At last, the man himself speaks.
Those of us who teach or have taught, whether at school, college or university, are familiar with the manner in which film informs students about literature. Mel Gibson and Glenn Close in Hamlet, Leo and Clare in Romeo and Juliet, even Larry in Henry V – students all too often mistake the film for the playtext. This is inevitable and often quite useful, as it allows entry into the debate about originality, sources and so forth.
Anonymous would be the same. As is being reported everywhere, renowned Shakespeare scholar Roland Emmerich has bought into one of the conspiracy theories which state that Shakespeare was a cipher, and the real, secret author was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. I won’t bore you with explanations of why this is nonsense, and of why the arguments being peddled are intellectually dishonest, specious and demonstrate a whole heap of ignorance about the period, the plays and the nature of authorship, because this has been done better by better minds than mine.
But I was alerted yesterday to a worrying phenomenon – the hollywood-sponsored study pack.
A group called ‘Young Minds Inspired’ of the UsofA have produced, for Sony Pictures, a work book which not only implies that anyone believing in Shakespeare is a fool, but is riddled with advertising. It keeps moving, but the New York Times has a link here.
This is a little like McDonald’s producing literature on nutrition.
‘Uncover the true genius of William Shakespeare’ it has as its strapline. On every fucking page.
There are a number of interesting suggestions here. To whit:
Fears about the power of performance actually came true in 1601, when the Earl of Essex used the Globe Theatre to help incite a public uprising against the Queen’s counselors.
‘Know ye not I am Richard’ – is what Elizabeth is meant to have said, on hearing of this specially commissioned performance. She did so a few months later, however, and the performance, if an incitement to rebellion it was, was something of a failure, as Essex and his men mostly lost their heads over the issue. But, apparently, ‘fears about the power of performance actually came true’ … apart from the coming true bit, then.
Another delightful bit of speciousness is this paragraph:
According to director Roland Emmerich, Anonymous has “all the elements of a Shakespeare play. It’s about Kings, Queens, and Princes. It’s about illegitimate children, it’s about incest, it’s about all of these elements which Shakespeare plays have. And it’s overall a tragedy.”
That’s right, Roland. All of Shakespeare is about this. All Shakespeare is riddled with incest. Well, actually, this is the same nonsense that gets education ministers excited about teaching children Shakespeare’s stories. Sorry, but they ain’t his. Like everyone, he used old stories, messed them up a bit for fun, and made them into plays.
Shakespeare is about language.
Then the worksheet asks this:
After you have seen the film, discuss these questions in class:
•How does the plot of the film compare to a Shakespearean tragedy?
•How does the filmmaker’s use of scenes performed by Elizabethan actors compare to Shakespeare’s use of actors to stage a play within the play?
•How did the film affect your opinion about the theory that de Vere was the true author of the Shakespeare plays?
Oh. My. God.
This is, as a friend of mine recently remarked, the humanist equivalent to evolution-doubters. The same arguments obtain here ‘we haven’t got x, therefore x didn’t exist, I can’t conceive of y without x, therefore god done it’. That is quite delightful reasoning, and no mistake. People who doubt that evolution through natural selection is by far the best explanation we have for life on earth don’t understand how it works.
But let’s start at the beginning. This is the big intro:
There’s little debate that William Shakespeare is one of the world’s greatest poets and playwrights. But who is William Shakespeare? The answer to that question is the starting point for Anonymous, Sony Pictures’ exciting new historical thriller directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) and starring Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave, which arrives in theaters on October 28,2011.
Anonymous takes us back to a time when plays and politics were intertwined,and when uncovered secrets reveal how the works we attribute to William Shakespeare may have actually been written by Queen Elizabeth I’s one-time favorite, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.
Your students can explore this theory,and gain a fresh perspective on Shakespeare and his times,with this free educational program from Sony Pictures and the curriculum specialists at Young Minds Inspired (YMI). The program includes easy-to-implement activities for English literature, theater,and British history classes. Students will investigate the true identity of William Shakespeare,and discover how power struggles surrounding Queen Elizabeth and the political strife of 16th-century England impacted the players and playwrights of that Golden Age.
Oh. My. God.
‘The answer to that question is the starting point for the film Anonymous’
‘Students will investigate the true identity of William Shakespeare’
That’s right, children, the maker of Independence Day has single-handedly overturned several hundred years of academic orthodoxy (oh, and just because it’s the orthodoxy doesn’t make it automatically right, but it does make it more likely to be right than wrong. Until something serious in the form of evidence comes along. In his case, it hasn’t).
