Brief Candle

     If you’re like me, which God forbid, you’re still recovering from your big Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday Party.
     Shakespeare was 450 this week, and here at Casa de Kahn, we’re all in a tizzy about it. Me and the cat.
     Shakespeare mentioned cats 38 times in his 38 plays – one cat per play!
     Dogs got 200 mentions, though many of them, I am sorry to say, were invidious remarks about men.
     Horses were mentioned more than 260 times – seven times per play – which seems a bit excessive, until you realize that Shakespeare didn’t mention automobiles even once.
     As both regular readers of this column know, I have been writing a book about Shakespeare for some three years now.
     Why am I doing this?
     Because, as an investigative journalist, I decided twenty years ago that I do not want to spend any more time than necessary with living people who should be investigated.
     Id est, members of Congress, and so on.
     I don’t like them. They have soiled my life already. As my Southern grandpa used to say, “They’ll screw you without giving you a kiss.”
     I’d rather spend my time with someone I like. I like Shakespeare, and so far as I can tell, so did just about everyone.
     There is no other explanation for how the man stayed out of jail.
     I have found 85 other actors and playwrights who were imprisoned, for one thing and another, during Shakespeare’s heyday – many of them for what they wrote. These jailbirds include Ben Jonson, Kit Marlowe, John Donne, Thomas Kyd, George Chapman, Philip Massinger, Sir Walter Ralegh, Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and Thomas Lodge – some of whom were Shakespeare’s collaborators.
     Of these 85 unfortunates, 44 were accused of crimes, 21 were jailed for performing plays without a license, 13 were imprisoned for libel or unauthorized publications, 13 for heresy or being Catholic. (Some were jailed for more than one charge.)
     Why didn’t Shakespeare go to jail?
     For those benighted folks who believe, or claim to believe, on no evidence, that someone else wrote Shakespeare: Sorry, but no. Uh-uh. Not.
     Exquisite scrutiny has turned up nearly 100 documents about Shakespeare from the days he was alive, including payments from the queen, admiring reviews, jealous reviews, reminiscences from, among others, Ben Jonson – an unpleasant braggart – who said he “loved the man, this side idolatry.”
     Which indicates that people idolized Shakespeare, while he was alive.
     What interests me most about the man is who he was before he wrote the three tragedies that made him immortal: Hamlet, MacBeth and King Lear.
     Shakespeare wrote some rotten plays. King John, for instance, and Titus Andronicus. I disagree with the scholars who say he would have been immortal had he died after Romeo and Juliet.
     It ain’t so.
     Those three late tragedies are why humankind has written more books about Shakespeare than about any other human being, with the possible exceptions of Jesus of Nazareth or the Buddha.
     Shakespeare, for most of his life, had no idea he would write MacBeth, or Hamlet, or King Lear.
     Who was he? Can we ever know?
     I think we can. We know more about Shakespeare than we do about any other Elizabethan playwright, except the relentlessly self-promoting Ben Jonson.
     But what do we know about him, really? Plenty. But no more than we know about anyone else: a stranger, a friend, the person who is sleeping by our side.

%d bloggers like this: