Inside this Month: The spectre hanging over Shakespeare

I saw a ghost once. And then I went down the pub to tell everyone. Turned out I was feverish. The exhilaration of the hallucinations had given me a moment of clarity like in the eye of a storm. I was soon back in bed issuing secretions and expletives like the protagonist in a Dickens novel.

An open mind
Granted, it didn’t end with me discovering that Miss Haversham was long dead, but for a few insane minutes, in a kibbutz pub that was also the bomb shelter, I was adamant ghosts exist.

I think a lot of ghost sightings have something to do with inhabiting space. When an entity follows the same routine for an eternity, I think they might leave behind their presence, a bit like electricity. There’s a reason why the night watchman is a favourite occupation among ghouls.

I remember sensing my dog a few days after it snuffed it. I heard the door being pushed open, the sound of her heavy carcass on the sofa, and then a whimper as if she said: “Oh, I forgot, I’m dead.” Sometimes I worry I’m going to haunt our offices as I live so close by. On the CIA’s satellite surveillance, I’m a blip that moves back and forth, ever so slightly, endlessly.

Plenty of candidates
The problem with ghosts is they’re rarely the people you want to learn anything from: like the ghost of a murder victim. Vivienne McKee’s new play Shakespeare’s Ghost (G3) speculates on the true identity of the Bard – now, if only the spirit world would usher him forward instead of the man who used to deliver our post with a cheery explosion before he was violently murdered for breaking our concentrations. Sorry, I’m hallucinating again.

While McKee favours Christopher Marlowe, another popular choice is the Earl of Oxford. He grew up among scholars, was familiar with court (36 of the 37 plays are partially set there) and Italy (14), was shipwrecked (The Tempest), spent time in prison, was wounded by a member of a lover’s family (Romeo and Juliet), and his nickname was the ‘Spear shaker’.

Not that the film Anonymous did much to further his claim by suggesting he was Elizabeth I’s son and then fathered another son with her who became the Earl of Southampton. Now, that’s a storyline even Shakespeare would have struggled to come up with.

But still, isn’t it more likely that he was at best a contributor and that the plays were collaborative works by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men of which Shakespeare was a member. Once their reputation grew, they probably welcomed submissions – a bit like Mills and Boone, although we doubt anyone will be trying to identify any of their writers in 400 years’ time – which they then used as a springboard for improvisation.

Hamlet could have been the result of an encounter with a drunk Danish sailor: “So, there’s this prince, hic, and he’s to be, sorry not to be … gawd, this tavern’s in a rotten state.”

Elsewhere this month
It’s bizarre to think Shakespeare never saw a real woman perform in one of his plays. You have to feel for him – I mean how many theatre directors today would do that job if they couldn’t cop off with their female lead?

The absence of females would have made the Impro Festival (G11) more challenging, while the Chocolate Festival (G10) would have been impossible. Women don’t just prefer it to sex, they prefer it to every conceivable form of hedonism ever known to mankind. No woman will ever look at a man with the same desire they look at a Marks & Spencer caramel slice.

Even female diehard fans of Depeche Mode would turn them down in favour of a salted caramel cupcake, but who knows, maybe they’ll be serving them at the anniversary party (G11) dedicated to the band. Among the other music acts in town in March are Van Morrison, Ellie Goulding, Mariah Carey and Chris Cornell (G6-7).

Elsewhere, don’t miss Fransk Affære (G10), the Architecture Festival (G11), a chance to meet penguins (G13) and the welcome return of The Marriage of Figaro (G3).

There’s never been any doubt that Mozart wrote all that music, has there? Well, actually, he didn’t write the melody for ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ as is commonly reported, just a variation. Undeniable proof, surely, that all that glitters is not gold.