Wednesday, 18 November 2015
Shakespeare's life is full of controversy and it is fair to say that he is the most talked about subject of conversation and debate in England (and elsewhere) apart from the weather. That is, if you have nothing else to talk about apart from Shakespeare and the weather. Some people like to discuss science, medicine, politics, religion, saving the planet, conservation, re-cycling and numerous other subjects, but they are not as important as Shakespeare and the weather.
One of the greatest controversy about Shakespeare is whether he actually wrote the 30 or so plays, sonnets and such like writings or not. The fact that they have been written is not in dispute; but their authorship is.
Can you imagine being the author of all these writings and be forever praised and lauded by everyone?
"To be or not to be?" to quote Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe or Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
So let's consider this controversy further for a moment and see what we know about old Bill the Beard.
He was an actor who went to London and made a small fortune in the theatre, and also by purchasing properties (theatres amongst others) which made him very rich. He returned to Stratford-upon-Avon and bought a large house and his fame spread.
Now then ... since no one actually saw him sitting at his computer late at night typing away furiously his many plays; it is safe to suggest that perhaps ... maybe ... there's a possibility ... that he was only the financial backing behind all these plays. He was a rich man, owned many theatres, and it is possible that he put on plays as a business; very much like a modern day producer puts on plays, or makes films or produces music records and CDs these days. It doesn't follow that today's producers write the plays or sing the songs on record; does it?
In time, Shakespeare's fame and plays became synonymous to saying "hoover" when we mean a vacuum cleaner, or "thermos" when we mean a vacuum flask. People went to see "Shakespeare plays" - that is plays produced and financially backed, but not written, by him.
Now, whatever the controversy about the authorship of these writings, one thing is for sure and un-disputed.
For years on thereafter, many generations of pupils have been forced to learn these plays and sonnets by heart for no apparent reason whatsoever, since they have no purpose in gaining you subsequent employment or career unless you wish to become a teacher and force another generation of students to study the same.
I remember as a child having to memorise several of the Beard's writings. The one that comes to mind with dread is from the play Antony and Cleopatra when Antony's lieutenant Enobarbus, once described Cleopatra's charms by saying: "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety. Other women cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where most she satisfies."
Which loosely translated means "She is a good looker, what? Makes my monocle steam up, by Jove. Would love sharing a pot of tea with her!"
I remember my teacher saying I should remember these lines by heart and quote them in the exams as it would comfort the examiner and make him more liable to award me good marks.
Of course, as a child, I did not know what they meant; but I memorised these words and repeated them over and again.
Unfortunately, a few days later our history teacher was late because his mother had died that morning. To comfort him I blurted "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."
I got expelled for three days from school as a result. For some reason, I also failed my history exams that year.
And there you have it ... William Shakespeare ... the Beard of Stratford-upon-Avon ... writer ... perhaps ... dreaded memory of my past ... certainly.