There is one small element of the William Ray’s trumpeting of the theory about Edward Devere that Phoenix Ark will support, and that is you must not make too many ‘establishment’ assumptions about Shakespeare for granted. It is why we found something of the ‘Shakespeare Land’ RSC tradition, at times, or the entire industry that has built up, something of a block to rediscovering the playwright and the plays. Not to mention why the Barbican Centre, one former RSC home, may have great concert halls but is the ugliest building in Europe. As, in contrast, the BBC and The Hollow Crown are so superbly recapturing Will and the plays. It is why too much worthiness towards the ‘bard’, in school, or anywhere else, can vitally separate students from the living word, which you must inhabit, perhaps like a player, to get to the wonder and genius of.
In fact, even the ‘establishment’ theory, with so much more evidence than others, often has thin links and tiny facts too, built into entire worlds. That is certainly not to go against the William of Stratford ‘theory’, but it is to leave imaginative space to understand the real man and the time again. Someone we believe even more astonishing, if you really put it all in context. But if there is the world of airy fancy, or the new American approach of near virtual ‘recreation’, there is that third place, part fact, part fiction. It is perhaps expressed in Peter Ackroyd’s instinctive understanding of writers and the mystery of identity, and above all about the metaphorical nature of an explosive language, and a vital, organic historical moment. Shakespeare reforges the language, as if it was his non-royal but divine right. But of course Shakespeare was not THE Shakespeare he has become, however lauded in his time. He was rediscovered, even ‘reinvented’, mythologized and institutionalised too, with almost every private or public political agenda attached to his name and works, over the years. But then his work encompasses so much. His greatest rediscovery was under the early Victorians, even if they ‘Bawdlerised’ the agonies of King Lear.
One notable critic of course was Dr Johnson though, who has very interesting links, talked about in Shakespeare’s Brother (if it ever gets published) to the Thrale family. Ralph Thrale, direct from the Bishops of Winchester, bought up the land on which those theatres stood, and where Edmund Shakespeare lived for a time, turning it into the largest brewery in Europe, the Anchor Brewery. So while the players and playwrights, and their and Will’s words, were going through the guts or ears of Londoners, the future in Southwark was headed towards that all driving force, money, thanks to Londoner’s drinking guts, and the land ownership of taverns by the City, especially with the entry of the Barclay’s and Courage families. Hey ho.
It was very interesting when Anonymous came out though that Prince Charles put his name to the Stratford Camp, with his face on the website. Then he is a patron of the Birthplace Trust. We have often been admirers here, to adopt just a token of Royal crawling, or graceful respect, especially for work such as the Princes’ Trust, and even thought of sending him the ‘royal’ spirited Fire Bringer, when it first came out. It is about Scottish deer, after all. We have no idea if he’s any kind of scholar or not on the subject of Shakespeare, but it is also interesting that The Prince of Wales, divinely righted or not, does not support the Edward Devere theory either. Incidentally, along with Dr Johnson, one of the many visitors to the Anchor Brewery where The Globe and The Vine had stood, was another Prince of Wales.