April 1616 was a seriously bad month for the world. Miguel de Cervantes died that month, depriving Spain of its greatest writer, and on 23 April William Shakespeare died, depriving the world of the greatest man who has ever trod this earth.
Did he die on his 52nd birthday? Did he actually die on the 23rd? These are questions we will probably never know the answers to. What we do know is that Shakespeare left us a legacy of plays and sonnets that have enriched the world – he explored human thought and action in a way nobody else has ever managed, and he gave us new words we use every day (to get an idea of just how many, listen to Bernard Levin’s fascinating piece On Quoting Shakespeare on YouTube.
Books I have enjoyed about Shakespeare include Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro, Roaring Boys: Shakespeare’s Rat Pack by Judith Cook, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom, The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl, and Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took over my Life by Dominic Dromgoole.
I love listening to Seven Ages of Man read by John Gielgud. My mother had an old record of it when I was a teenager, and I adored hearing some of the fabulous speeches. His readings from The Tempest still send shivers down my spine, while the abdication speech from Richard II is unadulterated magic! You can now find Gielgud’s readings easily on YouTube – treat yourself!
Is this what the greatest man of all time actually looked like? This is the Cobbe portrait, which in 2009 was presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as being of Shakespeare and painted from life. It’s a fabulously intelligent and sensitive face, so I do wish we could prove it was the Bard’s.
In 1999 the search was on for a ‘Man of the Millennium’. This was a British poll, and Shakespeare comfortably beat Darwin, Churchill, Caxton, Fleming, Brunel, and other contenders. No other writer comes close to him (yes, I admit it, not even Jane Austen is in quite the same league as Shakespeare), but in my view no other person anywhere in the world can match him. So think of him on 23rd April, read some of his works this month, and be grateful that such a man once picked up a pen and made the world a far far better place.
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.” – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
Share your thoughts in the comment area below.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Contested Will, Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro
Roaring Boys: Playwrights and Players in Elizabethan and Jacobean England by Judith Cook
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Prof. Harold Bloom
The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl
Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life by Dominic Dromgoole
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