How about this for quite beautifully unbiased writing, designed to allow students to make up their own minds:
Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous(Rated TK) speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds ranging from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud, namely, was William Shakespeare the author of all the plays for which he is given credit? Experts have debated, books have been written,and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship of these most renowned works in English literature. Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and- dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of the throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places—the London stage.
‘scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories …’
This is quite subtly unsubtle. The question really hasn’t engaged anything but a core cohort of romantic fantasists who wish Shakespeare had been more bloody interesting, or romantic. Sorry. Genius can be dull, too.
Check out this bit:
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
Young Minds Inspired—www.ymiclassroom.com
Declaration of Reasonable Doubt— www.DoubtAboutWill.org
For a complete list of references, go to www.ymiclassroom.com/AnonymousReferences.pdfSincerely,
Well, now there’s authority for you.
Well, I could take this piece of ‘educational literature’ apart piece by piece. It’s not hard, but I’m more worried about the rhetoric. For impressionable young minds, I’m afraid that this will be persuasive. Why? Because it’s specious. It looks good, but (insert the obvious Shakespeare quotation here). The worksheet admits some of what we know, followed by this:
Skeptics accept all these facts, but they find it impossible to believe that a mere grammar school graduate could have written the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it make more sense, they ask, to suppose that William Shakespeare was only the stand-in for a better educated author?
Well, no, actually, it doesn’t. Fuck it. Look. Jonson was the son of a brickmaker. Bacon’s grandfather was a sheepreeve (look it up). This is pitiful snobbery. It doesn’t ‘make more sense’. Oh, and while we’re going down this route, it ‘made more sense’ that the earth was stationary. Hardly anyone believed that the earth went round the sun in the late sixteenth, early seventeenth centuries.
Without getting too snobbish, the rigours of academic proof revolve around evidence, not around ‘common sense’ – common sense is what the Daily Mail peddles – and the evidence overwhelmingly points to Shakespeare, not to De Vere, Bacon, Marlowe (and speaking of Marlowe – where is the proof that he existed? Letters? Examples of handwriting? MS copies of his plays? ‘Common sense’ dictates that he therefore didn’t exist, right?). What we do in academia is make observations, and come up with theories based on those observations. This is all backwards. This is coming up with a theory and trying to find stuff that fits.
Now. The real scandal is not that people believe this shit, nor even that they teach it (after all, Intelligent Design?), but that this misleading advertisement, which is happy to fuck up the intellectual development of students for the sake of bums on seats is trumpeted at the last because it ‘Meets Common Core and National Standards.’
Be afraid. Be very afraid. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
There’s something about revisiting old haunts which does both body and soul good. It’s doubly interesting when these old haunts are both physical and conceptual – literal and figurative. Thursday was one of those days. It began in usual furry fashion, as I awoke to find ginger lying on my back, purring like a geiger counter in a Sellafield fish shop, patiently waiting for his breakfast. We dined like kings, and I did some ironing. Then I loaded my library gear into my satchel, donned my greatcoat and set off into the morning air.
I’m particularly fond of my coat. It belonged to my grandfather, who was a fine fellow, and is proof against wind and cold, if not driving rain and, being woollen, helps to keep one fit and firing on all cylinders. Plus it has deep pockets. I tried, as ever, to write on the train but trains are the tools of Morpheus for me these days – I sleep almost as soon as I sit down. At Victoria I mooch about a bit, not entirely remembering where I’m going to, before walking to the river. Naturally, it sprinkles with rain, but nothing too terrible, and I cross the river. The Thames was as full as I’ve ever seen it – a couple of feet below the walls on its banks, covering the pilings of Vauxhall bridge. I walk East, and am passed by joggers, all seemingly impervious to the existence of others. I stop. I have lunch. Was I dawdling? Well, yes – it’s been so long since I’ve looked at something ‘proper’ that I’m a little apprehensive, to say the least. There’s a lot of apprehension in my world at present. After moving I’ve sort of stopped. Treading water while I wait for the lifeboat or the sharks.
Lambeth Palace Library is a funny little place. There’s an arched doorway in the wall with a bell. You ring it and someone comes and opens the door. You hang your coat up, sit down in the readers’ room and wait for your book to come. It was practically empty – none of the usual smattering of nuns (what is the collective noun for nuns? A habit? A compulsion?) – so I indulged in a little tweeting. I tweet that I’ve forgotten how to do academia, and a get a speedy response, ‘you start with a long coffee break’, followed by ‘then a long lunch break’.
My tome arrives. It is a bundle of letters collected by one Gibson fellow (never did bother to find out who he was). Still, he plainly left them to the church, hence my being at the library of ecclesiology.
