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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Shakespeare Delusion

It's time to talk about the 'new' show - I normally write the Shakespeare blog on a Thursday, but my big Tuesday think piece got behind schedule, so here we are!  The Shakespeare Delusion has taken some time to come into being and hasn't had the best of me.  It was supposed to have been premiered in April, but then I fell ill.  It was going to be performed in London as part of the Christmas run at Barons Court, but I've had to scale that back having finally acknowledged that I now have to manage my life.  There are only so many spoons in a day.
So, poor little Shakespeare Delusion has had a bumpy ride - but it's all for the best in this best of all possible worlds.  This one-off performance will not be the end, for the show will return in 2014 for as many performances as I can manage.  I'm even thinking of going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again, something I haven't done since 2005, though I will need to get the financing together for that.  This means that I've got a good year or so to adjust the play, tweak, learn the words, devise actions, create newness out of whatever happens on the one-off show.  Like Ghost Storyteller which started out as The Ghosts of Lavenham twelve months ago, the year off allows for a more condensed, tighter, more focused piece of theatre.
But first I have to get everything ready for Friday 12th October, I have to give myself to the delusion.  Followers of this blog will already know that I have a beard now, grown specially for this one-off show.  There is a picture, but I wouldn't want to scare the horses.  I am disturbed to discover that people LIKE the beard, that there have been calls for me to keep it.  I think these people must be as mad as the person I am playing for the show.
So, what is the show about?  It's about a man who tries to follow the anti-Stratfordian take on Shakespeare - those people from the last hundred and fifty years who try to tell you that Shakespeare didn't write the plays.  I could rant for a while about why this is just such bullshit (in fact, reading on, I find I do), but it's much more fun to do it in performance.  The character, 'Professor' Ashborn, follows exactly the trains of thought that the ant-Stratfordians of the past have taken - he recreates the supposed cyphers, he digs for clues and lost manuscripts, he sees around him a conspiracy of academics, he goes - slowly at first, and then with increasingly speed, completely off the printed page of sanity and into the shredder of madness.  Because, broadly speaking, most of the theories against Shakespeare actually writing the plays are the purest madness.  They posit that dead people wrote the plays, that people who really couldn't have had anything to do with them wrote them, that to deny the reality of their theories is a form of discrimination and bigotry and WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO ME!  Talking to an anti-Stratfordian is remarkably like talking to a religious fundamentalist, only more sad because the issue, on the surface, is not much of an issue.  At least a religious fundamentalist cares about human souls, the fundamentalist anti-Stratfordian simply wants to take a famous name down a peg or two, usually because of snobbery.
But, there are other more fundamental issues at stake in the whole anti-Stratfordian position, because the tactics they use are destructive.  It is about destroying history - the demolition of peer reviewed academic debate and replacing it with web based PR led posturing, in whose hands only the loudest wins.  It is the same issue that faces science, for which the creationist cause is the best example.  Rather than listen to facts and informed debate, the media in America screams back and forth about intelligent design, using the words of scientists against them by twisting qualified statements of scientists to say that even scientists don't really think this.  Scientists, historians, any sensible academic speaks in qualifications.  Most probably.  Although.  It might be proven otherwise.  Research suggests.  This is because in science and history there are few absolute absolutes.  However, that doesn't mean that the thrust, the shape, the web of theories and consensus doesn't push everyone in broadly the same direction, that the probability that evolution and Shakespeare might not exist is so low as to basically be zero.  But saying basically zero isn't the same as saying zero - so the enemies of reason reason - and this refusal to be absolute is thrown to the media as proof that even the scientists don't really believe what they say.  Those who know the media know how to shout louder and dumber.  And that's when people, who haven't read about either subject, start to believe in nonsense - because they keep hearing it over the background chatter.
I was at a party discussing the new show and the Shakespeare problem and someone who was perfectly well educated and intelligent said to me: "well, you can't say that for certain..." followed by "it doesn't really matter though, does it".  I'm afraid that I did bite their head off.  I was very aware that a lot of people were looking at me funny, that I was, properly, ranting.  But it is important to not give into the position that, just because we cannot be absolutely certain about anything - we all live simulated lives inside our own bodies, frankly, it's a miracle that anything we do or say can connect with anyone else - that doesn't mean that we should accept the perfectly preposterous willingly.  This principle, the principle of fighting for the validity of fact over opinion and to understand the difference between the two, is so important it hurts me inside.
Another thing said at this particular party was: "well, there isn't really any evidence for Shakespeare."  Yes, yes, there is.  There's oodles of it, we've got evidence coming out of our ears.  To close the show I thought I'd do a little fact check for the audience - stepping out of character and reading out every reference to William Shakespeare as playwright made during or just after his death by people who knew him.  Having collated this I found these, when spoken aloud, ran for HALF AN HOUR!  I have had to cut it down for the show - it would have been tedious, it is supposed to be fun - because there was so much.  The problem is it doesn't matter to the anti-Stratfordian that you have half an hours worth of material, they will say: "but it was a conspiracy, of course they would say that."
Just let's take a moment and think about the nature of every conspiracy ever.  I'm not talking about theories, actual, honest to God conspiracies.  They're always found out.  Always.  Usually within months of them happening.  The problem with any conspiracy is that they need to be secret, but they also need people and people TALK.  They always do, in the end.  And that's why the idea that everyone connected with Shakespeare were either lied to or lied about due to a conspiracy is stupid.  It's just dumb.  It wouldn't happen.  It didn't happen.  Look at the evidence.  And the point is that the anti-Stratfordians have no interest in evidence, unless it supports their cause.  The fact that there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL to support the basic idea that Shakespeare didn't write the plays, let alone any of the various pretenders to the throne, is irrelevant to them.  It has just been hidden and one day they will find it.  Next to the Holy Grail, held up for public display by a bearded Lord Lucan.
The point for this rant, and it is a rant WITH BIG CAPITAL LETTERS AND EVERYTHING, is that the Anti-Shakespeare Delusion is a common one, one that must be fought.  It must be fought in science against creationists, it must be fought in history against Holocaust deniers and it must be fought in literature against the anti-Stratfordians - because all three are the same thing, an ideological attack on facts and reason.
 Oh - and the play is quite funny.  Just thought I'd throw that in - in case this all seemed a bit heavy.

Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
The Shakespeare Delusion
A Comic Tale Written and Performed by Robert Crighton

Professor Ashborn invites you to share in his latest discoveries and lead you through the terrible secrets behind the man people call Shakespeare.  Did he really write the plays?  Was he really bald?  Did he like cheese?  Using recently uncovered documentation Professor Ashborn can finally tell the true and completely true, truly true, utterly true, true story of the Shakespeare delusion!
Last year’s show – The Ghosts of Lavenham – sold out, so book early to avoid disappointment!

Performing on Friday 12th October at 7.30pm
The Lavenham Guildhall, The Market Square, Lavenham

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