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Shakespeare Rises Again on the Eve of His 450th Birthday

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Some believe that Jesus rolled a boulder and then rose to the heavens on Easter Sunday.

With Easter approaching, I have been thinking of our own secular god, William Shakespeare, whose life remains shrouded in mystery, not unlike that of Jesus.

According to Sylvan Barnet's prefatory remarks to the Signet Classic series of the Bard's plays, records indicate that William Shakespeare was baptized in Stratford, England, on April 26, 1564, and died there on April 23, 1616. That has not stopped some from claiming that he died on April 25, 1616, the date of his burial, nor has it stopped others from speculating that he was born on April 23, 1564, exactly 52 years prior to his death.

And then of course there are those who allege that Shakespeare never existed nor wrote the 37 or so plays and countless poems that bear his name. It always strikes me, with rare exception, that the people who question the Bard's existence or authorship are the very people who have never read nor appreciated his plays.

Yet I can understand why Shakespeare baffles some people and why they might feel justified in posing such infantile questions at cocktail parties and other gatherings. Why? Because Shakespeare's work is so prolific and his cognitive and aesthetic powers so original and unsurpassed that, as Harold Bloom once said, one might very well ask whether Shakespeare is indeed God.

Bloom, champion of the canon, has argued that Shakespeare "invented the human." By that, Bloom means that Shakespeare's characters hear themselves speak and then alter their behavior.

The Bard's greatest creations, Rosalind, Falstaff, Cleopatra, and, above all, Hamlet, are united not only by their love for play but also in their attunement to consciousness. As Hamlet says, "conscience does make cowards of us all."

But "conscience" also makes us uniquely human. We of all creatures have the ability to be introspective, to examine our lives.

It could be argued that no writer prior to or after Shakespeare has so brilliantly depicted human consciousness as the Bard. In so doing, according to Bloom, Shakespeare invented us and may very well be a god of a sort. Without a doubt, Shakespeare is and always will be the reigning literary god.

Last year, I wrote a piece, titled "Hamlet and President Obama: Strange Bedfellows." I wrote the piece in the wake of a comment on CNN by Fareed Zakaria that the president was "Hamlet-like" in waffling on whether or not to enforce a red line on chemical weapons use in Syria. In years past, others had compared then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo to Hamlet due to Cuomo's perceived indecisiveness over whether or not to run for president.

In my piece last year, I argued that comparisons between Hamlet and politicians never make any sense. The metaphor does not work because the question is not one of metaphor; it is one of metaphysics.

Hamlet could never be a politician, not on any planet, not in any lifetime. As I wrote last year, "politics is anathema to Hamlet," which may be the main reason why he does not seek the crown. By all rights, he should be King of Denmark, given that his father, the previous king, has been killed.

Yet he is not, and the reason is because at a deep, ontological level, Hamlet despises the "calculating, ruthless nature of office-seekers," a point I made last year.

As Bob Dylan, a modern-day bard, once sang, "Don't follow leaders, watch parking meters."

Hamlet would concur.

Shakespeare no doubt would as well. His father, John, was a political figure in Stratford, rising to the position of high bailiff, which, as Sylvan Barnet, the editor of the Signet Classic series, pointed out, was "the equivalent of mayor."

But young Will, far from being a politician, was an artist. Besides being the most luminous writer in the history of Western civilization, he was also an actor, who, according to tradition, played the part of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father whenever his theatrical troupe, the Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men, staged his greatest tragedy.

William Shakespeare also had a son named Hamnet, who died young, but Hamlet himself is 30, roughly the age of Jesus at the time of the Last Supper.

Just as Hamlet says of his father, "I shall not look upon his like again," this great planet Earth shall not look upon another like William Shakespeare again.

We may be a couple of weeks early, but let me be the first to wish Shakespeare a happy birthday.

Happy #450, Will, Bard of the Universe, King of the Canon!