1.5. Interview via FAQs (2002)

Helen Moorwood 2013

1.5. (8) Mainly about Shakespeare Midlands traditions

Which Shakespeare traditions would you accept?

Most were written down before the middle of the 18th century, so I would accept the kernels of all these, particularly the very early reports. I strongly suspect, however, that some of them were transposed in time and place (as with the Dr Dee muddle). For example, the story of him starting in the theatre by holding gentlemen’s horses makes much more sense as a teenage ‘servant’ of the Hoghtons than as a married man recently ‘escaped’ to London. Also, given the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ episode coinciding with Edmund Campion’sstay, and given that Campion wrote plays and was a teacher and is known to have stayed with at least one Hoghton family, it is just plain common sense to place the very reliable tradition that he was ‘in his younger days a schoolmaster in the country’ with the Hoghtons; also the other tradition that he started in the theatre as a prompter makes more sense here than in London. [Since 2002 I have revised these thoughts. I believe the traditions of him escaping to London and holding horses at theatres must have been based on a kernel of truth, but put this episode tentatively earlier in his life after ‘escaping’ from his apprenticeship. HM 2013]

And any others?

It doesn’t really matter at the moment what I think and any future biographer must come to their own conclusion on the basis of recent findings. The most interesting aspect of Shakespeare traditions and early reports for me is that there were so few of them in Stratford just two generations after his death, when descendants of his sister were still living there, even though during his lifetime and ever since he had been hailed as one of its most famous sons. No one who attended church regularly - and that means almost the whole population - can have been unaware of his rather large monument, and one might have expected that many local families would have had their own Shakespeare story, proudly related to their grandchildren. These might have been embellished in transmission or only the kernels remained, but if he really lived there for the whole of his youth from 1564 to 1585 when the twins were born, returned regularly during his London years and retired there, surely more stories would have survived? The same applies to John and Mary, if they lived there for the whole of their married life. And yet only one recorded anecdote about John has survived, not a single record of William’s mother, and the only early record of his marriage was that she was the daughter of a local yeoman called Hathaway. We know that some who visited Stratford went there specifically for this purpose and were determined to discover all they could. And yet they discovered so little. Also, the majority of the anecdotes they did discover smack of teenage pranks or specifically refer to his retirement. All this occurred to me again and again as I read the biographical literature, and you can probably guess the conclusion I came to when this was set against John’s disappearing acts. From the last two sets of facts the only logical conclusion was that the whole family disappeared from Stratford for years on end.

Rev. James Wilmot (1726-1808) was faced with a similar, but different, problem when he scoured every country house within a radius of fifty miles of Stratford, searching every bookcase in a hunt for any lingering memory or anything from Shakespeare’s library. He was told much of the local folklore and heard about many local events from Shakespeare’s lifetime, but not a single item about the man himself. Nor, he was increasingly alarmed to discover, had he made use of any of the local folklore in his works. Michelltells this story and how it led a century later to the full-blown Baconian theory, and so another myth was born. It occurred to Wilmot that Shakespeare seemed to have spent little time in Warwickshire but it did not occur to him that it might, quite simply, have been because he lived elsewhere for most of his life. Coming back to John and Mary’s ancestries and the Lancashire traditions, and the absence of any direct affiliation of the whole family with any other part of the country than the North West, it would seem rather blinkered not to accept this destination as the most logical. At the same time this presents an explanation of many other mysteries, a story that finally starts to make sense and provides great support for the Stratfordian view that Shakespeare was Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. It would, however, require the acceptance that his genius was probably nurtured only initially by Stratford Grammar School and the Warwickshire countryside, and the main nurturing lay elsewhere. This might be a hard Stratfordian nut to crack.

Did you hint that there might have been affiliations with other parts of the country?

The only one I have come across is in Michell,reporting on ‘the weighty opinion of the Right Hon. D. H. Madden, Vice-Chancellor of Dublin University, a staunch upholder of Orthodoxy in opposition to Baconism’, who discovered a local legend in Dursley in Gloucestershire that Shakespeare had lived there. He was not, apparently, associated with any particular family, unlike the two families in Lancashire. I leave it up to others interested to pursue this one. Conlan, intriguingly, found a few Bristol connections so maybe these will all connect in the future.


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