Shakespeare gets a date

Today is quite a calendar day for William Shakespeare. The great playwrite was born on April 23 1564, and passed away exactly fifty two years later, on April 23 1616. Oddly, even though Miguel Cervantes, Mr. Shakespeare’s great Spanish contemporary, also died on April 23 1616, Shakespeare’s outlived Cervantes by ten days.

This is due entirely to the fact that Cervantes died in a Catholic country, where people actually paid attention to Papal edicts. Spain had already switched over to the new-fangled Gregorian calendar, whereas England would not desert the Julian calendar (which had worked great in Caesar’s time, but over the centuries was gradually drifting out of sync with the seasons) until 1752.

The British may simply not have noticed the ever increasing oddness of the seasons, since what the English call “summer” is what most people in the world generally refer to as “winter”. Consistent with this theory, Russia – which is even further north than England – did not adopt the corrected calendar until 1918 – and even then a violent Communist takeover was required. The Russians clearly take their calendar reform very seriously.

All of which would probably have seemed very amusing to Mr. Shakespeare. When I was in high school the teachers tried to get us interested in Shakespeare. Oh how they tried. It was all a complete waste of time – somewhat like trying to get your dog to watch TV. We would just roll our eyes and pretend to pay attention.

Interestingly, two years later when I transferred to Harvard I suddenly became completely smitten with Shakespeare. I developed a deep love and devotion for the comedies, the tragedies, the historical plays, the sonnets, even the hokey Zeffirelli movies.

I suspect that this sudden interest was strongly related to the fact that lots of the Radcliffe girls were really into Shakespeare. Showing up for the Immortal Bard was a great opportunity to hang out with really cute female classmates. Actually appreciating Shakespeare scored you even more points.

By the time I graduated, sure enough I had developed a true and lifelong love for all things Shakespearean. In a later era of history – centuries after the Elizabethan age – this process would come to be known as “transference”. No offense to Sigmund Freud, but I’m pretty sure there is nothing about transference that Bottom the Weaver couldn’t have told you after spending a night with Queen Titania. 😉

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