Shakespeare's 445th!


An early modern baptism

No one knows for certain on which day Shakespeare was born, but we do know that four hundred and forty-five years ago today, on 26 April 1564, Shakespeare was baptised in the Holy Trinity church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

We know this because the entry for that day in the baptismal registry survives. It reads:


Guliemus filius Johannes Shakspere” – William son of John Shakespeare. Because babies were customarily baptised three days after birth, Shakespeare’s birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of April. That this day is also St. George’s day (patron saint of England) is a nice coincidence, as is the fact that Shakespeare, and many other poets with him, died on the same day.

I spent the evening of Shakespeare’s birthday in the media park in Hilversum for my second radio experience. I was invited by the same show as last time – BNN Today, and the presenters made my day when they told me they had all been to see Romeo and Juliet together after my first interview. This time, they wanted to know all about Shakespeare’s life – in 10 minutes. The result is below, in Quicktime format.



Radio (2)

I did my very first radio interview last night, and enjoyed it. The show was aired live from the studios of the NOS in the Media Park in Hilversum, where the Dutch news is also made. The small radio studio that I was in is the one that also produces the Radio 1 Journaal, the news programme that I listen to religiously every morning (the images below are from their website). I felt a bit like a tourist, wandering around in a world that seems so familiar but is not.

BNN is a broadcasting organization that targets young people, so the first thing the presenter did was snort at our Shakespeare Society of the Low Countries and our supposedly boring activities – conferences, pfffft! — but I think I managed to trigger some enthusiasm for Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet in him, and perhaps in some of the listeners. I had a good time, even if it was only six minutes that felt like six seconds. The excerpt from their podcast is below – it’s in Dutch.

BNN Today – Quicktime Streaming

By the way, I am glad that this did not happen to me – a Dutch news presenter this week was accidentally on air while she was preparing herself for the coming broadcast, and wondered aloud whether she should ‘flaunt what she has’. It’s funny to see (though not for poor Eva Jinek) that presenters are just as nervous as amateurs before going on air.


renj_ntBNN Today, a programme on the news channel on Dutch radio, has asked me to appear in their show tomorrow evening to talk about Shakespeare. This theatre season offers no less than 5 productions of Romeo and Juliet, which is unusual. One of them, by Het Nationale Toneel, opens tomorrow in The Hague. BNN wants to know all about the play and why it is still so popular.

I think I will first talk about the play itself, about the conflict between love and the pressures of family and society, and about the wonderful ways in which Shakespeare’s language expresses that conflict. Then I think I cannot resist to¬† point out that although the play is often called timeless, Shakespeare’s version of the story is very much a product of sixteenth-century English culture, its gender norms, its ideas about marriage and revenge. Even if the love story seems universal, each production does situate the play in a different cultural context, whether it is 1950s New York, twentieth-century Verona Beach or a post 9/11 Amsterdam where a Turkish pizza-delivery boy falls in love with a Dutch hockey girl, as in Theo van Gogh’s television series Najib en Julia. If I have not been cut off by then, I could also point out that the notion of romantic love is also a product of early modern culture, as Catherine Belsey emphasizes in Shakespeare & the Loss of Eden.

The interesting thing about Dutch productions in the current season is that some of them explicitly set the play in a modern context: ZEP theatre with Rome en Juli’s Posse situated it amongst street slang and hip hop, turning Romeo into a player (review on 8Weekly); RO Theater presented an urban version that sought to unite the love story with the raw side of Rotterdam as a city. Other productions, such as that by REP Theater based on Joe Calarco’s adaptation and played by five men, shied away from street language and requested a translation that was “real Shakespeare.” Frank Albers’ translation for Nationaal Toneel also does not “go ethnic” as he puts it, but aims to be more poetic and literary than other contemporary Dutch translations (translators interviewed by Karin Veraart in the Volkskrant). Het Nationale Toneel’s website also does not provide any hints of a contemporary context — its text focuses on the mystery of unconditional love. Their poster mainly triggered my interest in the mystery of the black shoe – is this a family member barging in, the way the nurse interrupts Romeo and Juliet’s first romantic sonnets-in-dialogue in Shakespeare’s text?

This is my very first time on the radio, so apart from focusing on the play I also surfed the web today to find some helpful sites on doing radio interviews. Here’s are some of the things I found:

More tips are welcome!