Hamlet, Don Quixote and Lolita walk into a book…
Ok, so when your oh-so-sophisticated city friends are hobnobbing at tonight’s World Book Day soiree, you—you who fell asleep watching Pride & Prejudice because you were too lazy to read the book in English class—can wow them with this little-known literary anomaly.
It is one of the literary world’s most bizarre coincidences that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, each perhaps the greatest writer is his respective language, died on the exact same date: April 23, 1616.
Strange as that is, it gets much stranger. Despite dying on exact the same date, the two legendary scribes died over 200 hours apart.
Who died first?
Of course Cervantes died first. And you know this because you’ve been reading about the evolution of the European calendar on everydaysaholiday.org.
Or because you had a 50-50 chance and guessed right.
Either way, the real question is, how is this possible?
So how could Cervantes and Shakespeare die ten days apart if they died on the same date?
Though Spain and English were using a similar calendar back in the 17th century, Spain had already converted to the Gregorian Calendar. Back in the 1500s, astronomers noticed that over the course of 1500 years the Julian Calendar had veered from the solar year by approximately ten days. To fix this they added a new rule — no leap days in years that end in 00*. And to offset the ten days they’d swayed, the Gregorian Calendar simply “skipped” 10 days. (ie., one day in 1582, Italians and Iberians went to bed on October 4 and woke up on October 15.)
England, ever the traditionalist, didn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752, over a century after the Bard’s death.
This anomaly made April 23 an ideal date for the United Nations to create an international holiday celebrating literature. It also helps that not only did Shakespeare die on April 23, he was probably born on April 23 as well. Though no records exist to confirm Shakespeare’s birthday, it is assumed to be April 23, 1564, three days before his recorded baptism.
So today World Book Day is celebrated on April 23.
…Except in England, the Bard’s homeland, where it’s celebrated in March, because that’s the way they roll. And April 23 was already taken. It’s dedicated to England’s patron St. George.
(April 23 is also the birthday of famed Russian scribe Vladimir Nabokov—author of fun-for-the-whole-family classics like Lolita.)
*(except years divisible by 400. ie., 1700, 1800, 1900 = regular year; 1600, 2000 = leap year)