Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shakespeare and Me

July 5

Shakespeare and I go back a long way. He goes back farther than I do, of course, but I have had a nodding acquaintance with the Bard since my Aunt Gladys drove me to witness the graduation of her son Adair from Bob Jones College when I was about four and the school did a scene from Macbeth as part of the graduation exercise. I was in awe of it, I remember that, but I'm pretty sure I missed the point. Get this: I do remember that it was the scene with Lady Macduff and the children when they find out that daddy is in big trouble.

Maybe that vignette scarred me for life. But for some reason I have been dancing with the works of Shakespeare on and off ever since. Maybe everybody who speaks English has, but I feel a more compelling connection than most.

I was always taken with the fact that from 1920 until 1929 Fairhope had had a Shakespeare Festival. In those days there was a woman from Chicago named Sarah Willard Hiestand, a scholar of some note, living here. She founded the yearly festival, using townspeople in the roles, rehearsing them in her front yard on Bay View, and producing the plays on the beach with the gully as backdrop. When a cub reporter for the Mobile Press Register, I did some research talking to old-timers who had participated in the productions, and wrote a story for the Sunday edition of the paper. Then in college I had Walter Coppedge, just back from studies in Oxford, for Freshman English, and we did the most thorough study of Romeo and Juliet I have ever known of. Mr. Coppedge also brought the exquisite Henry V of Laurence Olivier to the local Strand Theater for our delectation, after the class had pored over its poetry and imagery.

When I moved back to Fairhope I watched a PBS Special -- Frontline, I believe it was, entitled something like "Who Wrote Shakespeare?" which posited the name of Edward de Vere as a possible author of the works known as Shakespeare's plays. For centuries it has been debated whether a bland tradesman and sometime poacher of game could actually have written the oeuvre of the greatest poet in the English language. On the face of it, it just isn't logical. I had taken a course in acting Shakespeare in Oxford several years before, when the "new" sonnet had been discovered, and English scholars were proud to disclaim it as "not Shakespeare."

But the PBS piece convinced me of what most Shakespeare fans surely suspect. Whoever wrote those plays and poems had to be classically educated, well traveled, at home in court, and an extraordinary, larger than life man who had had numerous adventures and was friendly with the riff-raff as well as the mighty. This does not seem possible for the little small-time businessman living in the isolated town of Stratford, days away from London. Try as the Stratfordians might to link their man Shakspeare [sic] to the works of this Mr. Shakespeare of London, nobody in his lifetime ever commented on the Stratford man's writing talent.

I did some research on this when an article appeared in Harper's Magazine a few years ago, and made a talk at the Fairhope library debunking the old myth that the writer of the plays was Shakspeare of Stratford. I all but stated as fact my belief, based on the research, that the man known as Shakespeare was actually Edward de Vere, the earl of Oxford.

Edward de Vere lived the life the writer of the plays would have almost had to have lived. He spent some time in Italy, had been on a boat that was attacked by pirates, had a good friend said to have been the model for Falstaff, was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth, and had practiced law. I will have to go back to my notes for the speech for other details, except that now I don't have to rehash my own work. Mark Anderson has written a book called "Shakespeare" By Another Name which may do the job for me. I can't wait to read it, although clearly I am already convinced. I'm just happy that this is at last coming to light and hope that before I die the case will be settled.

It won't be easy convincing the English. It will be rather like Patricia Cornwell finding DNA to prove that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. You'd have to exhume the bodies and get them to answer the questions to convince his countrymen that history had not been served up to now.

Anderson and I have a lot of talking to do. In the meantime, go to his website and read what you can find there -- and buy his book if you need further corroboration. The time has come to set the record straight.

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