Once upon a time, 400 years ago, there was a mayor of Stratford: John Shakespeare. He was a glove-maker by profession, made a ale-conner in 1557, comfortably off and at the head of a large family, one of them William. On his death, he bequeathed £250 000 a year to his good town, a legacy that benefited the old college attended by William, while the other schools shared the rest of £2000. William’s old college will lose its theatre. At that moment, a Fairytale Prince (like the one who drinks his urine to his lady’s health, as in the Winter’s Tale) opened a new school at Stratford in order to help the schoolmasters to better appreciate Shakespeare, and — hence — the Monarchy because Shakespeare speaks to all men, in all places, at all times; because he praises order, hierarchy and maintains conservative values; because he loves blue blood nobility; because he worships an ancient race and teaches an aristocratic mysticism; because King Louis XIV — and Fouquet! — owned the “original editions” in their libraries and because the Bard had helped the empress Catherine of Russia to detach herself from her French sympathies; and because the great Elizabeth could not “cut windows into her subjects’ outsides in order to spy on what is happening inside them” and because the head of the Church of England, defender of the Faith, if not of all Faiths, is pledged to Othello’s œcumenism:
“... in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcisèd dog
And smote him thus.” (He stabs himself) Othello, Act V, Scene 2; (o Termagant!)
and because the Stratfordian has introduced 100 years of history of the United Kingdom in a series of chronicles which should cause televized delight to grave-robbers and because he presents Coriolanus as the “Fatherland’s saviour”, a play so popular in the Germany of the Thirties, that later the American occupant had to forbid it to the vanquished, much to the advantage of a musical comedy, Ten little Indians, a hit on Broadway at the time, which was played at Bayreuth Festspielhaus in July 1945 in the mother tongue of Mrs Winifred Wagner.
All this in spite of the “riff-raff” jeremiads, in the words of Mrs Ambassador of England in Paris, and against the “new history” for which literature or art could not have a priviliged status in the City; and this against psychoanalysis: Freud was wondering whether Shakespeare was French or Italian after reading Looney’s book and converting to the Oxford school, becoming an integral part of the very pathology he was analyzing (Sigmund Freud was already convinced that Moses was straightforwardly Egyptian!); and against the feminism (Shakespeare, was he, was she, Elizabeth or Mary Stuart?) against colonialism (neither Ireland nor India will make any difference at all), and also against the new forms of social or emotional (King Lear and his daughters) or sexual relationship. This in spite of the serious workers’ riots of 1595 in London, with their apprentices ending up in the flesh on the very stage of the Midsummernight’s Dream; and in spite of agriculture being ruined after the victory of Waterloo, in spite of hunger marches, of the suppression of Habeas Corpus, all events that upset the opiomanic Coleridge to the point of inventing that William Shakespeare was the unique rampart, the only defender of the island of King Richard II; this, too, unbeknown to all the Sherlock Holmes of textual criticism who maintain that the Iagos, Malvolios, Shylocks, Calibans, Macbeths or other misled characters in the Bard’s theatre, excellently represent the excesses of the political system or the tensions of the elizabethan Society of the moment — if not of all societies — with their systems of untouchables, of demonization of the rivals at the heart of group imperialism, faced as they are by the immutable truth — true reflection of God — which is as “determined” as the game of dice by the Jehovah of the physicists; and this with all due respect to the adorers of Sonnet 144, the sonnet of the two loves of the Count of Southampton with his proud motto (Un partout tout par ung) or to the admirers of the Count of Poitiers (Dos cavalhs ai a ma selha ben e gen...): did not the yacht of the fleet of the daughter of Henry VIII the dissolute carry the name True Love (Eleanor’s Fin’ amor?), preceding the BAe 146 of the Fleet of the Daughter of George VI (God Save the Queen!) of more recent memory (o, Prince Charles!)?
At the end of some 37 pieces and other trifles thrown into the basket and to the gallery commoners of the Globe Theatre, a certain Shakespeare returns to the Country, far from the laurel chewers of the capital, rich, esteemed in his handsome Stratford house with its windows in diamond pattern: New Place. He is back with his dear forests, the fields of Wilmcote, the meadows of Snitterfield, the Avon in its bed of clay running under the gothic bridges, the ploughs drawn by eight oxen, the perfume of the serving maiden, the swearwords in Warwickshire patois, the village cocks, the henpecked husbands, the cut and long-nail that stray (when did you see me cock my leg?), the whining schoolboys, the tamed shrews, the unstanched wenches, the gourmet judges, the sober embusked matrons, the mischievous old men, the traces of love in his old blood and this good old sap that rises again in the spring (God, bless you!) and the sour cider, the rotten apples and the taxes he has“forgotten” to pay, he who sells stones by the tonne, wheat by the quintal and malt, he who subscribed to repairing of the County roads and wore the purple on the occasion of the king’s (or the queen’s?) accession to the throne, James I, in London, (Rex fuit Elisabeth, nunc est Regina Iacobus, does this not deserve a sonnet?), city where he still is a theatre shareholder... All is well that ends well.
So he draws up a long testament, far from these barking critics, these noverint-makers who accuse him of believing that he is the only one in the entire country capable of “shaking the scene”, in the words of a Jealous one from the Cam: “... there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapt in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only shake-scene in a country” (Robert Greene), far from these career “miles gloriosus” who, much later, will see in him “a magpie pornographer, laying obscene eggs in other men’s seemly nest” (colonel Joseph Hart) or one of these charmers of little girls who wanted to expurgate him in the name of oxonian virtue such as preached on the Isis (o Lewis Carroll!) and quite oblivious of these sheriffs who suspect him of having lent a helping hand towards the supreme exit of the playwright Marlowe on the occasion of an after-drinks quarrel.
But is not the essential, then and now, to lead the dear paying arse-hole crawlers safely into the theatre seats (even if in the Barbican Theatre, according to the lady-Director, the “scene shakers” busy themselves in the cramped quarters of the seventh underground level, and this at the expense of the Unfindables of music which is sometimes called to the rescue, since Mozart had indeed wanted to master The Tempest, since Beethoven started a Macbeth, since Measure for Measure inspired Wagner and his Liebesverbot and since Verdi, even if he shrank back from the thunderstorm scene in King Lear (just like, by the way, Puccini, Debussy, Beethoven, E. Elgar or Benjamin Britten) has successfully established Othello and Falstaff, leaving the delicacy of the heart of Beatrice or of Juliet to Berlioz and Gounod, for, according to Shakespeare:
“The man, that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils
Let no such man be trusted.” The Merchant of Venice (Act V, scene 1)
Bridge upon the Avon
Stratford / Avon
The mayor of Stratford, charming little town in the heart of green Warwickshire, not far from Coventry, Kenilworth or Birmingham, is happy: a murrain on people like Bacon, Ralegh, Ben Jonson, Drayton, de Vere and others not registered on the electoral rolls, or these embittered ones who find that “In the Neighing of an Horse, or in the growling of a Mastiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively expression, and may I say, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakespear” (Thomas Rymer, the first professional English critic, 1693).
Today, burial places are rummaged, river beds scraped, slabs in churches upturned, underground areas of castles sounded, banknotes and postcards with the Poet’s effigy printed, films made or theses defended, the computer is made to speak, inn signs hung up (We Three?), key-holders produced, T-shirts woven, holographs engraved on telephone cards, literary societies created, subsidies voted, etc.
So why no accept Queen Isabel’s conclusion (or was it Churchill’s?) That English may as French, French Englishmen, Receive each other... (Henry V)