It’s been a good month for the Shakespeare industry. First, a team of archaeologists announced they had discovered the site of the theatre in Shoreditch, east London, where Romeo and Juliet was premiered —though the stage itself appears to be buried under a housing estate.
Then, there was the row about whether the Cobbe painting was a truer likeness of the playwright than the Janssen portrait.
And this week we have a Dr John Casson claiming that six works, including the hitherto unattributed Phaeton sonnet, the comedy Mucedorus and the tragedies Locrine and Arden of Faversham, were in fact the work of the greatest Bard Shakespeare.
Now, I have got no problem with researchers rootling around the dusty archives; quite the opposite, in fact.
I love a good academic squabble. But we do need to remember that’s all this is. Face it. Does it really matter if Shakespeare once stood or even lived a few yards to the left of where we once thought?
Or if his hair was a little more auburn? Or if he knocked out a few more plays in his youth? Of course not. It is interesting in a nerdy kind of way, but you know it’s only a matter of time — minutes or seconds probably —before another academic pops up with an absolutely different view.
What’s at stake in all this is not Shakespeare’s reputation as the greatest English playwright, but the academics’. By attaching themselves to the great man’s work they are hoping a little of his stardust will rub off on them.
Shakespeare himself will carry on being the world’s greatest playwright whatever any of them say.
So why do the academics bother? It’s the deluded hope they are going to turn up something earth-shattering; the idea they are going to find a document proving that Shakespeare had been kicked off his creative writing course for being a bit rubbish.
This would be like religious scholars finding a parchment of Jesus moaning about being fed up with the Messiah gig, or art historians turning up some Leonardo drawings of
It just ain’t going to happen. So in the meantime we all have to make do with crumbs like this.