Post 3 Shakespeare’s Birthday
April 20th 2013 From Shakespeare’s Verona to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Today it’s the Birthday Procession, to mark the Bard’s 449th Birthday, and so I’m togged up in my doctoral gown and picking up a bouquet of flowers to place on Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church. The Procession is rooted in the 1760s when David Garrick, the famous actor-manager, brought London aristocratic society up to Stratford for his Jubilee, designed to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with a costume ball, a breakfast, a horse-race, a concert, a specially commissioned Ode, and a procession of costumed characters from the plays which was to march from the Birthplace (where Garrick had identified the ‘birthroom’) to the grave in Holy Trinity Church. In 1762* the Procession was rained off, but today it is beautiful.
We start at the Mayor’s reception – in the ballroom in the Town Hall, which is filled with Shakespeareana, including, to my amusement, a statuette I’d never registered before, a replica of Juliet’s statue in Verona. I talk with the deputy ambassador from Japan, the representative of the American embassy, and the Irish ambassador, along with the current triumvirate at the top of the Shakespeare Theatre heap — Greg Doran, Anthony Sher, and Simon Russell Beale. The procession includes schoolboys, Olympic volunteers, Stratford organisations of every sort, scholars of Shakespeare (including myself), clergy, the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, the Bishop of Warwick. It marches round the streets, unfurls flags, carries flowers to the church. As a scholar of literary commemoration, including this one, what interested me most was one particular innovation introduced last year—“the quill moment”. Described as a ‘cameo pageant’ in my ambiguous written instructions, this involves a school-group going to the Birthplace where last year’s Head Boy of Shakespeare’s school is presented with a quill, cut from a goose-feather from Mary Arden’s Farm. This is meant to symbolise, I suppose, the birth and youth of the writer and conveniently also suggests flight and transcendence. Anyhow, the ex-Head Boy then marches through the streets with the quill held aloft all the way through the town to the church where the procession lays down its floral offerings. He did it very prettily, but his arm must have ached horribly.