Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare!

Orlin, Lena Cowen. 
The Private Life of William Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.

We don't know Shakespeare's birthday. But we often celebrate it on April 23.

In fact, the first record we have of Shakespeare's existence is his baptismal record. He was baptized on April 23, 1564.

An awful lot of well-intentioned but erroneous ink has been spilled to try to justify the speculation that he was born on April 23, but we just don't know. It's tempting because he died on April 23, 1616 and April 23 is St. George's Day—and St. George is the patron saint of England. It's tempting because you will extremely frequently see the claim that babies were usually baptized three days after birth.

The problem with that last claim is that it's nonsense. I've been reading The Private Life of William Shakespeare recently (it sounds like a novel, but it's actually an extremely scholarly examination of the records we have of Shakespeare's life—particularly those relating to Stratford. Lena Cowen Orlin's explanation of why people celebrate Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 is one of the most cogent and careful I've seen:

And that's why people keep on saying "children were baptized three days after birth in Shakespeare's day"—because 50% of the children born to a certain John Dee were baptized three days after birth—and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps concluded, in 1848, that that was the usual time frame between birth and baptism.

Thus, we can say, "Happy birthday, Shakespeare . . . whenever it happened to be!"  And we can say, "Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare—it's April 26!"

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest