You’ll have to forgive me, this is probably going to be a rambler – feel free to wander off now, no hard feelings.
Ah so, gluttons for a wordy post – don’t say you weren’t warned…
The thing is this, people have been coming up with words to focus on for the year, declutter seems popular, simplify I’ve seen a few times, you may have your own. I haven’t had a word for 2015, well not until now, but perhaps I might just have stumbled across one – and I’ll tell you straight away, it’s IDENTITY.
This isn’t the result of any ego-centric bid to define myself – it just happens to be a theme that’s cropped up a lot lately. Bear with…
The first outing was the TV series with Grayson Perry – Who Are You? It’s no secret that he’s a hero figure for me, but even still, watching the programmes where he spent time with various people, delving into their identities and self-perceptions, then producing artworks to reflect his take on each, was a masterpiece – of art certainly, but also in my opinion, of his ability to penetrate through the outer layers and reach inside the character of each sitter.
I knew he was a brilliant artist, but here was also someone able to listen, observe and understand, if not dispassionately, then at least non-judgementally, a disparate group of individuals. It was humane and beautiful.
Just before Christmas I went along to the National Portrait Gallery and saw his artworks for myself. Simply stunning, although the piece I would most like to have brought home, was A Map Of Days – his own vastly engrossing and unconventional self-portrait.
So, I suppose the thread of identity started with Grayson Perry and then lay dormant for a few weeks, waiting for me to pick it up again when the BBC started all the Wolf Hall business.
Although in between was a little strand from Last Tango In Halifax, with Derek Jacobi – let’s just hold that one for a moment and come back to it.
I wasn’t going to watch Wolf Hall. I’d loved reading it so much, I didn’t believe the TV production would live up to what the words had created in my imagination – how wrong I was. I ‘happened‘ to watch the first five minutes of the first episode and that was that – hooked, 100% mesmerised. But watching it brought back thoughts from the time when I read it – how can Hilary Mantel convince us so well that Thomas Cromwell was a sympathetic character, when history, and more importantly Hans Holbein shows us such a different face.
This was precisely the theme taken up in the Culture Show Special: Holbein: eye of the Tudors, with Waldemar Januszczak. In the famous portrait by Holbein of Thomas Cromwell, what do you see? I spent over forty years looking at that image and seeing a hard man, a ruthless man – which you’d have to say, considering what he did, must have been true? And yet, Mantel has convinced my heart that this is not the character of the man, so captivatingly portrayed by Mark Rylance in the TV series. Who is right – what is the truth – where does identity lie? Is there an inner and an outer identity?
Thinking about Cromwell and that portrait made me think about another question of identity. Have you read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey? It’s the fictional story of Alan Grant, a policeman laid up in hospital, who for the want of something to occupy his mind, investigates the life of Richard III. It starts with him seeing a portrait of the man and being unable to reconcile the moderate, benign features with those of a child murderer.
He proceeds to conduct an investigation from his hospital bed into the crimes of Richard – looking at who else might have murdered the Princes in the Tower – who stood to win and lose. If you haven’t read it – do!
Incidentally, the title of Tey’s book is from a quote by Sir Francis Bacon –
“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”
That’s another thread by the way – we’ll come back to it too.
Where were we – oh yes, Wolf Hall. So, we’re extremely lucky to have a neighbour who brings us the weekend newspaper supplements every week and in the lead up to the airing of Wolf Hall, you’d be hard pressed not to have read something about it, the story, the locations and the actors taking part.
One of the pieces I read, was about Mark Rylance. In the article, it mentioned that Rylance was one of the founding members of The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition – a body set up to formalise the acceptance of reasonable doubt as to the identity of William Shakespeare.
Now, I am a huge Shakespeare fan (my tag line is a tiny snippet from the Bard). I ‘did‘ him for ‘A’ Level (my undying gratitude Mr Holden) and loved every moment, and I’ve lapped up anything Shakespeare ever since. I’m a member of the RSC, who probably finds live theatre more exciting than almost anything else – so let’s just agree, I love Shakespeare. And therefore, hearing that the man hailed as the greatest stage actor of his generation and the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre from 1995 to 2006, has doubts about the authorship of the plays, had me intrigued and a little unsettled. At almost exactly the same time, I happened to read in another article, that Derek Jacobi – also a great Shakespearean actor – was involved in The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition too (see I told you we’d come back to him)…
So, my interest was well and truly piqued, thus, I’ve spent a little time this week delving further into the murky world of Shakespearean intrigue. It seems there are people who fervently believe that Shakespeare – the man from Stratford, was absolutely the author. There are others who doubt that he was the author, but don’t know who the real author was, and there are those who believe he wasn’t the author and do know who the real author was.
I love a good whodunnit – or in this case ‘who wrote it’. I feel a quest coming on.
Now I have the chance to be my own Alan Grant and investigate the whole Shakespeare issue from a position of total impartiality, because the truth for me, is that I don’t really mind who wrote the plays and poems, I’m just grateful to live in a world where they exist. In a way, the qualities, the values and the character of the author are his/her identity – a rose by any other name…
I wonder if Grayson Perry, in a reverse of the process he used for Who Are You, could take all those qualities found in the works of Shakespeare, the humanity, the love, the emotions and work back up through the layers, to build us a picture of the outer layer of the author…
Anyway, I’m now looking forward to reading as much as I can about the evidence on all sides.
Today I’ve ordered a couple of books to get me started on my quest, but if I’m lucky this could keep me busy for the foreseeable future! I think the prospect of insanity has been mooted for those getting caught up in this debate, well, I’ll risk it.
Oh yes, and the quote from Francis Bacon? – well, you know don’t you, some people believe Bacon wrote Shakespeare…
I’m well practised in untangling mingled yarns – I’m not sure that this one is ever likely to be unraveled, but nevertheless, it looks like an excellent mess to be mixed up in.
I’m hoping to post about how this quest progresses over the year – anyone interested, do leave a comment – and if you’ve already completed your own Shakespeare quest, I’d love to know what you’ve discovered.