It’s the official celebrations of Shakespeare’s Birthday here in Stratford-upon-Avon. For me, the part of this ceremony that really matters is the laying of the flowers on Shakespeare’s grave. The simple ritual was initiated by the boys of his own school, which is why the boys, clutching their posies, still lead the procession down to Holy Trinity Church. It’s so appropriate that Shakespeare, a great lover of nature, should be remembered by the placing of flowers on the place where he lies.
Tradition, memory, and honouring the past are subjects that mattered to Shakespeare, and ones he wrote about extensively. The photograph on the left is a personal one. It shows my grandfather, William Tompkins, sub-sacristan at Holy Trinity Church for many years, at Shakespeare’s grave and monument following the procession in 1920. For me the laying of flowers on the grave is a way of honouring my family’s past as well as Shakespeare’s.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.
We shouldn’t think that Shakespeare’s importance is all to do with the past. He and his work really are for all time as he continues to remind us what it means to be human, and what people can achieve. Hamlet, as ever, says it all:
What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties
Happy Birthday, Will, and many more.