Shakespeare at the Customs Gate

A wonderful little incident took place at the start of my time in London, where I was set to deliver a talk for the conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) at Shakespeare’s Globe. After the plane had landed at Heathrow, I took my place in line to go through the Customs section, holding my passport and the form I had filled out. The line moved along in fits and starts and, soon enough, I was approaching the man behind the counter.

Heathrow queues

“Here you go,” I said, handing over the papers.

The man looked at my passport, then at the form, then back at the passport. I watched, wondering what might be going through his mind. Finally he looked up at me.

“Are you staying in London?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“How long do you intend to be here?”

“Oh, well, five nights, I believe.”

“Mmmm. Are you here for business or pleasure?”

“Well, uh, I’m going to give a talk.”

“A talk, eh? On what subject?”

dog at heathrow

I was not sure it was any of his business. Briefly it occurred to me that once you give a guy a uniform, he suddenly feels the need to exercise his power as a figure of authority. I began to feel a little nervous. Nearby was an officer with a leg-sniffing dog. And I thought, as the Customs agent looked at me, waiting for an answer, that my hesitation probably seemed suspicious.

Say something, I told myself, and be quick about it.

“Well, actually I’m giving a talk about Shakespeare.”

“Oh, really?” he said, and now I imagined he was an official of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, placed there to nab me and confiscate my speech.

“Yes,” I said. “Shakespeare.”

shakespeare as Santa

He leaned forward, one elbow on the counter, and gestured with a forefinger for me to do the same. I bent my head forward and down, the better to lend him my ear.

“You know,” he said in a low voice that was nearly a whisper, “some people think Shakespeare didn’t write those things.”

I lifted my eyes and looked at him.

He was smiling.

I smiled back and said, “So I’ve heard.”

“Good luck with your talk,” he said, waving me through.

Later I realized what he may well have been thinking:

“That American guy must be one of those die-hard Stratfordians. When will they ever wise up?”

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