19 Burning The Globe
by Malcolm Redfellow
After that extended wrestle with Neal Stephenson, Malcolm needed respite.
Sitting on top of his guilt pile was Robert Winder’s The Final Act of Mr Shakespeare.
So: from the top —
Winder comes with a creditable pedigree.:
- Half a decade as literary editor for The Independent (and Indy reviews are none too dusty).
- A major influence in Granta, the lit-crit phenomenon of the decade and more.
We have to accept that this is a literary squib. Then we recognise it is one of considerable worth.
The premiss is that Shakespeare, happily settled back in Stratford, making an indecently-successful living as a wool-merchant and proto-capitalist, is summoned back to London by James VI and I to produce an addition to the oeuvre — that is Henry VIII.
The representation of London under the [jack-]boot of the Jacobite terror is worth reading in itself. We are reminded, repeatedly, that England is in a pre-revolutionary moment. Sounds familiar?
Our hero, Will, is provoked to sub-contract the arrangement to John Fletcher while he gathers around him his old mates to improvise Henry VII, a devastating exposé of the Tudor tyranny and Will’s self-exculpation of what he had done in Richard III.
To get all that, plus the early pursuit by Edward Alleyn of Lolita Constance Donne, plus the insertion of John Harvard (yes, of that Massachusetts establishment, but also from Stratford), involves a certain manipulation of the date line.
Add in a entire pastiche-construct (much of it almost convincing) of a Shakespeare play, moreover one that was evolved under the cover-name Cardenio (there are other versions), and one has a literary thriller.
To anyone who has had to engage with Shakepeare’s later period, who has an acquaintance with the works and recognises the references and quotations (not to mention the running gag about “the sea coast of Bohemia“) this is a delight.
Thank you, Mr Winder.