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Star-cross’d lovers, shooting stars, moonbeams and Mars

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WILLIAM Shakespeare was a champion of monumental excitement and remorseless discontent, of the majestic and the lonely, of the varied amazements and tortures of the human condition.

He invented most of the words in the last sentence for the English language is littered with 1700 words he created.

Today, April 23, which is also St. George’s Day, is celebrated as his birthday – 450 years ago in 1564.

The playwright and poet, who embodies the rambunctious romance of the Renaissance, is still the world’s most famous Brit nearly half a millennium after he entered the world.

Without him we wouldn’t have the pleasure of glorious words such as embrace, silliness, moonbeam, shooting star and hobnob. Or how about ‘honey-tongued’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost?

‘The long and the short of it’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is that we would be lost for wonderful ways to ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew) and ‘wear the heart upon the sleeve’ (Othello) or ‘make short shrift’ (Richard III) and bid ‘good riddance’ (Troilus and Cressida).

And we wouldn’t have brilliant turns of phrase like ‘heart of gold’ (Henry V), ‘kill with kindness’ (The Taming of the Shrew), ‘star-cross’d lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet), ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ (As You Like It), ‘to thine own self be true’ (Hamlet) and ‘such stuff as dreams are made’ (The Tempest).

He even invented that classic joke structure in the Scottish play: ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’

It was his way of articulating the gamut of emotions that run through everyone at one time or another that ensured he would be remembered ‘forever and a day’ (As You Like It).

My favourite of Shakespeare’s sonnets (number 14) likens a lover’s soul to the power of the heavens and how with their death truth and beauty will cease to exist:

‘But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And, constant stars, in them I read such art…

…Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Shakespeare’s works are littered with astronomical references. Indeed he saw art in the stars.

On the same day we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, NASA has detailed a plan to launch a manned mission to Mars in just over 15 years’ time; an endeavour described as vital for the continued survival of the human race.

The Times reported that the space agency’s chief Charles Bolden outlined a series of “stepping stones” to the Red Planet that included “lassoing” an asteroid, using 3D printers for spacecraft repairs and growing vegetables in space ahead of a three-year return trip.

He said: “It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond reach.

“In that same spirit, the agency has made a human mission to Mars the centrepiece of its next big leap into the unknown.”

Now is the winter of our planet’s discontent. Perhaps our existence does indeed rely on journeying to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

To be or not to be? That is the question. Especially with the slings, arrows and outrageous fortunes that our world faces.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves.

 

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