The scary part is opening the book. You lay it down on a big pillow into which you’ve bashed a small depression for the spine (which is around 5 inches thick), put it down spine first, and gently allow its leave to spread. Then you get distracted by the first letter you see and read that before going for the letter you want. These letters were written 390 years ago. They’re still in fantastic shape because the paper was made of old pants, not wood pulp. The record is patchy, even considering these were written by, or to, the one-time Lord Chancellor of England. There are innumerable letters missing. The one I want was to Elizabeth of Bohemia, and considering Bacon was meant to have been her mentor, the fact that only one letter remains is instructive. Any of you who believe Shakespeare wrote no letters because we have none in our libraries take note.
I’m annotating this letter for a friend – that is, sticking in explanatory footnotes, context, cross-referencing, that sort of thing. I thought I’d start by checking the transcription. This may not seem to matter, but some academics base arguments on minutiae, so whether there’s a comma or a semi-colon or how honour or colour are spelled can be important. Often you find whole words mistaken. I found 25 errors, some blatant, some contentious. Go figure.
I enjoyed the chase. It was nice to be back looking at a letter Bacon had written himself. I felt incredibly uncomfortable at first, but as I noted things such as <Ma.> Being transcribed as <Majesty,>, I felt better. To explain, the <.> indicates missing letters, or that this is a contraction, the italics in the transcription showing the missing letters, while the <,> is simply an habitual insertion …
But when I left, I was glad to leave. It was a good thing that I did, not least helping out a friend, and it was fun. I don’t preclude a bit of hard academia every now and again, but I’m so far out of the game that it will only ever be superficial. I walked past the joggers happy I’d looked at Bacon’s hand again, happier still that I wasn’t going to have to do so again for quite some time.
Sometimes, when you revisit old haunts, what you really learn is why they’re old haunts. We move on. Inexorably.
It’s funny the things which matter, and funny the people who don’t. What mattered most to me today was that the mog of gingeryness enjoyed his first foray into the outside world, and came back.
He mewed quite considerably when he was finally allowed a resistance-free catflap, and I can only imagine that this was due to the singular lack of anything which wasn’t decking … yes, readers, I live in a house which is replete with decking. More than replete. Luckily, being a mog, he has a strange ability to appear atop six foot walls. And to make friend with the neighbours through the simple expedient of appearing somewhat downbeat and distressed. Ginge is a bad cat … I wish the same tactics worked for me.
As ginge explores his new world, so do I. I may give off the odd plaintive mew, but fundamentally I’m already ‘in’…
A new house is always a strange experience, because you necessarily bump into things that you’ve carried around for ever and yet keep in boxes. Newspapers from the 30s. A Shakespeare nodding doll given to me by a class five years ago. A box full of wine.
Last night, I drank the last bottle of my really, really good wine. This was a 1995 Chateau Figeac, Premier Grand Cru Classé. That translates as very, very nice indeed. I was a little worried that it may have bitten the big one as it’s not been kept in ideal circumstances … the last bottle I opened (which was for christmas 2010) was undrinkable. I left it where it was … I got a text two days later ‘give it two days ’. This bottle I opened at lunchtime, decanted it, and by dinner … well, it really was something special. It shared the table with foie gras and fine, fine fillet steak …
This wine was part of horde of claret my father had put aside for his dotage, a dotage he never experienced. In one of the few decent conversations we ever had, when he was in the grip of the leukaemia which killed him, he confided that one of the things which really pissed him off (other than the imminent death business), was the fact that he’d got all this wine. ‘Drink it’, said I. It’s a little young, he said … but went on to explain that the main issue was that he couldn’t stand the taste. The disease or the chemo meant it made him gag. This was adding insult to injury.
So. It is perhaps fitting that it was drunk amongst friends, in my new house … a house which is already becoming a home for me and my recalcitrant cat.
The past is carried with us wherever we go. It just takes strange shapes.
The trials and tribulations of the purchasing of a house.
So. We currently have no fridge, no washing machine (it was taken away this morning), and we are a-dongled for the internet.
So we’re in the pub. It seemed like the only rational solution.
Currently we’re discussing whether it’s time to break out the fois gras …
But all is not rosy as can be. Why not? Well, due to applied muppetry of the solicitation profession, it still isn’t bloody well signed, sealed or, god forbid, delivered. It’s the fact that no-one seems to bother talking, or listening which galls.
This means I cannot order a fridge. Which sucks. I cannot order a van, which also sucks.
Normally, I would hire the van myself, but I am in the strange position of not having a valid driving license, but being legally ok to drive. That’s be interesting to explain to the rozzas were I to be pulled over. It would be Smiley Culture time.
