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St George's Day, Facts & Fallacies about William Shakespeare's Birthdate

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Well, who would have known and celebrated that this year 2024 represents the 460th birthday of the pseudonymous "William Shakespeare" who apparently was most likely born on St. George's Day, the 23rd of April, or was it? There is a tendency among Stratfordian academics, eager to establish themselves as viable researchers and literary authorities to embellish, embroider and stitch together elements of British folklore onto the biography of the pseudonymous “William Shakespeare” because his birth date and death are synonymous with the major festival celebrating England’s patron St. George, the 23rd April. How true this is becomes clouded by the fact that parish and church records from Stratford-upon-Avon disagree or totally absent. Biographers and chroniclers of William Shakespeare's life still incorrectly list his birthdate and day of death as the 23rd of April (St. George's Day) eg: Chamber's Book of Days, Brewer's Phrase & Fable, A Shakespeare Miscellany etc). Moreover, they sometimes enlarge upon this fundamental error by comparing Shakespeare to other celebrities who were born or died on the 23rd April, eg: Miguel Cervantes apparently died on the 23rd April, Spanish Gregorian time. This basic discrepancy means that Shakespeare was actually born on the 2nd-3rd of May. That suggests that, according to Chamber's Book of Days, that Shakespeare was actually born on "Holy Rood Day"(Christ's Cross was discovered in AD 326 by St. Helena), at the same time as Nicolo Machiavelli was born and the same time that the Gunpowder conspirator and Catholic priest Henry Garnet, (well known for his tendency for equivocation) had died or rather executed. They are in error largely because England still used the Julian calendar which was some 10-11 days behind that of other parts of Europe, such as Spain, Italy and France who had adopted the Gregorian calendar. This tendency of unsubstantiated suppositions evolves among academics in part because there is a level of “group-think” among these patriotic scholars who vie with each other for the latest revelations about the life and work of William Shakespeare and their unconscious desire to be the first to uncover or reveal them to the delight of the literati. This occurs because there really is a huge vacuum of known facts about our bucolic William Shagspere, and as human nature abhors a vacuum, there is a prerequisite urge to fill it up with some fanciful supposition or other, however absurd or improbable. We know that no musical instruments or books were in the possession of his family during his life because they were certainly not mentioned or listed in his last will and testament. We know that through three generations the Shakspere family remained totally illiterate. Each of the six shaky signatures attributed to William Shakspere are spelt differently in every instance, his father John Shakspere, although an alderman for a short time simply placed an "X" as his signature. There were always clerks and family solicitors who would have signed for them in any case as was the custom.

St George, the guardian patron saint of England (and of Greece apparently), is often alluded to by Shakespeare. His festival, which was formerly celebrated by feasts of cities and corporations, is now almost passed over without notice. Thus Bedford, in "1 Henry VI." (i. 1), speaks of keeping "our great Saint George's feast withal." "God and St George," was once a common battle cry, several references to which occur in Shakespeare's plays. Thus, in "Henry Vth." (iii. 1), the king says to his soldiers three:

"Cry, God for Harry, England and Saint George."

Again, in "1 Henry VI." (iv. 2), Talbot says:

"God and Saint George, Talbot and England's right,

Prosper our colours in this dangerous fight."

The following injunction, from an old act of war, concerning the use of St George's name in onsets, is curious—"Item, that all souldiers entering into battaile, assault, skirmish, or other faction of armes, shall have for their common crye and word, St George, forward, or upon them St George, whereby the soldier is much comforted, and the enemie dismaied, by calling to minde the ancient valour of England, with which that name has so often been victorious."

The combat of this saint on horseback with a dragon has been very long established as a subject for sign painting. In "King John" (ii. 1), Philip says:

"Saint George, that swinged the dragon, and e’er since

 Sits on his horse back at mine hostess’ door."

It is still a very favourite sign. In London alone 1 there are said to be no less than sixty-six public houses and taverns with the sign of "St George and the Dragon," not counting beer-houses and coffee-houses.

Aside from St. George, in actual fact Shakespeare makes reference to St. David's Day, and St. Patrick's Day but totally neglects to mention the patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew, I wonder why?

Other obscure references are as follows:

St Charity: (August 1st).

