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By Timothy Bano
It was Shakespeare’s birthday on Monday, or so Twitter thought (though the controversy over christening dates blah blah etc. is probably as well known as the date itself.). Still, who cares about that? Or, as my editor so astutely put it ‘YAWN… oooh, a lolcat!’ before wandering off. Yet for a while my Twitter feed and Facebook were covered in messages wishing a long dead playwright a happy birthday. Aside from the fact that it’s obviously a lot more suited to the young/liberal/intellectual type to acknowledge Shakespeare rather than St George’s day thanks to EDL-types, why? Why does Shakespeare’s birthday matter? I doubt many people are likely to forget he existed.
Admittedly, most of those tweets came from @OxBardFest2012, an account that appears to be manned by that infinite number of monkeys you hear about so much. Between tweeting about Shakespeare cakes and passive-aggressively asking this august newspaper to cover them (give us time) they blast out nuggets of news about OUDS Shakespeare festival, to be held later this term. Because it’s the year of the Bard in the mythical calendar of the Dead Poet’s Society, or something. Obviously, they have a vested interest in making Shakespeare a talking point any day of the week, but really, do they have to try so hard? Ask anyone who Britain’s greatest playwright it, and Shakespeare will probably be your answer.
Let me make clear that I agree that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language – as an English student, I could scarcely say anything else without my tutor hunting me down. The thing that strikes me as strange is the public veneration of the man that springs up on April 23rd, only to die away again immediately. I have a neighbour who dresses up as Shakespeare and walks around London and Stratford, helpfully pointing tourists towards landmarks and telling people about the bard. In his spare time. For fun. That is commitment to enjoying the works of the bard – oh-so-carelessly flinging out a ‘Happy Birthday Shakespeare’ is not. It’s intellectual point scoring. ‘I remembered the date of Shakespeare’s birthday, how clever of me. Did you?’ Throw out a ‘to be or not to be’ and voila, you can bite your thumb with the best of them.
I should probably relax and enjoy the irony of everybody getting the date wrong (see controversy, above) but it really gets on my nerves that of all the reasons to bring up Shakespeare, the possible birthdate of a man who might be Shakespeare isn’t one of them. So if you did wish Shakespeare a happy birthday, go buy a ticket for one of his plays. There are certainly enough of them on this term.
PHOTO/ Helmolt, H.F.