April is a busy literary month. It is National Poetry Month. It also contains National Library Week, National Bookmobile Day, Poem in Your Pocket Day, and a whole host of other literary holidays few people will celebrate. For instance, on Hatching Day, which is April 1, one is supposed to eat bubbly (?) pies and coffee in honor of writer Anne McCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern series.
One day I think we should note is the birthday of our great writer, William Shakespeare. Since most of us have studied at least one of Shakespeare’s plays, we think of him as a familiar subject. However, I have collected some facts about him you may not know, thanks to the No Sweat Shakespeare website.
• Shakespeare had groupies, even during his lifetime. They are called bardolators, a term derisively coined by George Bernard Shaw in 1901 who was not a bardolator. This ardent fandom reached its height in the Victorian period when Shakespeare’s writings were considered the secular “Bible.”
• In 1890, Eugene Schiffelin, a bardolator, released 120 starlings in Central Park in New York City. Schiffelin wanted to import any bird not native to United States which appeared in Shakespeare’s plays. Even though Shakespeare only wrote about starlings once in Henry IV, Part 1, starlings are now considered an invasive species and to my mind, a symbol of how pervasive Shakespeare is in our culture.
• Shakespeare had no descendants. His only grandchild died childless.
• According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare introduced almost 3,000 words to the English language.
• Shakespeare never published his plays. John Hemminges and Henry Condell, two of his fellow actors, published 36 of the plays after Shakespeare died.
• His first set of sonnets were written during a plague outbreak between 1592 and 1594 when all London theaters were closed and there was no demand for plays.
• It is likely that Shakespeare was born and died on April 23. It is known that Shakespeare was baptized on April 26. Popular tradition held that a baby was baptized when three days old. Shakespeare was buried on April 25. Again, the popular tradition was that a person was buried two days after dying. However, Shakespeare lived and died when the Julian calendar was in effect. According to the Gregorian calendar which we use, his birth and death was probably May 3rd. But let’s celebrate anyways. He would be 455 years old this year, no matter the date. Happy Birthday, Will!