Bard Blog (Live)

“The Bard, or not the Bard? That is the question posed by yesterday’s unveiling of a centuries-old portrait of a dark-eyed, handsome man in Elizabethan finery. . . ‘We’re 90 percent sure that it’s Shakespeare,’ said Paul Edmonson, director of learning at the Shakespeare Learning Trust. . . ‘You’ll never be entirely certain. There will always be voices of dissent.’ ” — Associated Press, Portrait of Shakespeare unveiled, but is it him?, 03/10/09

LONDON — Cheers from the Globe Theatre, where the annual meeting of the Association of Shakespearean Scholars for Enacting Standards is about to begin!

The Association, for you non-English majors out there, is famous for its fiery, theatrical debates over the proper interpretation of William Shakespeare’s life and literature. Indeed, its members dress and act like their favorite character while attempting to make logical arguments, though the acronym of “Association of Shakespearean Scholars Who Enjoy Role Playing” is rather inappropriate.

The meetings, like many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, consist mainly of name-calling, swordplay and tea breaks, and they attract record audiences — right now, I’m surrounded by thousands of screaming Brits.

Since Professor Ralph Williams was swamped by lectures and I was the only Daily staff member who displayed any fencing skills (in case the debate escalated), my editors drove me to the airport and, after an awkward hug goodbye. . . Oh, it’s starting! Here we go. . .

18:02 — The lights have been dimmed and some Mozart is playing. The audience is only getting more excited. The Association’s stance on Shakespeare’s new and improved portrait — i.e., if it’s him or not — could elevate the playwright to the status of Literary God and make for a really good party or, keeping with tradition, reaffirm him as a talented but unattractive writer. And the lights are up!

18:04 — Professor Plympton is making his way onstage dressed as Julius Caesar. Behind him is Professor MacDougall clothed as Macbeth. He is arguably the finest swordsman of the assembly and there is thunderous applause from the audience. Now comes Professor Hucksberry, brilliantly playing the senile King Lear — he just tried to shake hands with his chair. And the crowd has leapt to their feet and started cheering, which can only mean Professor Filliwippet, who plays Romeo and is the only member under 30, is onstage. Yes, he just took his seat and is waving at a group of teenage girls. Last is Professor Morrow, who plays the depressed Hamlet, and the audience falls silent out of respect. It appears he is already crying.

18:05 — The new portrait has just been brought onstage. We’re awaiting opening remarks. Professor Morrow — oh, how are you supposed to remember which one he is? — Hamlet has started pacing around the painting, furiously muttering to himself. Oh! He just embraced the portrait and sobbed, “What a piece of work is this man!” and we’ve officially begun. Macbeth just responded with derisive laughter and expressed his opinion that the work is at best a sorry sight. It appears the two might duel quite early, much to the delight of the audience. Yes, Hamlet just told Macbeth to go to a nunnery. King Lear, however, just stepped absentmindedly between the two and is now stroking the portrait. One hopes it’s not the original.

18:06 — Julius Caesar, in an attempt to gain order, asked everyone to lend him their ears. Macbeth just correctly informed him that the line belongs not to him but to Marcus Antonius and that he, Caesar, is a poisonous bunch-back’d toad. It looks like we’re definitely going to see some action soon. Where’s Romeo? He’s left the stage. . . There he is. He’s in the audience talking to some young females. And now it looks as though a duel is imminent. Yes, Caesar, Macbeth and Hamlet are drawing their rapiers. One wonders if they’ll have enough time before the. . .

18:07 — Tea break.

18:07:12 — The tea break has just been interrupted for the first time in the entire history of the assembly by Hamlet, who spilled his tea intentionally on Macbeth’s tunic. Macbeth is furious and — oh! He just took a swipe at Hamlet and hit Caesar instead, who had enough poise to say, “You brute!” before falling. For this display of grace the audience has awarded him much applause. Macbeth is now after Hamlet, who is running away, sobbing. The audience is chanting, “Headcase!” I’ve just been informed that Romeo has left the theatre with three women, so Hamlet won’t have any help from him, and King Lear is licking the stage curtains. Hamlet, desperate, is now in the audience and appears to be heading directly toward me. There is Macbeth, now. He looks fairly mad. I might have to defend. . .

Editor’s Note: This is all that was written. We have yet to hear back from Will, though we never sent him to London in the first place. We don’t give awkward hugs.

Will Grundler can be reached at sailgull@umich.edu.

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