Hello April 2016 and hello the 400th anniversary of the death of England’s finest playwright, William Shakespeare (don’t we celebrate some cheerful things here on Winberry Crumble).
For those of you who might live under a rock (or who didn’t pay attention in GCSE English) William Shakespeare was a 16th century playwright and perhaps the greatest English language writer. He wrote 36 plays, 154 sonnets, and a few extra verses, and all of which are still read and performed today. He invented words and phrases that have made it into everyday language, like green-eyed jealousy, bated breath, in a pickle, and even knock, knock, who’s there? Not to mention his unrivalled insults- not so much brain as ear wax! The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes! Thou smell of mountain goats! (Perhaps these haven’t made it into today’s lexicon, but they definitely should have).
Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1564, William Shakespeare had humble beginnings. His father was a glove maker, and his mother was an affluent farmer’s daughter. In 1582, aged 18, he married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, and three children quickly followed. Between 1585 and 1592, there is little trace of Shakespeare; biographers affectionately refer to these as his ‘lost years’. His next reappearance is in 1592 in the London theatre scene. There are records of several of his plays being performed on the stage in small London theatres at this point, and by around 1594, his plays are performed exclusively by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatre troupe owned by the group of players, including Shakespeare himself. They became the leading troupe in London, and in 1599, they built their own theatre on the banks of the Thames, The Globe. When King James I ascended the throne in 1603, they had become so popular that he awarded them a royal patent and they became The King’s Men.
Shakespeare’s plays were first published in 1594 in quartos (old-timey magazines) and by 1598, his name was so successful that it would appear on the title pages (the first play he wrote is believed to be Henry VI, Part One). He would often act in his own plays, usually in ‘kingly’ roles, and there are records of him playing Adam in As You Like It and the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet.
Around 18 of his plays were published in these quartos, but most were published posthumously in 1623, in the ‘First Folio’, a collection of all but two of his plays (plus two ‘lost plays’). The ones that had been published prior to this were sometimes incomplete, and the First Folio is (arguably) the only reliable text of most of his plays.
He died in April 1616, aged just 52, and much like his life, his death is too a mystery. He’s buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, beneath a gravestone with the epitaph,
‘Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.’
A warning, to ensure his grave would never be disturbed. His legacy, the work he produced in barely 25 years and over 400 years ago, is still revered today. It has withstood the test of time, and long may it remain once we have shuffled off this mortal coil. An impressive feat for a humble glove maker’s son from Stratford-Upon-Avon.
I’ve been feeling inspired, so to celebrate the life and work of William Shakespeare, Winberry Crumble is becoming ‘Will the Bard’ Crumble. For one month only, April will be full of recipes dedicated to the greatest writer in the English language.
So if biscuits be the food of love… bake on.