"Thy Life is a Miracle": Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday in Testing Times

SC4/42/15 Real Photographic Postcard, showing the ‘Unfurling of the Flags, Bridge St’ 1912
Courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
DR289/1/24 Playbill for Birthday Masquerade 1830
Courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
DR243/1. Parish Register, 1558-1653 Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1558-1653 (Marriages to 1651). Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1687-1776 (Marriages to 1754). Oblique view of the Front Binding Page dimensions: 43cm x 18cm approx
Courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
BC 2018/1 Digital Photograph, showing Bridge Street dressed for the Parade 2018
Courtesy of Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham

The COVID-19 crisis has curtailed plans to celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday in the usual manner.

The traditional parade through Stratford-upon-Avon and the associated civic and cultural events have been abandoned in the interests of public health.  However, a massive social media campaign is planned for 23rd April 2020 – #SaluteToStratford.  Undertaken by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and partners, including Archives West Midlands, this will celebrate the resilience of the town, its people and institutions – see the Trust’s website for further details.

Bouncing back

The capacity of Stratford to recover from crisis is recorded in the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, alongside the world’s largest assemblage of ‘Shakespeare Documents’ which directly reference the life of William Shakespeare and his immediate family [1].  Indeed, the baptism of William Shakespeare is recorded in the Parish Register of Holy Trinity Church underpinning the worldwide focus on Stratford-upon-Avon every April.  Given current concerns about the Coronavirus, it is sobering to reflect that this composite volume also records the outbreak and tragic consequences of ‘The Plague’ in the town, just eleven weeks after Shakespeare’s birth.

Fit for a hero

Other records in the Trust Collections chart the development of 23rd April as the focus of celebrations for Shakespeare as England’s national hero, as well as the changing nature of those celebrations and how they have been organised within Stratford-upon-Avon.  In the Twentieth Century, the impact of two world wars was felt keenly, but the Birthday was still marked in the town, as indeed it will be in the particular conditions of 2020 – and in due course the Trust’s Collections will reflect this.

For details about the Trust’s extensive collections, as well as their online services, please see the Trust’s website.

Please join us on 23rd April 2020 as we celebrate William Shakespeare’s 456th Birthday and our #SaluteToStratford.


[1] The ‘Shakespeare Documents’ are entered in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and are held across a number of institutions: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service (both members of Archives West Midlands), as well as The National Archives, British Library, London Metropolitan Archives, the College of Arms and the Folger Library (U.S.A.),

‘Thy life is a miracle’ – quote from ‘King Lear’ Act 4, Scene 6, Line 56.

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