Author Topic: The Greatest Author  (Read 1360 times)

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The Greatest Author
« on: September 10, 2007, 10:33:40 AM »
Another view
Paul Prescott, academic, on I Am Shakespeare

Paul Prescott
Monday September 10, 2007


Anyone who really believes that Shakespeare didn't write his plays - as this show, conceived by actor Mark Rylance, suggests - is flying in the face of the evidence. The play is surfing the crest of a vogue for conspiracy theories.

If you come in knowing nothing about the so-called "authorship controversy" surrounding Shakespeare, you'll be sprayed with pseudo-factual shrapnel. The show is entertaining, if not strictly educational: it is an interactive bonanza, with phone-ins and audience votes. Shakespeare is sent off-stage, leaving the usual aristocratic suspects - the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere; the Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney; and Sir Francis Bacon - to reveal that it was they who actually did the writing. Afterwards, we are invited to text our reviews: "Gr8 set. Oxfd is hot!!! 1hr 2 long", and so on. These democratic stunts sit uneasily with the play's patrician subtext: that a middle-class boy from an anonymous Midlands town could not have grown into a great playwright. This is nonsense.

Let's be clear here: there is no controversy, only evidence and fantasy. The evidence points to Shakespeare; the fantasy points to everyone else. It's curious that Rylance, a former artistic director of London's Globe Theatre, should be masterminding this. After all, he allowed the theatre to be called Shakespeare's Globe - why didn't he call it Bacon's Globe?

It's worth remembering that, until 200 years ago, nobody doubted that Shakespeare wrote the plays. Rylance clearly believes that anyone other than the man from Stratford wrote Shakespeare. Personally, I'd rather believe that anyone other than Mark Rylance wrote I Am Shakespeare.

? Interview by Paul Arendt.

? Dr Paul Prescott teaches Shakespeare at Warwick University.

? I Am Shakespeare is at the Malvern Festival Theatre (01684 892277), until Saturday, then touring.

I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
They're only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
   So stuff my nose with garlic
   Coat my eyes with butter
   Fill my ears with silver
   Stick my legs in plaster
   Tell me lies about Vietnam.