“I say the earth did shake when I was born.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV Part I; III, i)

The Bard is having a birthday this week!  And not just any birthday, the BIG 450!  Now before you roll your eyes and think “Oh no, not a post about Shakespeare, BOOOOORING” and click the back button, WAIT!  I can promise you lots of really cute Lego Shakespeare pictures!  In fact, here’s one now:

Happy Birthday Dear Bard!

Happy Birthday Dear Bard!

I wish I was in Stratford-upon-Avon this week for the huge 450th birthday party they’re throwing for the original WillIAm.  Mostly because of this awesomeness: “The Royal Shakespeare Company is kick-starting the festivities with a spectacular firework display from the rooftop of its theatre, which will follow Wednesday evening’s performance of Henry IV Part I. The display, which is being coordinated by leading pyrotechnic experts Emergency Exit Arts will also include an epic eight-metre-high fire drawing depicting Shakespeare’s face” (source: theguardian.com).  Those Bardophiles know how to do it up right!

I may be Lego Will but I can be dangerous too, look!

I may just be Lego Will but I can be bold & dangerous too, look!

Shakespeare was born during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign on April 23, 1564.  In true dramatist form, he died on the very same day, his birthday, 52 young years later in 1616.  Two years ago I had the privilege of visiting his birthplace in the house (and actual bedroom) where he born, as well as his grave at Holy Trinity Church, both in Stratford-upon-Avon (England).  I was there for the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, which was part of the country’s nationwide fête to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics.  I made it a point to visit as many Shakespeare-related sites as I could in the short 10 days I was there – like the postcard-esque Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, where Shakespeare’s wife grew up.

Wasn't my wife's cottage lovely?

Wasn’t my wife’s cottage lovely?

I’m very excited to be going back this summer!  I’ll be there two months or so after the Bard’s actual birthday, but I’m hoping there will be some leftover cake in a quaint little tea room somewhere.  I’m looking forward to wandering through the immaculate gardens and along the banks of the River Avon once again, where huge willow trees drape out the sun and the Queen’s swans shadow you in the water below.  It’s a serene step back in time, with much of the town unchanged since Shakespeare himself might have wandered and daydreamed among the flowers and waterscapes.

"To sleep - perchance to dream..."

“But then there was a star danced, and under that was I born…”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe or explain my affinity for Shakespeare.  I was very lucky to have an inspirational teacher in high school that took the time to help me understand the depth of the meaning behind some of his words, and that’s when it began.  I then took several senior-level Shakespeare courses as a freshman at college and became slightly obsessed with analyzing the why and the how of each play and sonnet that we read.  His works were like tantalizing puzzles to me – words and stories that were written 400 years ago and seemingly impossible to decipher on the modern surface, but that with work and patience, revealed an entertaining and colorful world-gone-by.

A gift from my first Shakespeare teacher. (Watch out for that frog Bill!)

A gift from my first Shakespeare teacher. (The book, not the scary lurking frog.)

I really appreciate how pertinent and timeless and funny (yes, funny) Shakespeare can be once you really get to know him.  Over the past year or so I’ve been attending a weekly Shakespeare reading group when possible, called ShakesAloud.  We have a wonderful facilitator (the unparalleled Jill Swanson) who brings the lines to life and whose insights about the time Shakespeare lived in are simply amazing – she’s like a walking human footnote.  It’s nice to feel part of a like-minded group and know that I’m not alone in my Shakespearean nerdiness.

"All the world's a stage..."

“All the world’s a stage…”

I was alerted recently to one of the funniest websites I’ve seen in a long time, called “Peace, Good Tickle-Brain.” It’s the home of a brilliant comic artist who draws hilarious 3-panel summaries of Shakespeare plays, as well as scene summaries for many of the plays.  Let’s face it, Shakespeare isn’t exactly light summer beach reading – it takes work and examination and research and footnotes…lots and lots of footnotes.  And funny comics can’t hurt either.  Anything to get us all on the same page!

Watch out Will, it's another frog!

Watch out Will, it’s another frog!

Most Shakespeare fans will say this same thing, but I guess what I really identify with most about Shakespeare’s work is how relevant many of the stories and lessons still are today, 450 years after he was born.  No, he wasn’t the only poet to write about love and loss and jealousy and greed and happiness.  But his words resonate for a reason, and I think it’s because of the way he wrote them.  During his short 52-year life, he himself faced great tragedy and sadness and love and guilt – just like all of us.  I often see many aspects of my own life and experiences jumping out of his words, and it continually surprises me.  The world’s most famous Elizabethan storyteller from Warwickshire and a fumbling unknown middle-aged woman just trying to find her way – who would’ve thought they could possibly have anything in common?

So Happy Bard-Day everyone, and let’s all raise a glass to the poet’s parents John & Mary Arden Shakespeare, for bringing a lasting icon into this world that continues to inspire, entertain and educate multitudes and generations.  Hey Nonny Nonny, Cheers!

Shakes8

Until next time lads & ladies!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

(PS: A very hearty thanks to my nephews for bequeathing upon me their Lego Shakespeare!)

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