#Cervantes400 #Shakespeare400

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.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by blatantnotlatent on April 10, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Can I just throw Francis Beaumont into the mix, please? Oh, and add that the RSC are at least “celebrating” Cervantes with a cracking adaptation of Don Quixote…!

    I, too, am somewhat aghast that the death is a bigger thing than the birth, two years ago. (And, living close by Stratford, am avoiding it like the plague on the actual day….) Such is, er, life….


    • I’m all for a celebration myself – as long, of course, as it’s a celebration of the life & works rather than of the death! But the best way to celebrate is to read the works, or to see one or two, if one can. And yes, please do add Beaumont to the list!

      I first went to Stratford in ’78, aged 18, and was enchanted by the place. I still am, but I suppose it’s a bit different if you live there. The most notable figure born in the locality where I now live was Matthew Arnold, although I do wonder what Arnold would have thought of the school that is named after him!


  2. One of the things that I love the best about dropping in on this site is that Himadri is able to talk about his enthusiasms without ever coming across as elitist. And by heaven, those enthusiasms are contagious! Indeed, that’s something that can also be said about his regular commentators.

    I always find that I’ve finished reading even the briefest pieces having learned something new. The downside is that I end up feeling that I’ve left far too much unread — the ‘there will always be enough time’ syndrome. God knows how often I’ve put off reading ‘Don Quixote’ in full — and this guy is on his fourth reading?

    All I can say is keep making me feel guilty. One of these days…


    • Aw .. shucks! (Where is that emoticon denoting embarrassment?)

      In real life – i.e. away from the internet – I know only one or two people who are keen on literary matters and are well read, and none of them are elitist. (That is, if, by “elitist”, we mean people who look down their noses at all the plebs less well read than themselves.) On the net, I have come across many others who are very well read and erudite, and I can’t find any trace of snobbery or elitism amongst them either. And it’s hardly surprising: close contact with some of the greatest of minds should instil humility rather than pride, So I can’t help wondering about this idea that those interested in what we term “high culture” are elitist and snooty and all the rest of it: who are these people?

      As for Don Quixote, I first read it as a schoolboy, and got very little out of it. I read it again in my late 20s and in my early 40s, and on these occasions, I started to understand what the fuss was all about. I think the problem with me is that I am a bit slow taking things in, and that I really need to spend a lot of time with a book, and keep re-reading it, before it enters my thick skull. I envy those who can read through a complex work and take a lot in: I can’t. as a consequence, my reading hasn’t really been very extensive (compared to some others I could name), but when a book resonates with me, I feel I have to revisit, and absorb it slowly.


  3. Hmmm. I think that you’ve been a bit luckier than I have, Himadri. Then again, is being elitist automatically bad? I recall an amusing comment from Kim Thompson of the (very elitist) Comics Journal:

    “A snob looks down on people; an elitist looks down on shit.”

    As to the celebrations… what harm, once a decent period of time has passed. There’s no one left to be offended, surely. Robert E. Howard fans such as myself will celebrate the 80th anniversary of his death come 11 June. And even though his was a suicide, I see nothing disrespectful. We honour him Time has passed.

    Put it this way: I would find a movie about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, offensive. About Jack the Ripper? No. Again, enough time has passed.


    • Ha ha! I have this picture of the late, lamented Freddie Ayer …

      “It all depends on what you mean by elistist …”

      By your definition, I am certainly an elitist. I generally try to abide by the principle that it’s fine to criticise or attack or even ridicule books, but once you start criticising, attacking or ridiculing readers, then a line has been crossed that shouldn’t be crossed. Short of stuff such as, say, child pornography or something, everyone is entitled to enjoy whatever they damn well want.

      On the other point … celebrating a death, even of someone long dead, is not offensive as such – it’s just a bit odd, that’s all.

      – There will be lots of celebratory event on the weekend of April 23rd
      – Why? Is it some kind of anniversary or something?
      – Yes, it’s an anniversary of … er … Shakespeare’s death.
      – So you’re celebrating his death?
      – Yes … er … I guess …
      – Quite right too. We did The Merchant of Venice at school. What a pile of crap that was.


  4. That is funny! I’m stealing that one.


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