Definitely not the definitive portrait of William Shakespeare: On the 450th anniversary of his birth, we're still no closer to uncovering the most enigmatic of Shakespearean characters, Shakespeare himself.
Go, Shakespeare, it's your birthday! For a man who would've been 450 years old today, it’s shocking how little we know of the Bard from Stratford-upon-Avon.
Every year, Shakespeare’s literary legacy is performed and adapted, discussed and criticised, celebrated and satirised, published and republished all over the globe. Case in point: The World Shakespeare Bibliography, which has maintained a global database of various stuff written about or inspired by the playwright since 1960, boasts a list that currently tallies at 136,494 entries – far more than the 38 plays and 154 poems attributed to him.
One thing’s for sure: 450 years after his birth, Shakespeare is more alive than ever.
But mystery shrouds the life of the Bard. Peculiarly, for such a prolific wordsmith, he left no diaries or letters or other personal documents – save for a will and chicken-scrawl signatures on tax forms. His paper trail was so scant that some historians have questioned whether Shakespeare existed at all.
Where there’s a vacuum of information, there will be speculation. In Shakespeare’s case, whole careers, libraries and institutions have been built on attempts to figure out who this enigmatic Englishman was. We take a look at some of the most perplexing things we think we know – but ultimately don’t really know – about good ol’ Shakey.
Go, Shakespeare, We Gonna Party Like It's Your Birthday
April 23, 1564, is the official date of Shakespeare’s birth. But there’s no actual documented proof of this, which is normal since birth records were inconsistent for common folk at the time.
The date comes from an assumption based on the date of his baptism, April 26 – in the bard’s time, the ritual was commonly done three days after birth, but it wasn’t compulsory. Some have suggested that April 23 was conveniently chosen because it’s the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England.
But even if April 23 is correct, it’s a date that was recorded during a time when the Julian calendar was still in use in England, which the country phased out in 1752. After time-correction for the modern-day Gregorian calendar, Shakespeare’s birthday would’ve fallen on May 3.
What we do know for sure is the date of Shakespeare’s death, which also falls on April 23, in 1616 – coincidentally, on his 52nd birthday. After time-correction though, it would also fall on May 3.
Alas, this is not so much of a mystery as a possible oversight. But should we really be celebrating his birthday today?