Oxfordian Journal Chapter 1: In College, Acting in “Othello” and Having No Clue about an Authorship Question

When I was in college no one ever mentioned that there might be any question about Shakespeare’s identity.  It was as if the whole history of that subject matter, from the nineteenth-century advocates of Francis Bacon to the Oxfordians of the twentieth century, never existed.

In college we put on productions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Othello, the Moor of Venice, both unquestionably, I was sure, penned some four centuries earlier by Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon.

The first play we put on was Othello, during my sophomore year, and I had the role of Cassio, who gets to speak that great speech:  “Reputation, reputation, reputation!  O, I have lost my reputation!  I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.  My reputation, Iago!  My reputation!”

(As far as I or anyone else was concerned, this was probably not a reflection of anything the author himself had experienced.  I mean, the last thing in the world that Mr. Shakespeare might have lost was his reputation.  He was a superstar!  I’d never heard about Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who really had lost his reputation – big time.  If that earl were alive today, why, he’d be scorned up and down; the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust would have him hung by his toenails off the Tower Bridge, or they’d tie him to a raft on the Thames and float him out to a pack of hungry sharks.)

I must have practiced that “reputation” speech a thousand times in as many ways, never really feeling I’d nailed it.  [I should attend the play whenever possible to see how various actors deliver it.]

During our rehearsals and performances I grew to love that play.  Without expecting it I found parts of the first act hysterically funny, mainly because the guy playing Brabantio, a Venetian Senator and the father of Desdemona, seemed to go way too far with his anger, spitting saliva all over the others on stage, as he shouted: “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?”

[It felt somehow wrong to be laughing during a tragic play, but I could not have known, back then in college, that the author had actually used stock characters from the Italian form of comedy called Commedia dell’Arte, performances of which he had witnessed in Venice!]

I was deeply moved at the end of the play – amazed, too, that in just a few hours the great Mr. Shakespeare had taken Othello from the heights of graceful, powerful, mature manhood to the ravages of unhinged jealousy and finally to the depths of despair, horror, tragedy.  How had he performed this feat?  How could he have made it all so seamless, one scene flowing from the other in a string of actions that appeared to be inevitable?

[Of course I also didn’t know then that the Earl of Oxford, himself a poet and playwright, had been an active patron of play companies and other writers, or that in his own life he had gone through a period of terrible jealousy, accusing his wife of infidelity and causing her enormous pain and suffering.]

A couple of times during the play came the sudden sound of a trumpet from a guy playing it just offstage; we would hear it and the actor playing Iago would yell out: “The Moor!  I know his trumpet!”  In one performance, however, the actor playing Iago failed to wait for the sound and instead yelled out:  “The Moor!  I know his trumpet!”  This was followed by utter silence, which seemed to go on and on, until finally came the blare of the trumpet from the wings:  “Dat-Dat Dah-Daaaa!”

Those of us onstage and members of the audience cracked up.  And I was unlucky enough to have the very next line, in reference to the trumpet being Othello’s signature military call:  “’Tis truly so!”  Before saying it, however, I had to wait for the laughter to die down.  Then I had to speak the line, which was almost impossible to do without cracking up again; and once those three words came out of my mouth, the roars bounced off every wall of the auditorium before we could forge on.

That was my first taste of Shakespeare.  And then in senior year came Hamlet…

(To be continued)

Published in: Uncategorized on July 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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