zondag, oktober 05, 2003

Shakespeare Myths and Notes

The days are flying by recklessly, stuffed with sorting out the details of relocation and acclimating oneself to the locals; the (coughcough) “necessary” visits to the White Hart in order to “research” local information. No, not just the daily quality control checks of the Adnams from the cask, but also to fill in on the local gossip, detail the activities in Newbold on Stour and begin to sketch in the character of oneself so as not to arrive each late afternoon a nameless skeleton form of a visitor but giving shape to the individual instead. Shape which not only defines one to the locals but which legitimizes one’s very existence in the place to begin with.

When not busy with that, there is the daily morning bike ride into Shipston On Stour for a stop by the butcher, the news agent, etc.

But Friday, at least, was a break in the pattern – wandering instead, the streets and parks of Stratford Upon Avon. Actually, Thursday night was peeled away with Mick in the Garrick Inn, listening to him wax forth on the fraud that is Shakespeare, the fraud that is Stratford, the lies told to tourists, etc.

So the following morning, I went to a used bookstore and picked up a copy of Ian Wilson’s Shakespeare: The Evidence: Unlocking the Man and His Work. I figured to try and sort out a few myths of my own, arm myself a little with knowledge for the next conversation. And in fact, one chapter in particular caught my eye, entitled "Stratford-upon-Avon ‘One of the Biggest Frauds in England’?"

So I took the book with me to Bancroft Gardens and sat around by the Swans, watching tourists meander along the canal in between passages. On occasion, stretching out the legs to have a look at the Prince Hal statue since I thought the Prince Hal I already know from Banana Fish Zero might get a kick out of seeing a replica of his namesake.

You could compare the two yourself, actually:

Banana Fish Zero's "Prince Hal"


Shakespeare's "Prince Hal", aka, Henry, Prince of Wales.

Of course, with the sun ducking in and out all afternoon and the tourists getting louder, I decided to try and find a quieter locale, dipping in and out of pubs, sating a beer craving as the thirst of knowledge evolves, when wandering alone, into a thirst for beer and the two must be equally sated.

In any case, some of the quotes, overall that shocked or were of interest with my own occasional, parenthetical commentary:

•“Shakespearean England’s meat quality controls required butchers (Shakespeare is often cited as being a “butcher’s son”) to have licenses, and Stratford’s only known licensed butcher in John’s (Shakespeare’s father) time was town Alderman Ralph Cawdrey of Bridge Street.”

•John being the son of Richard Shakespeare from the neighboring hilltop of Snitterfield (where a friend of mine, also named Richard, currently lives), where he farmed as a tenant on additional land….but sometime before John must have left to set up in his own right in Stratford, for in that year he somewhat ingloriously enters the historical record with a fine more amassing a dunghill…(apparently, dunghills were hygienically located in a town and you weren’t allowed to build your own dunghills wherever you felt like it)

Now these first few chapters go on to detail how it was highly unlikely that Shakespeare was merely a butcher’s son and that in fact, Shakespeare’s father was largely involved in land, money and local politics, rising in fact, to the height of what was today’s equivalent of local mayor, in Stratford.

What interested me more at this point were the historical accounts and references, trying to visualize Stratford in the 16th century rendered even odder perhaps, by the fact that many of the streets of today’s Stratford had the same names they did back in Shakespeare’s day, the highly original Sheep Street, Chapel Lane, Wood Street, etc. The layout, at its core in any event, doesn’t seem to have changed very much from that time. It lends a little more weight to the walking, I believe, when the visions can be so exacted.

Rather than just ramble on and on, I’ll bullet a few more passages, which for personal reasons, I found interesting. Even if no one cares to read it, I’m still saved the trouble of having to look it up for reference in conversations later…

•“Of this latter, most notable in his particular year was the rising of the Northern Earls, a serious pro-Catholic rebellion that threatened to overthrown Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, now Elizabeth’s prisoner in England.”

•“The Jesuits were the Roman Catholics most militant arm, founded in 1534 to counter the tide of Protestantism…

•There was a big demand for priests and Catholic missionaries to cater to England’s secret Catholics (of which, it is alleged Shakespeare’s father was a member according to a disputed Catholic will found in the attic rafters of Shakespeare’s house many years later that indicate even while Shakespeare’s father was running things from a Protestant point of view in Stratford to keep up appearances, he might secretly have been a Catholic...

•“Pope Pius V’s excommunication of Queen Elizabeth as a heretic in 1570, declaring her monarchy illegitimate and thereby sanctioning any Catholic attempt to overthrow her. It meant all English Catholics could be regarded as, and treated as, traitors, whatever their true feelings on the matter.”

•“At Tyburn on 1 December 1581 Campion (a Catholic missionary) and two fellow priests were despatched by being publicaly hanged, cut down while still alive, then having their genitals cut off and their bowels drawn out before their eyes” – sounds like one of those teary-eyed and somber descriptions the pro-Invasion advocates like to give in justifying the Invasion of Iraq for reasons of Saddam’s tyranny)

•“Conversely, anyone over sixteen who did not attend Anglican services was liable to a fine of £20 per month, a sum equivalent to a year’s wages for those of middle income, and therefore quite impossible to pay except for the very rich…” (just an interesting background note, I thought, on religious intolerance…)

”In 1552 money-lending had been forbidden as ‘a vice most odious and detestable’ -- it still is (performed by odious and detestable people like bankers and credit unions…too bad it’s not still outlawed)

There’s plenty more, but this covers the outline of the first few chapters. Perhaps I’ll toss in more quotes as time goes on, given reasonable appeal indicated by readers.

For now, I’ll leave it at this and recover, pending further reading and catching up on other sorts of andecdotes.

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