Wednesday, 27 April 2011 06:37
Celebrations in Stratford
William Shakespeare was “born under a rhyming planet” at the building now known as 'The Birthplace' in Henley Street in 1564. He died in 1616 on the same day --- April 23 --- and was buried in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church. At eighteen he married Anne Hathaway in 1582. Their eldest daughter Susanna was born to them in 1583 followed by the birth of twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, in 1585 and a couple of years later they moved to London.
History is tantalizingly silent as to how Shakespeare entered the theatrical world but he is acknowledged as England's greatest poet and playwright and, though he wrote nothing about his actual birth town, his life and work remain inextricably entwined with Stratford.
Stratford offers an aura of all that about Shakespeare to the tourists and fans. The journey for a tourist begins with the birthplace and catches up all that is about him there. So one can visit Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Shottery ,Shakespeare's mother Mary Arden's House, comprising two sixteenth century farmhouses and a countryside Museum and Palmer's Farm at Wilmcote, Sculptures of Shakespeare and his characters like Hamlet, Lady Macbeth and Falstaff in the Bancroft Gardens, Holy Trinity Church, Hall's Croft, the river Avon, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan Theatre, Exhibition at 'The Falstaff's Experience' Museum, Water sculpture in the gardens at the theatre and the memorial donated by an American to Stratford, the Pub named after David Garrick, noted actor and founder of The Shakespeare Festival in1769, the Grammar School where he studied( still a school today), Nash's House and New Place, falcons on a cadge at the Birthplace Trust's Shakespeare Countryside Museum, shops after the name of characters like Cordelia and Iago.
It has been commonly said that a new book about Shakespeare is published somewhere in the world every day, and millions of people go to theaters around the world to see his plays performed. That is one kind of celebration of his life and works but this essay will explore from when and how his birthday is celebrated in his own birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon. Unfortunately the celebration culture was not built in a day. After the Bard's death in 1616, some years elapsed without any event and the visitors started travelling to Stratford only in 1650 onwards and the history of celebration is almost blank up to its origin in the eighteenth century.
To be specific, the origins of the celebrations go back to 1769 when the Corporation of Stratford-on-Avon invited the actor David Garrick to create a Shakespeare Festival. This really established town as a shrine of literary pilgrimage but was regarded as strictly a 'one-off' and was held in the autumn, not on the birthday. It was not until 1824 that the Shakespeare Club celebrated 23rd April itself, inaugurating a procession through the streets to Holy Trinity Church and some speeches.
Every year, the town Stratford-on-Avon celebrates the birth (and life and works) of its most famous son William Shakespeare. The celebrations are usually held on the Saturday nearest to 23rd April, Shakespeare's birthday. It is a very English sort of occasion for traditional core events, bringing together townspeople and their guests in a number of activities and events; its unique mixture of traditional pageantry, international spotlight and community celebration is organized by the co-hosts (the Birthday Celebrations Committee and the Town Council), with the financial support of the Royal Shakespeare Corporation, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford Town Trust and Stratford District Council.
Over nearly two centuries since then the tradition has grown to include many of the unique features which are still integral part of today's Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations: the boys from King Edward Six Grammar School(his old school) leading the procession, the rosemary worn 'for remembrance', the unfurling of flags and banners , the laying of flowers on the grave at Holy Trinity, the luncheon with speeches and the evening performance of one of his plays.
In 1896 the American ambassador was invited to Stratford and so began the tradition that linked the Celebrations with the Court of St James. To this day the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations remain one of the few engagements for the Diplomatic Corps outside London. The celebrations now involve representatives from the worlds of literature, theatre, academia and diplomacy; a truly international gathering joining the people of Stratford on this special weekend to prove the Bard's prophecy of immortality of his own works in contrast to marble stones and royal monuments, “Not marble, not gilded monuments/Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme” (Sonnet 55.1-2).
Marking the 447th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth on 23rd April in 2011, Stratford will observe all the important traditions whilst incorporating new and exciting features. There will be many more celebrations in London and all over U.K. while some of us, the fans all around the globe will read his poetry or enjoy one of his plays acted on stage or movie screen or listen to a lecture today. Our lives may be 'walking shadows', we may be 'poor players' or 'dull actors' who forget their parts but the Bard will remain deathless and his birthday and works will be celebrated in the millenniums unknown, countries and languages yet to be born “How many ages hence/Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,/In states unborn, and accents yet unknown”(Julius Caesar 3.1.111-3, Cassius to Brutus).
Md Shafiqul Islam is a senior civil servant