Happy 450th Birthday, Shakespeare!

Today we celebrate William Shakespeare's 450th birthday. (And incidentally, the day he died.) There is no official record of Shakespeare's birth, but he was baptized on April 26th, 1564, so it's a pretty good guess that he was born three days before that. Let's party like it's 1599!

I have been a Shakespeare nerd since high school, though my first introduction to his work (aside from the gist of R&J) was when I was about seven and my grandma and I watched Kenneth Branaugh's Much Ado About Nothing. I remember my mom asking me later if it was a comedy or a tragedy and I told her that it was both. (I was pretty good at analyzing literature for a 7-year-old, eh?) It inspired my first attempts at costume design---white dresses I hand-sewed for my Barbies. And Much Ado was later my first and favorite Shakespearean play to act in.

Performing Much Ado About Nothing. Photocredit: Northwest Pixel Photography

My freshman year, I started taking acting and improv classes at my homeschool resource center, and the Bard was a big deal. There was a core group of kids who worked hard and participated in impressive productions of Shakespeare's comedies. I got to play one of Hero's maids in Much Ado, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Amelia the Abbess in Comedy of Errors. Though we used adapted versions of the scripts, we studied the full texts.

Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena. Photocredit: Northwest Pixel Photography

Amelia is reunited with her long-lost husband. 

We watched documentaries about Shakespeare, films of his plays, wrote our own poems in iambic pentameter, and practiced hurtling Shakespearean insults at each other. One of the highlights of my senior year was taking a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and seeing Much Ado About Nothing with my mom and sister.

And now, a few facts about Shakespeare:

William Shakespeare
by KaeLani via Visually.

  • There is a lot of debate, but he is typically credited with writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets. 
  • His plays are sorted into three categories: Tragedy, Comedy, and History.
  • He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
  • His wife's name was Anne Hathaway and they had three children: Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet
  • He left his "second-best bed" to his wife in his will, so some people think that he didn't love her. Apparently, though, it was common for the best bed to be reserved for guests. 
  • He wrote Hamlet shortly after death of his son from the Black Plague.
  • His father was supposedly a "brogger" who sold wool on the black market.
  • His first critic called him an "upstart crow." Ironically, Shakespeare was the person to invent the word "critic."
  • When their land lease expired, Shakespeare and the rest of his acting troupe, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, took the Globe Theatre apart beam by beam, (while the landlord was home celebrating Christmas) carried the materials across the Thames, and rebuilt it. 
  • Shakespeare famously invented over 3000 words, many of which we commonly use today.
  • His plays are written in prose, (yes, the Elizabethan English population did not walk around talking like that) mostly in the imabic pentameter rhythm. 

A few quotes:

A few more fun ideas:

Try these Shakespearean insults out at your celebration.

There are a ton of Shakespeare films available to stream online, so many in fact, that I've dedicated a separate post to list them.

Well, I'm off to eat celebratory brownies and watch David Tennant and Catherine Tate take on Benedick and Beatrice!

How are celebrating Shakespeare's birthday?


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