Saturday, 23 April 2016


It's interesting that another Google widget is directing me to the pious connexion between Shakespeare's anniversary and St George's day. Why do we assume that men die on precise dates? In 1616 England followed the venerable Julian Kalendar, unlike Spain whose most famous bard (or rather novelist) Cervantes died on the same date, but not on the same day, as Shakespeare, that is upon the twenty-third day of April (new style), exactly four hundred years ago to-day. I believe that four centuries ago there was a discrepancy of ten or eleven days between the two kalendars. England didn't capitulate to the false kalendar until the 18th century and, like our antient currency and imperial weights and measures, I wish we'd go back.

My English teacher once stupidly told me that England had a Reformation, not a Renaissance. Like Tolkien, I'm not particularly keen on Shakespeare but he stands firmly against that assertion. I think my favourite Shakespeare-inspired quotation is: "prick me and I bleed." I often say that to people who accuse me of snobbery.

This halting post shews up just how ignorant I am of English literature, doesn't it. We read only Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth at school. When I told my Latin teacher at Heythrop she was appalled, and said that she had studied three different Shakespeare works a year, every year she was at school. I suppose we have government philistines to thank for that. The attitude that says: "oh, there's no point in memorising lists of dead kings or repeating lines of old poetry ad nauseum. We need to get a general sense of how we got to where we are instead." Mrs Granden, my Latin teacher at school, once said that she was not teaching us Latin to make us fluent, but she was grateful that I took an interest and gave me some old battered books (which I still have), books that she used to use before waves of dumbed-down new curricula took over. It's the same with Shakespeare. I now have no inclination whatever to read Shakespeare, or to see a play at the Globe Theatre, because I never liked it at school, and we were never encouraged to like it. But I would say that it would have been nice to have had the opportunity.


  1. It is not too late. In rural New York State we read at least one play each year---and I went to a state school. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night. In my class we also did Richard III as it was my English teacher's favourite play.

    I confess, though, that I didn't truly love Shakespeare until university, when I took a course that went beyond reading and writing about the plays as literature and instead treated them as drama. Acting scenes and observing classmates do the same really opened me up to appreciating their power and beauty and genius.

    I also was fortunate enough to take a course on medieval English theatre. What a shame the surviving cycles of Corpus Christi plays are not better known! The extant bits of 12th- and 13th-century liturgical drama, widely believed to have inspired the 'mystery' plays that followed, are also very interesting.

    1. Well, if you don't know these things how can you say that you're conversant with your own history and patrimony?

  2. Very true. The loss of historical memory (and respect for the past) over the past several generations is at the root of the steady and tragic eclipse of England as a culture, as a people, and as a meaningful category. 'There will always be an England," perhaps, but as a small remnant.

    Today is one of those days that reminds me of the loss. Now I'm more of a St Edmund man, but St George's Day should be a special occasion to celebrate God's favour on the English people and to call on their patron for help and protection. But no, it might as well be any other day for most of the 80% living here who are of native stock.

    I was just in Liguria last week, and the sight of these posters everywhere reminded me that it needn't be this way:

    1. Well, saints days in Britain have lost all religious significance. St Patrick's Day is, to the Irish, and to many in England (and America, and elsewhere) just an excuse to get drunk. Who remembers the life of St Patrick on that day, a man who no doubt embraced sobriety and self-denial as precepts of the Gospel he preached? I'm not sure how St David or St Andrew are celebrated in Wales and Scotland, but St George has no significance for most people in England. St George's Day isn't even a public holiday in the UK!