Battle of bards as English seek Shakespeare Day to rival Burns revelry

Key quote "Shakespeare is one of England's towering literary figures and anything that celebrates his life and work should be encouraged." - Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary

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"PRAISING what is lost, makes the remembrance dear," declared William Shakespeare - but it may be a Scot who eventually helps England's best-known bard have a national day named in his honour.

John Reid, widely tipped to be planning a bid to become prime minister, has given his support to proposals for a National Shakespeare Day in England, which he hopes will rival the popularity of Burns Night in his home country.

One possible feature of the celebration could be ox roasts at venues around the country - inspired by the haggis-based Burns suppers.

The commemoration would be held on 23 April, the commonly accepted day of Shakespeare's birth in 1564 and also the date he died in 1616. It is also the date on which St George, the patron saint of England, is celebrated.

The day could also include special performances of Shakespeare's plays as well as readings from his dramas and poems. A popular selection would probably be the Bard's paean to Englishness in Richard II: "This other Eden, demi-paradise... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

Mr Reid has told colleagues that he "cannot understand" why there is no equivalent to Burns Night in England, especially given the centrality of Shakespeare's Englishness to his body of work.

However, the proposal may be seen by some cynics as an attempt by Mr Reid to endear himself to English voters.

Recent polls have suggested many in England oppose the idea of a Scots PM and Gordon Brown, the favourite to replace Tony Blair, has made a number of moves to highlight his pro-English stance - including the declaration that his favourite goal was Paul Gascoine's for England against Scotland in Euro96.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, who is also backing the idea, said:

"Shakespeare is one of England's towering literary figures and anything that celebrates his life and work should be encouraged."

David Smith, a former president of the Burns Federation, said "Bard suppers" would prove popular among English people living in Scotland.

He said: " There are plenty of English in Scotland who would be happy to take it on. It's unlikely that native-born Scots would take Shakespeare to their hearts, however."

Last week, MSPs at Holyrood backed a move to mark St Andrew's Day a national holiday in Scotland.

The SNP MSP Michael Matheson said National Shakespeare Day should be confined to England.

"I think this is a great idea. But if [MPs think] they can create a national Shakespeare day and enforce it in Scotland, they are mistaken," he said.

Head to head: Bard v Burns


Shakespeare: 1564-1616

Burns: 1759-1796 - lived 200 yrs after Shakespeare

Literary period

Shakespeare: Renaissance

Burns: Romantic

Number of works

Shakespeare: 37 plays, 154 sonnets, three long poems

Burns: 559 songs and poems

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