Friday, April 22, 2016

William Shakespeare

Besides being Saint George's Day, England's patronal feast, tomorrow is also the anniversary of William Shakespeare's death - the 400th anniversary of his death in 1616 (and, it is widely believed by many, also the anniversary of his birth in 1564). To honor the occasion the Royal Mail has issued a set of 10 stamps for the United Kingdom, each with a memorable quote from one of his plays or sonnets.

In our contemporary world obsessed as it is with images, the stamps are not particularly pretty. They have no pictures - either of Shakespeare himself or of any of his dramatic characters. They emphasize words, which would seem altogether right and proper when the person they are honoring was first and foremost an author. (Of course, most of what he wrote was for the stage. So there are other elements to his art besides the words. But it is the words which touch us most deeply and which we remember most.)

Shakespeare's words were more than memorable. He lived and wrote at a very special time in English history - and in the history of the English language. His plays, together with The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible have to count as the three greatest treasures of the English language. All three deal with the most important topics in human existence - all in words which touch us deeply and which are worthy of being remembered. More, perhaps, than any other three texts, Shakespeare, The Book of Common Prayer, and the King James Bible have formed the common culture of the English-speaking world. If today that culture is in some disarray, might it not be due in part to a contemporary loss in appreciation of (and even access to) those singularly precious highlights of our heritage?

No comments:

Post a Comment