United Nations English Language Day, April 23rd

Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The United Nations has six official languages throughout the organisation, and equal use of all these languages are promoted to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity. Each of the languages has their own recognised day in the UN calendar with English Language Day being on April 23rd, which was both the birthday and death date of England’s most historic poet and playwright, William Shakespeare.

It may have been timing — Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in Europe in the mid-fifteenth century, which gradually made books less expensive to produce and more widely available. By the beginning of the sixteenth century an estimated eight million books had been printed, more than all the scribes of Europe had produced in the previous thousand years.

By the early sixteenth century, and with London’s great flourishing of theatres, publication was ripe for poets, playwrights and wordsmiths, and the stage was set for Shakespeare to make an incalculable contribution to the written and spoken word. He is credited with inventing or first recording over 1700 words into the English language.

This contribution cannot be underestimated, and the quality of this content survives in everyday words and phrases in common use to this day.

Have your own flesh and blood ever eaten you out of house and home? Was it a sorry sight? Did it set your teeth on edge to see them have too much of a good thing? Despite it being a dish for the Gods I doubt they slept a wink. Never mind, what’s done is done.

I know that clothes make the man, and I may wear my heart on my sleeve, but despite them having seen better days I know my garments are not the be-all and end-all of everything. In my heart of hearts I know that all that glitters isn’t gold, and consider myself a blinking idiot to succumb to jealousy, the green-eyed monster. I should be made of sterner stuff.

It’s a forgone conclusion that star-crossed lovers will break the ice and with bated breath venture into a brave new world. As good luck would have it their heart of gold was a tower of strength which never melted into thin air. There’s neither rhyme nor reason to send them on a wild goose chase, to give them short shrift and leave them in a pickle. So we’ll be cruel to be kind, kill them with kindness, and with one fell swoop, laugh yourself into stitches and send them full-circle — after all the world is their oyster (but it’s all Greek to me).

It is also worth remembering that Shakespeare himself was of very humble origins. Born and brought up in a small market town, a rural community, and whilst he had some schooling he was never privileged with a university education. A great inspiration for many who start life without advantages.

Because his plays were published in book form, the First Folio of 1623, his plays and poems have survived to present day, unlike so many other Elizabethan works. Plays of jealousy, love, redemption, duty and racial equality. Themes far-reaching and universal, relevant now, then, and for all time.

His words have even gone further, his works being translated not only into the six official languages of the United nations, but an estimated one hundred languages across the globe.

Shakespeare was a true piece of work and gave us far more than a pound of flesh, and despite him now being dead as a doornail, his works and language continue to unite us all.

Author Bio:

Nick Wilkes trained at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

As an actor he has worked extensively in the theatre over the past two decades, both in the UK and overseas, working in classical and contemporary drama, musical, pantomime and weekly rep alongside names as diverse as Charlton Heston and Simon Callow through to Keith Harris and Orville the Duck.

Nick was the first Writer in Residence at Malvern Theatres since George Bernard Shaw and has written and produced over twenty new works to date. These have played in many venues around the country, from small studio theatres and larger theatres to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon.

Nick is on the Board of Trustees of the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury and the Coach House Theatre, Malvern. He is also proud to fundraise for several charities, amongst them the NSPCC, Children’s Hospice South West, Food Cycle, Help for Heroes and the Clean Up Britain campaign.