Friday, 31 May 2019

The Coast of Bohemia

I'm afraid that, to adapt a phrase, Lego continua. Box after box, bag after bag, piece by piece: I've developed Lego-related calluses on my fingers from tugging apart resistant brick-on-brick combos. Normal service will be resumed soon, however.

Meanwhile, I was reminded by one reader of my recent blog post that Mark Rylance, the Shakespearean actor and sometime director of the Globe Theatre, is a noted anti-Stratfordian. Good grief! If there is one subject guarantee to spark irrational Brexit-scale outrage on either side, it is the question of whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was "William Shakespeare" the playwright. "Proving" that he was not has been a minor industry and parlour game for a long time; to which, in the end, the only measured response is "Of course he wrote the bloody plays, you grinning whoreson halfwit, now have at you!" [draws dagger from doublet].

To calm myself down, I came up with this questionnaire-flowchart of Shakespeare authorship:

1. Is it possible for some grammar school-educated oik from Stratford-upon- Avon, the son of a mere glover, to be a world-class genius?

If yes, what is the problem? If no, what is your problem?

2. Is the problem that said half-educated genius could not possibly have known or, better, experienced all the things mentioned or explored in his plays? That he must have been some aristocratic know-all who'd done a spot of hedge-laying and soldiering and consorting with fairy kings and occasionally been a woman or Roman emperor or marooned sorcerer-despot to boot?

If yes, have you never heard of "books", "conversation", and "making things up"? Besides, get hold of an atlas – it's a sort of "book" – and show me where lies the coast of Bohemia, sirrah (Winter's Tale, see this).

3. Is the problem that Shakespeare's monument in Stratford-upon-Avon looks like "a self-satisfied pork butcher" (John Dover Wilson)? That Shakespeare doesn't look like the Greatest. Writer. Ever?

If yes, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Jonson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Pope, Mrs. Evans Lewes ("No, please, call me George"), and a thousand other premier league writers blessed with a good face for radio. Seeing as we're talking theatre, aren't you ashamed to be so in thrall to Central Casting?

4. Is the problem that "Shakespeare" was so successful as an actor-manager and putative playwright that he made shedloads of money which he invested in a BIG house? That the "Shakespeare" of record was a litigious tax-dodger and absentee husband and father?  That he applied for a coat of arms, even? Does all that seem somehow, you know, a touch vulgar? Would you prefer your playwright to be an unworldly, garret-dwelling aesthete in odd socks?

If yes, welcome to Hollywood-upon-Thames. It's showtime! Put your sixpence in the box [1] and let us entertain you!

5. Is the problem that some, if not all, of the plays may well have been collaborative efforts, despite bearing the one Big Star author's name?

If yes, again, welcome to Hollywood-upon-Thames. Sorry, Mr. Middleton, but you know how it is: maybe next time?

6. Is the problem that Shakespeare's surviving signatures are inconsistent and illegible, suggesting a less than fluent penmanship, and by a completely illegitimate extension, poor literacy?

If yes, then I enthusiastically claim William Shakespeare as a left-hander, not for an age but for all time. I expect his desk was unbelievably untidy, too. If you could find it behind the mountain of crumpled, illegible drafts.

7. Is the problem ... Oh, I give up. Daggers it is, then, Kit Marlowe style, for "a great reckoning in a little room". Come on, sir!

Thou callest that a knife? No, THIS is a knife! [2]

1. Recent archaeological excavations at the site of The Rose theatre in Southwark have turned up fragments of the clay money boxes used for entrance takings, which were subsequently broken open. Hence, "box office".
2. What, you've never seen "Crocodile Dundee"?


Zouk Delors said...

Surely we can all agree that illegible handwriting is an indisputable sign of poor literacy?

Mike C. said...


Hmm... You might as well claim that a tendency to mumble is an indicator of poor hearing... Although in my case that might be true, these days.


Martyn Cornell said...

No we can not. My handwriting is so bad even I can’ read it. I read around 40 to 50 books a year.