It’s not right to celebrate anyone’s death. Commemorate, perhaps, but not celebrate. But it’s hard, especially for Bardolators like myself, not to notice that there are all sorts of celebratory events planned for the weekend of April 23rd, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. (Also, it is believed, the 452nd anniversary of this birth, the poor chap having died on his birthday.)
Cervantes also died on April 23rd 1616, but he and Shakespeare did not die on the same day: Spain had already adopted the Gregorian calendar by then, and England hadn’t. No matter: since Cervantes is equally worth celebrating, let’s celebrate them together and not be pedantic about it.
Indeed, I’d have been happy to have added Montaigne to the celebrations also. Montaigne was slightly older than either Cervantes or Shakespeare, and died in 1592, when Cervantes was 45 (and had not yet started on Don Quixote), and Shakespeare, aged 28, was just starting out on his career. Once again, no matter: Montaigne, Cervantes, and Shakespeare make a mighty trio, and stand at a sort of rough dividing line between the modern world and the older.
So far, I have done no more than dip my toes into Montaigne. I have only read a handful of his essays, but I know I should spend as much time as I need to immerse myself into his work. As for Cervantes, I am currently about a hundred pages away from completing my fourth reading of Don Quixote, and am in no rush to finish: a book such as this should be relished and savoured, with passages turned back to and re-read and meditated upon. I’ll actually be sorry to finish it, but, as and when I do, a blog post will, I know, follow.
(Don Quixote is actually two books, published some ten years apart. I read the the first part last year, and wrote about it here. The second part seems to me even more remarkable – but more of that later: let’s not anticipate.)
But what about Shakespeare? How do I celebrate Shakespeare here given that I bang on about him much of the time anyway? I was thinking of re-reading, between now and April 23rd, five of my favourite Shakespeare plays and writing posts on each. Will I have anything new to say about these plays? Perhaps not. But I could always rehash some older stuff from this blog, safe in the knowledge that no-one is likely to notice, or even, for that matter, mind too much if they do. In any case, if the great Salman Rushdie can write about Cervantes and Shakespeare without saying anything startlingly original, I don’t see why I shouldn’t.
(Sorry, that sounds rather bitchy, doesn’t it? I didn’t mean it to be. Truth is, there has been so much written about Cervantes and Shakespeare that it’s virtually impossible to say anything original about these writers. But Rushdies’s love and enthusiasm for these writers are so apparent, his article is a delight to read.)
So let the celebrations begin! The books one loves the best should be a continual presence in one’s mind.