Today is the commonly celebrated birthday of William Shakespeare. You know he’s one of the greatest playwrights because someone told you so, I’m sure, but there is a lot to be admired and respected in his work. He also had the writerly foresight to die on a day that’s commonly celebrated as his birthday, as an additional goulish mystery. How clever!
You should love Shakespeare, though, even if you’ve never read another playwright in your life and aren’t sure what the fuss is. The major reason that people go gaga over him is the way he put every line into iambic pentameter (listening to him speak in real life must have been something to remember) and made poetry out of the most mundane speeches. A difficult accomplishment at best. What I best like about Shakespeare is that you don’t see him at all in the play. His characters are so flawed and so human that you never know who exactly he’s cheering for. If Hamlet is a hero, he’s a difficult hero, who is desperately slow to act and wanders through four acts of indecision. Not exactly your go getter swash buckler. And if Claudius is just a villain, why does he seek to pray and repent? You know that he is ambitious and capable of great cruelty, but you still have a grain of sympathy for a character who can name his own sins. And this is true for all but the fools in Shakespeare’s plays. As a writer, I think this is harder than even the iambic pentameter.
And then there were his sonnets. My word. If you can’t spare the time and mental energy to see or read a Shakespeare play, take some time to read a sonnet or two. It’s worth it, I promise you.
So, to you, Shakespeare. Even if it’s not quite your birthday.