In 1592 and 1593 the London theatres were closed to try to keep an outbreak of plague under control. As we arrive at Shakespeare’s 456th birthday, it is something to reflect on – that theatres have been dark before, right before they became a massive shaping influence on our entire perception of cultural history.
I take a very pragmatic perspective on both birthdays and Shakespeare. If a marker of time prompts people to pause and think and value, then let us by all means set up some markers, especially now, when I have to keep looking up whether or not this is Thursday. Anniversaries are a great time to examine what we have and decide what it means to us and what use we want to make of it.
Relatedly, and speaking of usefulness, I am perpetually delighted and astonished at all the material we have because Shakespeare found his way into the middle of a talented and creative team of players who found their way into the middle of a vibrant and intellectually hungry city society. I’m grateful that we have the product of that, but I don’t feel that triggers an obligation of any particular kind to the original creators or some idea of a legacy. I do feel we have an obligation to cherish living artists, and be open to where they find inspiring sources. In other words, my interest in Shakespeare is in his usefulness. The richness of these plays as raw material has been proven over and over for four hundred years, and they haven’t run out of juice yet. So let us celebrate how useful they are to who we are.
So, Happy Birthday Will, and thank you. I promise we will continue to extract joy, form human, emotional bonds with one another, and invent extravagant, imaginative, nourishing, challenging art from the trove of material we have at our disposal because of you.