This saint is found in the Martyrology on the first of August—"Romæ passio Sanctarum Virginum Fidei, Spei, et Charitatis, quæ sub Hadriano principe martyriæ coronam adeptæ sunt." She is alluded to by Ophelia in her song in "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" (iv. 5)—

"By Gis, and by Saint Charity,

Alack, and fie for shame," &c.

In the "Faire Maide of Bristowe," 1605, we find a similar allusion:

"Now by Saint Charity, if I were iudge,

A halter were the least should hamper him."

St Bartholomew's Day (August 24th).—The anniversary of this festival was formerly signalized by the holding of the great Smithfield Fair—the only real fair held within the city of London. One of the chief attractions of Bartholomew Fair were roasted pigs. They were sold "piping hot, in booths and on stalls, and ostentatiously displayed to excite the appetite of passengers." Hence a "Bartholomew pig," became a popular subject of allusion. Falstaff, in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), in coaxing ridicule of his enormous figure, is playfully called by his favourite Doll:

"Thou whoreson, little, tidy Bartholomew boar-pig."

Dr Johnson, however, thought that paste pigs were meant in this passage, but this is improbable, as the true Bartholomew pigs were real roasted pigs, as may be seen from Ben Jonson's play of "Bartholomew Fair," (i. 6), where Ursula, the pigwoman, is an important personage. Gay, too, speaks of the pig-dressers:—"Like Bartholomew fair pig-dressers, who look like the dams, as well as the cooks of what they roasted." A further allusion to this season is found in "Henry Vth.," (v. 2), where Burgundy tells how "maids, well-summered, and warm kept, are like flies at Bartholomew-tide, blind, though they have eyes; and then they will endure handling, which before would not abide looking on."

Holyrood-Day (September 14th):

This festival, called also Holy-Cross-day, was instituted by the Romish Church on account of the recovery of a large piece of the supposed cross by the Emperor Heraclius, after it had been taken away, on the plundering of Jerusalem, by Chosroes, king of Persia. Among the customs associated with this day was one of going-a-nutting, alluded to in the old play of "Grim the Collier of Croydon" (ii. 1):

"To-morrow is Holy-rood-day,

When all a-nutting take their way."

Shakespeare mentions this festival in "1 Henry IV." (i. 1), where he represents the Earl of Westmoreland relating how:

"On Holyrood day, the gallant Hotspur there,

Young Harry Percy and brave Archibald,

That ever-valiant and approved Scot,

At Holmedon met."

St Lambert's-Day (September 17th).—This saint, whose original name was Landebert, but contracted into Lambert, was a native of Maestricht, in the seventh century, and was assassinated early in the eighth. His festival is alluded to in "Richard II." (i. 1), where the king says:

"Be ready, as your lives shall answer it,

At Coventry, upon St Lambert's day."


In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), this festival is alluded to by Simple, who, in answer to Slender, whether he had "The Book of Riddles" about him, replies—"Why, did you not lend it to Alice Shortcake upon All-hallowmas last, a fortnight afore Michaelmas." This doubtless being an intended blunder.

In "1 Henry IV." (ii. 4), Francis says—"Let me see—about Michaelmas I shall be—"

St Etheldredra:

Sometimes known as Audry, commemorated in the Romish Calendar on the 23d of June, but in the English Calendar on the 17th of October, was daughter of Annas, king of the East Angles. She founded the convent and Church of Ely on the spot where the cathedral was subsequently erected. Formerly, at Ely, a fair was annually held, called in her memory St Audry's Fair, at which much cheap lace was sold to the poorer classes, which at first went by the name of St Audry's lace, but in time was corrupted into "tawdry lace." Shakespeare makes an allusion to this lace in the "Winter's Tale," (iv. 4), where Mopsa says:

"Come, you promised me a tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves"

Although in his time the expression rather meant a rustic necklace. An old English historian makes St Audry die of a swelling in her throat, which she considered as a particular judgment for having been in her youth addicted to wearing fine necklaces.

