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Shakespeare in the Colonies

a new poem adds......um.....fuel to the er........Oh, who cares? Is it any good?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 17, 1996.

Recently, on one of those news shows, an American professor announced that a new work - a poem - of William Shakespeare had been found. It is an elegy to a young man who’d been out bar-hopping and a friend knifed him in the back of the head, possibly during a Tudorian Summer of Violence in 1612 or whenever. The attribution was made by a close word parse and computer enhanced analyses of word structure and phraseology. Detailed study was made of the poem and a concordance with other works, attributed to Shakespeare was achieved. Um, and there was the signature, W. S., but you can’t be too careful.

Shakespeare, who can fairly be credited with consolidating and popularizing a language one hundred and fifty years before anyone decided to construct a dictionary, is likely one of the two or three best writers of all time. No other writer, in any language - even Homer - so shaped an extended culture's phraseology, emotional channels, historical perspective, and grammar through pop culture. Yet today, he is revered and cherished by an increasingly small percentage of the world. How come? Partially because of lousy teachers and lazy students but there is yet another clue. When Claire Bloom, probably our greatest Shakespearean actress if Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson can be believed, when Ms. Bloom came to Boulder a few years ago for a performance, she was asked if she would want to drop in on Boulder’s Shakespeare Festival. “You must," she intoned, “be kidding.” I wasn’t, but some thought revealed I should have been.

Unlike England, where class is a given and nearly everyone can act, art in the US has become a province of social climbers and louts. Shakespeare is revered as high art in America, incomprehensible to mere mortals, whereas the English, from knave to king, know him as an everyday poet. Shakespeare in England isn’t the prissy affair it is in the colonies. Nobody in England, or Europe, has to section off a part of their day to enjoy art or to be seen enjoying art as they do here.

This may be why the discovery of a new poem by Shakespeare is lauded in England as a last letter from a dear friend. In America, its sole interest, aside from the money, is that it adds fuel to the deservedly smoky fire of Shakespeare’s sexual orientation, which was the underlying thrill of our news hour’s tact. As Bloom said, and I wish someone had repeated, you must be kidding.