Thursday, 1 April 2010

Monsieur Shakespeare

I am very susceptible to a well-laid hoax. Today being April 1st, you'd think I would be on my guard, wouldn't you?

I'm a keen follower of the Archaeological News blog of the Archaeological Institute of America -- it's an excellent daily roundup of digs and discoveries worldwide. So I've been aware for some time of the dig planned and now underway at the site of New Place, Shakespeare's grand Stratford house. I was quite skeptical about the chances of finding anything significant -- the idea that someone would dump a discarded manuscript sonnet down the jakes is the stuff of fantasy ("Quick, Will, bring me some paper! Anything!!"). I've watched enough Time Team to know what to expect. That is, nothing, most likely, or some subtle changes in soil colour, or maybe a button or two.

But, at around 7:40 this morning, the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme broadcast a most amazing piece of news. A locket had been discovered at New Place, engraved "A mon fils Guillaume" by "Marie Ardennes", and apparently containing a locket of the hair of Mary Queen of Scots. Which suggests all sorts of things, not least that Shakespeare's mother was French, but also might be seen to reinforce the claims that our Will was a closet Catholic. There was the usual silly "human interest" angle, with various French dignitaries claiming Shakespeare for France (dream on!), but also some excited words from the Head of Education of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

"Blimey!", I'm thinking, "What about that?" Until mid-morning, when I started to Google the find and the penny finally dropped.

I haven't been so thoroughly April Fooled since the same Today Programme in the 1980s broadcast the news that the EEC had ruled a minimum permissible amount of tread on the soles of shoes in icy weather, and that policemen would be empowered to carry out random checks on Britons' footwear (like the tread on car tires, this would be measurable using the edge of a 2 pence coin). Outrage!

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