St Crispin's Day (October 25th):

This festival has for centuries been a red-letter day in the calendar of the shoemakers, being the festival of their patron saint. According to tradition, the brothers Crispin and Crispinian, natives of Rome, having become converted to Christianity, travelled to Soissons, in France, in order to preach the Gospel. Being desirous, however, of rendering themselves independent, they earned their daily bread by making shoes, with which, it is said, they furnished the poor at an extremely low price. When the governor of the town discovered that they maintained the Christian faith, and also tried to make proselytes of the inhabitants, he ordered them to be beheaded. From this time the shoemakers have chosen them for their tutelary saints. Shakespeare has perpetuated the memory of this festival by the speech which he has given to Henry Vth., before the battle of Agincourt (iv. 3):

"This day is call’d the feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a-tip-toe when this day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say, 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian!'"

St Dennis has been adopted as the patron saint of France (October 9th), in the same manner as the English have chosen St George. The guardianship of the two countries is thus expressed in the chorus to the old ballad:

"St George he was for England,

St Denis was France, Singing, Honi soit qui mal y pense."

King Henry ("Henry V.," v. 2), says to Kate, "Shall not thou and I, between St Dennis and St George, compound a boy, half French, half English," etc. In "1 Henry VI.," (iii. 2), Charles says:

"St Dennis bless this happy stratagem,

And once again we'll sleep secure in Rouen."

But after all is said and done St. George's Day would not be memorable without a Maypole and a Morris Dance:

London, indeed, had several maypoles, one of which stood in Basing Lane, near St Paul's Cathedral. It was a large fir pole, forty feet high and fifteen inches in diameter, and fabled to be the jousting staff of Gerard the Giant. Only a few, however, of the old maypoles remain scattered here and there throughout the country. One still supports a weather-cock in the churchyard at Pendleton, Manchester; and in Derbyshire, a few years ago, several were to be seen standing on some of the village greens. The rhymes made use of as the people danced round the maypole varied according to the locality, and oftentimes combined a curious mixture of the jocose and sacred.

Another feature of the May-day festivities was the Morris dance, the principal characters of which generally were Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Scarlet, Stokesley, Little John, the Hobby Horse, the Bavian or Fool, Tom the Piper, with his pipe and tabor. The number of characters varied much at different times and places. In "All's Well That Ends Well" (ii. 2), the Clown says—"As fit as ten groats for the hand of an attorney,—a Morris for May-day."


In "2 Henry VI." (iii. 2) the Duke of York says of Cade—

"I have seen Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,

Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells."

In the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (iii. 5) Gerrold, the schoolmaster, thus describes to King Theseus the morris dance:

"If you but favour, our country pastime made is.

We are a few of those collected here,

That rude tongues distinguish villagers; And, to say verity and not to fable,

We are a merry rout, or else a rabble,

Or company, or, by a figure, choris,

That ’fore thy dignity, will dance a morris.

And I, that am the rectifier of all,

By title Pædagogus, that let fall

The birch upon the breeches of the small ones,

And humble with a ferula the tall ones,

Do here present this machine, or this frame;

And, dainty duke, whose doughty dismal fame,

From Dis to Dædalus, from post to pillar,

Is blown abroad, help me, thy poor well wilier,

And, with thy twinkling eyes, look right and straight

Upon this mighty morr—of mickle weight—

Is—now comes in, which being glu’d together

Makes morris, and the cause that we came hither,

The body of our sport, of no small study.

I first appear, though rude, and raw, and muddy,

To speak, before thy noble grace, this tenner;

At whose great feet I offer up my penner:

The next, the Lord of May and Lady bright,

The chambermaid and serving-man, by night

That seek out silent hanging; then mine host

And his fat spouse, that welcome to his cost

The galled traveller, and with a beck’ning.

Inform the tapster to inflame the reck’ning,

Then the beast-eating clown, and next the fool,

The bavian, with long tail and eke long tool;

Cum multis aliis that make a dance:

Say 'ay,' and all shall presently advance."

Amongst the scattered allusions to the characters of this dance may be noticed that in "1 Henry IVth." (iii. 3):—"And for woman-hood, Maid Marian may be the deputy's wife of the ward to thee,"—the allusion being to "the degraded Maid Marian of the later morris dance, more male than female."




St. George's dayWilliam Shakespeare's BirthdaySt. Andrews DaySt. Patrick's DaySt. David's dayEnglish CalendarJulian CalendarFact & Fallacy

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