To Be or Not To Be Remembered

COMMEMORATING THE BARD OF STRATFORD

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William Shakespeare (1564–1616) is today universally acknowledged as among the greatest exponents of the English language and perhaps the finest dramatist of all time.

Yet the man from Stratford-upon-Avon has had his downs as well as his ups.

In the first half of the eighteenth century opinions were considerably more mixed than they are currently as to the quality of Shakespeare’s writing. Classically trained critics reprimanded him for ignoring the ‘Aristotelian Unities’ of time and place, and for introducing buffoonery and tavern humour into the serious domain of history and tragedy. Even Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), more of an admirer than most of his era, regretted that the bard’s treasure-house was ‘clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals’.

In his home town too Shakespeare was having his setbacks. In 1756 the Reverend Francis Gastrell, owner of New Place - the house in which the playwright had breathed his last - tired of the procession of tourists knocking on his door and chopped down the famous mulberry tree said to have been planted by the bard. Three years later he demolished the house as well.

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