Countless celebrations are taking place across the country to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Wherever you live, you’ll find parades, talks and performances of all kinds paying homage to the Bard’s work, but it was a very different story 100 years ago.
On the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916, Britain had found itself in the middle of one of the most horrific battles in history. While the odd commemorative event took place in larger cities, one reader of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph sent a heart-breaking letter explaining one very practical reason why celebrations could not be as vibrant as previously hoped.
“Sir,- I was glad to see the letter signed “A Lover’s Complaint” in your issue of Friday, together with the one in the “Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of Thursday morning, referring to the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death.
It was hoped that great things would be done throughout the British Empire, to celebrate this rare occasion, but the terrible war has called for sacrifices in a way that will make it impossible to do anything worthy of so great an event.
In Sheffield, no less than other places, we had expected doing something worthy, and, had hoped that Shakespeare was now sufficiently appreciated here, that it would be worth while giving a week’s plays by the amalgamation of the different amateurs who had played in Shakespeare’s plays.
We found, however that we had, very reluctantly, to abandon our usual annual performance, because so many of our young men have valiantly answered the call of their country, as to make it impossible to get together a cast. I am writing now without the list of our members who have joined the forces, but, I believe I am right in stating, that at least 17 of the young men who have taken part in our productions, one way or another, are now serving.
Whilst we regret very much our not being able to do our duty to the memory of the great bard this year, we are proud that so many of his students have answered their country’s call, as indeed, no real lover of his, who was able, could have failed to do.
We all anxiously hope that all our young friends may have the good fortune to return safely, and, when this bitter and terrible war is over we may do something worthy of a great memory, and at the same time celebrate a great and lasting peace. – Yours, etc.
February 19, 1916. W.S. Jackson”
– Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Monday 21 February 1916