This Saturday the bunting will be out, flags will be raised and buttonholes will be adorned with rosemary in remembrance of our national playwright, the honourable Mr William Shakespeare.
The past 12 months have been awash with preparation for this big anniversary celebration. 400 years ago on the 23rd April Shakespeare died at 52 years old. The festivities though focus on how he lived and how his work colours our lives now.
There is much hypothesis on the subject of Mr Shakespeare. An entire industry entirely unrelated to the plays has built up around Stratford-Upon-Avon's famous son; it can often be forgotten that he actually existed as a real person, and a real person that would probably hate all the different pedestals he's been placed upon.
I love his imperfections, his lack of conformity, his passion for the craft of theatre. He was an insatiably curious storyteller who wrote his life in his plays and travelled the world via his imaginative prowess - and by borrowing from the tales of strangers.
William's life was more firmly rooted in the heart of England than is credited. Sure, he went and lived in London but - like me - he was a habitual commuter and spent considerable amounts of time in his hometown. It was from Stratford-Upon-Avon and its environs that he drew inspiration as well as, of course, his grammar school education. He never stepped foot off English soil, yet was able to write of otherness with compassion and understanding akin to the most accomplished of UN ambassadors.
Where do his plays take us to – save to the depths of our soul - in geographical terms?
In no particular order: Rome, Athens, Sicily, Alexandria, Venice, Padua, Mantua, Cyprus, Agincourt, Ephesus, Verona, Windsor, Messina, Antium, Troy, Milan, Rouen, Navarre, Elsinore, Istria, Phillipi, Vienna, Angers, Rousillon.
A veritable grand European tour, without the hassle of actually having to go in person. Shakespeare's plays are great for this. We can travel to places we'll never get to, as well as back in time and throughout our imaginations. What skill it is to get under the skin of another culture’s temperament, beyond individual characters.
We'll never know exactly how William lived, but his plays tell us huge amounts about his concerns and his response to the time he lived in. Throughout the canon there are references to a desire of being much further afield in thought and action than resting at home. Perhaps WS had a restless spirit? Perhaps the young playwright who put the line – “There is a world elsewhere” - into the mouth of Coriolanus, was desperately trying to experience it?
Today, his plays travel the globe. They have been translated into almost every language and speak to the purpose of nations worldwide. His passport is international. He crosses borders and pushes boundaries. Not bad for a 452 year old from a rural market town in Warwickshire. Phillius Fogg travelled around the world in 80 days; fellow adventure William Shakespeare does it in 37 plays.
William Shakespeare is dead. Long live William Shakespeare.
Happy birthday to you.