It works like this. Because of the various symptoms which PD can deliver, like a malicious santa, I am now on a three-year limited licence – which recently expired. In effect, it’s my three year anniversary … I wonder how they go for such things? The golden would be a bottle, because it’s plainly only magical powers that will keep you going that long.
There are always milestones in such conditions. This is one of them
If Jacques had had PD, his speech might have been very different. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bastardize Shakespeare’s words. I have not the wit. But there are stages. And there are things which make the symptons worse.
Cold is one.
Stress is another.
Tiredness is another.
I’m not functioning at my best. Yesterday, I looked at this piece I was writing for Guitar and Bass magazine and for the life of me had no idea why I was writing it.
For some reason, PD seems to affect the organisation centres of the brain.
So it seems as if PD fast-forwards you to the ‘Last scene of all’, or ‘second childishness and mere oblivion’, and while it may not affect one’s teeth, it certainly does odd things to the eyes, messes up your standard of taste, and simply fucks up everything. Sans PD? Yes, please.
That bloody de Vere.
Well, now that was a strange and rather stressful series of events. I am trying to buy a house for myself and my ginger cat. Because my good friend Si Fenton (see his blog here) has decided for some reason that making a new life in Senegal is altogether more attractive than continuing to live in Brighton, attending to the needs of some of the more unfortunate of our society. Good luck to him, though he has his gris-gris, so he’ll be just fine. Well, that and the fact that he’s a thoroughly good bloke … he will make a real go of anything he does, and will make friends anywhere. Dammit, he even made friends with me, an I’m a cantankerous fucker at the best of times.
So. The house. At the last minute a problem appears, and I mean at the last minute, and I mean a problem. I revise my offer to take it into account … I won’t go into the negotiating process because it wasn’t a negotiation.
Suffice to say that at three yesterday I wished the vendor luck, and realised that I’d be homeless in a week. Oops. This was problematic. And stressful. I viewed another property, but no. I managed to find somewhere for myself and the mog, and that was that. I was looking at imposing myself on a friend (and imposing the mog, too) for longer than would be comfortable. I slept poorly, and irritatingly (apparently). At times like this the PD does seem to get worse.
This morning I woke, got on with stuff. Noted that the fridge had vanished, sold (as expected) and continued to transcribe the interview I’m currently writing up with King Mob, the new band of Chris Spedding, Glen Matlock and Steve Parsons.
The plumber appeared, and the heating came back on. The house I was buying came back on the market. Then, out of the blue came a mail asking if I was still interested at the price I had moved to. Excited, trepidatious, I checked with my builder and a friend … the answer was yes. So, suddenly I have a house again. Barring last minute madness, I’ll move in on Friday.
But if all looked rosy, I received a call from the hospital. My MRI scan revealed a slap lesion and a labial tear in my left shoulder (Googlers beware). No wonder it’s sore! No wonder my average has reduced … could I make an appointment on Friday? I laughed … Friday week, yes … So. I see the specialist. Within six weeks of this they’ll do some arthroscopy. Then I’ll spend six weeks, maybe more, with my left shoulder in a sling. Then a month or three of rehab. Good lord. I’ll be a mutant by the end.
But … I’ll have a fantastic house, my shoulder will work, I’ll have finished my novel, my play. Life will go on. And I’ll be right in the thick of it.
One of my jobs, if you can call them that, is to interview guitar players for Guitar and Bass magazine, where there’s finally some sort of web presence, though my archive here is somewhat more comprehensive. There are upwards of seventy pieces written by my fair hand, interviews, features, tuition. My days as an active musician are behind me, not least because the PD affects my left hand most of all, so these days I mostly write interviews. These are generally on the phone, though every so often I travel to meet the players in question, Gary Lucas and Denny Whalley, Peter Hammill, Dweezil Zappa and, most recently, Glenn Matlock, Chris Spedding, and Stephen Parsons, who are shortly playing a couple of shows to promote their new album. I prefer this latter format, as there’s more to work with than simply words – you can ask question based on body language, the way that the various member interact. Also you can establish a rapport with the interviewee that allows for far more probing questions, and for far more interesting answers. The phoner is prey to more formulaic workings.
