On 23 April 2016 it will be 400 years since William Shakespeare died. He is believed to have been born on 23 April 1564. Certainly in the English language, few writers will have left such a legacy as this most celebrated of playwrights.
As an actor as well as a playwright he performed his own material, and in the four centuries following his death this material has continued to be performed, reinterpreted and reimagined in a huge variety of ways. His language can seem impenetrable, at least at first, but its richness, uncanny relevance, profundity and humour make it all worthwhile.
Some of his plays are performed with great regularity - who hasn't seen a fluffy version of A Midsummer Night's Dream performed in some lovely gardens on a pleasant summer evening? (No, MSND is not one of my favourites) Others are far more obscure - King John, anyone?
Very broadly speaking Shakespeare wrote comedies (eg As You Like It), histories (Henry V) and tragedies (Hamlet). Yet a good number of the plays cannot be easily pigeonholed, for example Troilus and Cressida and The Winter's Tale. As Polonius says:
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.
Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2.
As for my favourite Shakespeare? Hard to say - I find Troilus and Cressida fascinating and wish I could have seen the Te Reo Māori version at the 2012 International Shakespeare Festival in London. I love Richard III - a masterful and still influential piece of Tudor propaganda that works just as well played for comedy as deadly serious. Who cannot love Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing - a star truly did dance when she was created.
It's so hard to choose - Macbeth is so fast paced and profound, and as for Hamlet. Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4 might just be my favorite piece of his writing - but what about Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2:
Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? Was ever woman in this humour won?
Exit pursued by a bear.
Brush up on your Shakespeare
- Find Shakespeare in our collection
- Works by Shakespeare at our libraries
- Shakespearean performances on DVD
- A list of Staff Pickles favourite Shakespeare stuff
What's your favourite Shakespeare?