be true."
"Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled with your most high deserts?"
"Everyday I Write the Book" Elvis Costello (acoustic)
"No legacy is so rich as honesty."