Today it is Shakespeare’s birthday. This of course requires some celebration.
In an unusual way, I grew up with Shakespeare. My dad is a theatre stage manager, and when I was a child he worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He worked in London most of the year, but for six weeks every Spring, he’d be based at the RST or the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birth place. My mum, my brother and I, would pack up the car and drive there every weekend, and we’d spend February half term each year in Stratford. Me and my brother slept on camp beds in those little cottages opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I learn to ride a bike in the park next door.
I think the first Shakespeare play I saw was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when I was about six. I don’t remember it, but I do remember seeing The Twelfth Night when I was nine, As You Like It and The Tempest when I was twelve, Macbeth when I was fifteen and on and on. I remember watching rehearsals at the Globe theatre in the summer holidays and helping clear the stage of the Pit at the Barbican after a show. Before I wanted to be a novelist, I wanted to be a playwright. Or, more accurately, I wanted to be Shakespeare. In my parent’s house we have at least as many books on Shakespeare as books actually containing Shakespeare’s plays. We also have at least two Shakespeare-themed tea towels, and three giant Shakespeare posters on the wall. I’ve now seen thirty out of thirty-seven Shakespeare plays, and I’m trying my very best to see them all before the age when my parents first managed it.
What is strange for me, I suppose, it that Shakespeare has been a very constant presence in my life. I distinctly remember discovering Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Banana Yoshimoto – but I have no memory of discovering Shakespeare. Shakespeare has just always been there, on family bookshelves, on the stage, in my head.