The World Book Day
April is the month most often associated with the 25th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from Nazi-fascism. Only two days earlier, however, falls a world day, certainly more niche but very much felt by those in the industry. World Book and Copyright Day. This annual event was created under the auspices of UNESCO in 1996 to promote reading, book publishing and copyright protection. The book, be it in paper or digital format, is elected as the most powerful tool to guarantee the continuity of cultural progress, “to protect peace, culture and the education of all peoples”. The date chosen, 23 April, commemorates the passing of three of the world’s greatest representatives of literature.
William Shakespeare: the most talked-about
The first and probably the most famous of the three names, so much so that he earned the privilege of having an asteroid named after him, 2985 Shakespeare. Living at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, Shakespeare was much talked about during his lifetime and especially after his death. The scarcity of documents concerning his private life has produced, over time, a myriad of different conjectures concerning his physical appearance, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and in some cases even the attribution of his works.
The latter debate, which began in the century following his death, takes into account certain critical aspects of the character, such as the lack of correspondence between the writer and his fellow friends, or Shakespeare’s extraordinary (even overly) cultural level, with an estimated vocabulary of almost 30,000 words, or the lack of reference to works or books of any kind in his will. Moreover, the historical forgery of the tomb makes one smile: the one visible today portrays the image of a man of letters with a pen and paper in both hands, while the original portrayed Shakespeare with a sack of wheat.
In short, whether he was actually the most famous playwright in English literature and Western culture or just a figurehead, dear William deserved to be remembered on the anniversary of his death for having given life (or even just his name) to a truly boundless number of literary works.
The plaque below the bust of William Shakespeare in the memorial at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.
Miguel de Cervantes: the first modern novelist
Universally known for being the author of one of the masterpieces of Spanish literature, Don Quixote, he was so influential that Spanish is referred to as ‘the language of Cervantes’ and the Institute of Spanish Language and Culture (or Cervantes Institute) was dedicated to him. In any case, although Cervantes cannot boast of having an asteroid named after him, a crater on the surface of Mercury has also been named after him.
A far less prolific writer than William Shakespeare, he lived in unfavourable conditions and devoted himself to literature not so much as a humanist, but more for financial gain and personal glory. Despite this, his style gave rise to what is considered to be the first modern novel and influenced dozens of subsequent works in literature, music, theatre and film.
Title page of the first edition of Don Quixote in 1605.
Garcilaso de la Vega: the first mestizos of the New World
Often confused with his namesake, a Spanish poet from the early 16th century, he was nicknamed El Inca and one of the first mestizos of the New World. Born of a Spanish father (the conquistador Sebastian) and an Inca mother (Princess Isabel, daughter of the powerful Inca ruler Huayna Cápac), de la Vega wrote accounts of Inca life, the history of his people and the conquest by the Spaniards. He never actually returned to his native country (modern-day Peru) because of the danger his royal lineage presented, but neither did he feel entirely at home in Spain.
In fact, his approach to literature came about precisely because of the low esteem in which he was held, as a mestizo, within the Spanish army, which he left in 1590 to take holy orders. The Royal Commentaries of the Incas are considered his masterpiece and continued to circulate clandestinely even when King Charles III of Spain forbade their publication in Lima due to their contents being considered ‘dangerous’.
An important symbol of the ‘fight’ against censorship that reminds us, once again, of the importance of literature and its celebration.
The statue of Garcilaso de la Vega in Villa Borghese, Rome.