The Shakespeare Stamps: 400 years without Shakespeare

What’s in a Bard?

Which is more fascinating? That the universal appeal of Stratford’s most famous son that has seen him held to the bosom of countries in every continent on the planet, through centuries of conflict. Or the incalculable way that Shakespeare has and continues to change the philosophy and life experience of the inhabitants of his own island country.

Phrases originated in his plays are used every day. Drawing allusions, making excuses, or finding strength or sense in a situation using one of his characters, is a common occurrence too. In fact, we in all likelihood experience feelings and modes of thinking that would never have found form in English psychology or language had he not put them to sheet. He should have been a chief jailer of the language as it bolted into unified spelling, but instead, as one of if not the most influential cultural stones this small blue sphere has ever produced, he became the world’s playwright. It seems inevitable that will stretch further, his popularity still finding space to grow to ever more popular.

It’s no surprise that Shakespeare’s work can twist and adapt to any time, place or context. Perhaps it’s even less of a surprise the long evolution of an international joke was delivered universally deadpan in Star Trek VI: After all, you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

Decades before, as the Hollywood system quickly fell under Shakespeare’s thrall one of great quotes about the Bard came from Sam Goldwyn: “Shakespeare’s fantastic. And to think he wrote it all with a feather!”

For the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, the Royal Mail’s 10 commemorative stamps took words from Shakespeare’s prose and verse, creating clean, crisp white, black and red stamps that deftly put the St George’s flag into the Bard as much as the other way round. Here he’s clipped back to England on one axis, and the pure form of his words on the other.

As they’re chiefly concerned with his death, the most prominent part of feature of the stripped back souvenir is the famous curse found at Shakespeare’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.

“Blese by ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.”

The release of these stamps roughly coincides with an apparent X-Ray revelation that the bard’s entombed body does indeed appear to be missing its head – it’s a very short grave.

If the Bard’s head is gone, whoever took it is well dealt with by the curse, whether that came from Shakespeare, his family or desperate, conspiring playwrights conjuring up an elaborate, collaborative in-joke 400 years ago.  And head or not, those words will continue to spread further and further.

Who knows which of these stamps will take words closest to his errant skull?

‘Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

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