It's been a rather good week to be English - all sorts of things have been going on in deepest England - The Queen's just had her 90th birthday resulting in a highly notable stamp issue and the national bard, William Shakespeare, has been commemorated on the 400th anniversary of his death and his 452nd birthday. The celebrations for the latter were attended by the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, as well as most of Britain's most significant actors who met up in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town in the centre of England where Shakespeare was born and brought up and, when he died there, was buried in the town's parish church, Holy Trinity.
A spectacular 2 hour show was held at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford on the evening of 23 April 2016 which was attended by The Prince and his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall, and amid many marvellous renditions of his work a highly memorable sketch was presented by some of Britain's greatest actors and centred on the correct way to deliver the speech starting with "to be or not be that is the question" from the play, Hamlet. The most recent Hamlet, Paapa Essidiu, was corrected in his delivery of "to be ot not to be" by Tim Minchim (a British-born Australian performer) and then other actors, of increasing seniority, appeared on stage to pass on their ideas on how to perform the role - Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Sir Kenneth McKellan and finally Dame Judi Dench.
But there was a final person waiting to walk on to the stage to give his own advice to Paapa Essidiu - Prince Charles himself whose appearance brought the house down to conclude this hilarious scene.
"To be or not to be" has featured on at least 2 previous Commonwealth stamps - one from 2010 which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company and which showed David Tennant in the role of Hamlet. In the illustration he is holding the skull of Yorick which, as was pointed out in the sketch, was an entirely different scene altogether from the "To be or not to be" scene.
The same set also featured 2 other actors who appeared in the sketch with Prince Charles - a young Kenneth McKellan in "Romeo and Juliet" (1976 with Francesca Annis as Juliet) and a young Judi Dench playing Lady MacBeth (1976) with the RSC's third theatre in Stratford, The Other Place, which has just been reopened as a wonderful studio theatre after renovation.
Above is illustrated Prince Charles with Judi Dench (and Yorick's skull!) as they appeared in the "To be or not to be" sketch and below a miniature sheet issued by Jersey Post in 2013 to commemorate the Prince's 65th birthday. I have been in Stratford for a few days for the celebrations of Shakespeare anniversaries and witnessed just how popular the Prince has been on his visit there, visiting various parts of the town and laying a wreath on Shakespeare's tomb.
His mother will hopefully have many years yet to reign but there is nothing to suggest that Charles will be anything but a popular monarch when he succeeds her eventually contrary to what the play "Charles III" has to say on the matter (see Blog 489) and if he continues to show the delightful and charming good humour he displayed at the RSC on 23 April then we will eventually have many Charles III stamps to which to look forward in the future.
The numerous events here in Stratford in the past few days and the thousands of visitors to the town, many from abroad, emphasise the supreme importance of Shakespeare to the English. A wonderful and moving service to commemorate him was held in Holy Trinity Church on the morning of 24 April 2016. The church itself has been illustrated in the past on a "Disney" stamp from Grenada Grenadines - what is surprising about the stamp is just how accurate the illustration is though it is unlikely that a visitor would spot a pair of mice in period costume rowing past the church down the river Avon in a boat.
Ten thousand Shakespeare masks were distributed to people in the parade through Stratford on 23 April as well as the large crowds who turned up to watch the wonderful spectacle. Here, at last, is a picture of White Knight but wearing his/her Shakespeare mask:-
With the Shakespeare celebrations drawing to a close it's worth recalling again that 2 days earlier, on 21 April, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles' mother, had celebrated her 90th birthday accompanied by general public congratulations with public celebrations to follow in June. As detailed in Blog 744, Royal Mail issued a memorable miniature sheet containing 4 stamps depicting The Queen and Prince Charles as well as her most senior grandson and great grandson. This will, I expect, become one of the most well known British stamp issues ever issued and will always be in demand from royal family enthusiasts. The photograph is iconic and Royal Mail deserves congratulations for coming up with this great issue.
Finally, it's worth reminding ourselves that 23 April was also the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. It's hard to think that the saint, slaying the dragon, will ever be better depicted than he was on the £1 stamp issued in 1929 to commemorate the Postal Union Congress, held in London. The English national flag - the red cross of St. George has appeared on a number of recent stamps from Royal Mail - it was flying proudly on any public buildings in England on 23 April including Stratford town hall on the day of the great Shakespeare parade through the town. The skies were blue, the sun was warm and shining and with all these "good news" events coming together it seemed like a good week for England.