I’ve been trying to put together a bit about our Will and Christmas.
As I mentioned in my piece on venues, Christmas was a busy time for Shakespeare – spent most often at Court, putting on a variety of shows for the monarch of the day and their entourage. This is where the title to Twelfth Night comes from* – it was presumably first staged on the twelfth night after Christmas, 6th January, which is traditionally the date the wise men arrive in Bethlehem.** The Winter’s Tale may also have first been put on at the same time of year, although there is no proof positive and Shakespeare may only have meant to imply it was an idle tale with fantastical elements.
None of Shakespeare’s plays are set at Christmas (unlike Dicken’s obsession with the season) – and it isn’t even mentioned very often – in fact, only three times. In The Taming of the Shrew Slay asks, disparagingly “Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold or a tumbling-trick” and Berowne in Love’s Labours Lost was clearly (comparatively) Christmas obsessed – he uses a yule-metaphor twice – “At Christmas I no more desire a rose Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows” and “here was a consent, Knowing aforehand of our merriment, To dash it like a Christmas comedy.”
Nobody talks much about the traditional Christmas accoutrements either, although in As You Like It they sing “heigh-ho! Unto the green holly” and in Titus Andronicus Tamor talks about the “baleful mistletoe”.
So that’s a merry Christmas all round, then…
*And why it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the play.
**Although in fact the first recorded performance was on Candlemas, – 2nd February – in Middle Temple Hall.