Prior to these interviews, I naturally need to hear what it is these guys are selling. That is, their new album. Most slick US bands stream the album to avoid pirating. This is a pain in the arse, frankly. The sound is dodgy, and you can’t stick it on your ipod to listen to on the train … the UK bands tend to send hard copy. In the case of unreleased albums, they come in the form of hand-ripped cds. Plainly people get a bit arsey if you sell them … which is what I was recently, well, accused of is perhaps a little strong. But a set of one artist’s soon-to-be-released material was seen on Ebay, with the seller being noted as from ‘Brighton’. Considering only five copies had been given out, it was unsurprising that I was singled out as ‘reviewer most likely to’. Naturally, they were in a pile on top of the New Oxford Dictionary of English and my copy of Lewis and Short. I sent documentary evidence that I was not the guilty party, and all were happy. But I digress.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of these interviews is that often the transcription runs to five or six times the size of the actual interview. Writing for a guitar magazine, one is often conscious of a need to cover certain bases, notably, well, guitars ad amps. ‘Guitar porn’, as one interviewee put it. I was talking about Steve Vai’s philosophy, amongst other things, when he said something along the lines of ‘do you think we should talk so much about philosophy, this is Guitar and Bass Magazine after all’, ‘nah’, said I, ‘this is far more interesting. Don’t you worry – I’ll take care of the guitars …’. Naturally, I ended up forgetting entirely about the small matter of his rig, and had to phone a friend who’d recently worked with him to get this particular detail. Oops.
The problem when you get a 7,000 word interview, and try to fit it into a 1,500 word article, is that a lot of stuff gets left out. I want to write about Steve Vai’s bees, Bill Nelson’s 80s occult leanings, Joe Satriani’s obsessive-compulsive triple-wholetone scales, all that sort of stuff.
Cabbage, so far as I’m aware, is an old tailor’s term for the material left over after a commission. You get given four bolts of cloth with which to make 50 suits. A skilled pattern cutter could leave you with enough material for, say, five more suits. These were the tailor’s property, and could be sold on as they wished. Cabbage was a perk enjoyed by the best tailors.
The stuff I have left over is cabbage. So, from now on, I think I just might just make up a new suit. Parallel interviews. The War and Peace cut, something like that. Cabbage.
I hope you find them interesting.
Recently, I split up with a woman I loved. Primarily because I was unfaithful, but it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that we would have split up anyway – it is impossible to tell. It’s also fundamentally irrelevant.
My behaviour caused an immense amount of hurt, of pain.
Since then, we have both, as is our wont, followed each others’ blog posts and twitter feeds. It’s a neurosis we both share in this instance. We both infer, or have inferred, wherever possible, each and every post as designed to be read by the other. And we both know that we both infer this. It is, fundamentally, the condition of the internet which allows, even encourages, all of us to spread even our most private of thoughts and feelings far and wide. And those outsiders who read them do so at face value. But nothing is ever as it appears.
I’m not writing this to ‘right wrongs’ or ‘tell my half of the story’, or anything so dramatic. I merely point out that you, reading this, simply cannot know even half of the story.
The reason, however, that I did not mention this relationship in my last post was not because it meant nothing, because I have forgotten, because I don’t care, because I don’t want others to know, or any such. I left it out, I left Cathy out, because it still swirls around me so viscerally that it appears to me a constant.
I have no desire to play out this error of mine in public. But apparently I must. It is the modern version of the pillory – merely that verbal vitriol is hurled rather than rotting vegetables.
We all make mistakes, and we are all doomed to repeat them. We know what they are, but we’d like to keep them private, if we may. Sometimes we’re simply not allowed to. When it comes to Cathy and I, my mistake follows me around. And yet it is not the mistake which ‘friends of friends’ assume.
Ours was the story of someone who loved not wisely but too well. That someone was Cathy, not me.
When things are afoot, every part of one’s life seems to go awry. The temptation, and it’s not entirely unwarranted, is to hunker down in a quiet room, wrap yourself up in your best goose down, and apply wine. It may yet come to that.
And things, as they say, are most definitely afoot. It began a couple of weeks ago, when the long saga of Plashet Grove came to an end. This was my first piece of property, a huge wreck of a place which I bought in 1993, and proceeded to renovate to within an inch of its life. I installed a recording studio, acquired a cat. I had a home for the first time in years.
Boris died. I left. I began a new life. It was fabulous. Then I was diagnosed with PD, at the same time as my wife and I were undergoing an extreme amount of stress. I defy any relationship to survive – ours didn’t. By september I was living in a small room in Hove, before moving to a flat, which while not home, was homely. Then women intervened, and I moved to a friend’s flat while he was in Australia, and then to another friend’s house while he was in Senegal. Now he’s moving, and I have ten days in which to find a new home. Well, ten days in which to move.
I am lonely. I am so very, very tired.
I have an interview to write.
I have a novel to write.
I have a play to write.
I can barely write my own name.
Two days ago I discovered something. It has fucked up my planned new home. At least for a day or three. Utterly depressing.
I can’t write.
I can’t read.
I just want to sleep.
But in my own bed.
Under my own roof.
Too much to ask for, apparently.
Far, far too much.