If all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, obviously
Shakespeare enjoyed writing about us, somehow understanding each of our foibles
and quirks. And we all enjoy reading (about) him. Scholar and all around academic, wit and extraordinary writer Andrew Dickson has plugged into this in an international celebration of the Bard in all his glories and in lots and lots of locations.
England and Stratford may claim Shakespeare, but he belongs to the world. And Dickson’s new book, “Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe” (Henry Holt, $35) is an extraordinary trek across four continents, six countries and 400 years, watching Shakespeare evolve and unbelievably continue to grow.
The bane of school kids everywhere (the author was meant to be seen and heard, not rammed up young scholars’ brain) is celebrated in the wonderfully engaging book, where we find Shakespeare as an anti-apartheid activist, Bollywood screenwriter, Nazi pin-up and hero of America’s Wild West.
Dickson also wrote the epic “Rough Guide to Shakespeare”, a magnificent guide to each of the plays. In “Worlds Elsewhere”, he writes about the affect and the effect of the Bard’s writing over the past 400 years and over many cultures. While Shakespeare is entirely too vast for either book to completely succeed, Dickson writes with both charm and erudition, easily explaining the most cultures and folkways, effortlessly making any obscurity crystal clear.
Like all great books about Shakespeare, if you’re a fan, you’ll have a ball. If you are not yet a fan, you will be, even with all his foibles and quirks.
Since today marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we decided to ask Dickson a few questions.
Alan W. Petrucelli: Are you a Stratfordian?
Andrew Dickson: No question. There isn’t a single scrap of evidence that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare, and the idea that someone else wrote the plays didn’t surface until the 1850s (in America, funnily enough). Like most conspiracy theories, it’s totally crazy.
AWP: Do you think there’s any significance that William’s nickname is “Willy”?
AD: It probably wasn’t, sorry! Most likely [his nickname was] “Will”, though he generates enough questionable puns on the word “Will” to keep whole platoons of scholars busy.
AWP: Was Will a one-off or will civilization potentially see another another Shakespeare?
AD: I guess there’s no legislating for genius, but the thing that I find fascinating about Shakespeare is how much he comes from his time and context–he was lucky enough to have an amazing grammar school education, which you see being used again and again in his plays and poems, and his curiosity about the world at large (which I write about in my book) was fed by the explosion in Elizabethan travel publishing and the beginnings of European exploration and colonization in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Shakespeare may have never travelled further than England, but he roamed imaginatively all across the world.
AWP: When did Will get his infinite knowledge of European geography (especially Italy) and nature (i.e., name of flowers and trees) and women (how did understand them so well)?
AD: The striking thing is that he got so much from books: Travel literature, historical chronicles, Italian and French stories, classical sources, essays, pamphlets, sermons, other people’s plays. He was a shameless stealer of others’ work. Being a genius, he also managed to make most of it hugely better. That said, he’s a bit vague sometimes, especially when it comes to geography- he has characters travelling between by ship between Verona and Milan in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ (they’re in the middle of northern Italy, nowhere near the sea), and he seems to think that Bohemia (present-day central Poland) is on the coast. Oops!
AWP: We know Marlowe was a homosexual; was he and Will an item?
AD: Ha, not totally impossible, though it would be the scoop of the century. Shakespeare did write over 100 love sonnets addressed by a man to another man, and Elizabethans were in some ways much more open-minded about sexuality than we are these days. Shakespeare and Marlowe were almost exactly the same age, and they were always trying to outdo each other creatively. There’s a rather gentle little tribute to Marlowe buried in the text of ‘As You Like It’, which is written a few years after Marlowe gets killed. So maybe one evening, after a few too many glasses at the Mermaid Tavern . . . I doubt they were ever an item, though. Too competitive.
AWP: What’s been the best and worst Shakespeare production?
AD: A good question but a toughie. Seeing Mark Rylance do ‘Hamlet’ at the Globe in 2000 was pretty incredible: He was so sweet and sad in the role, but also funny and sharp. You really could have heard a pin drop in the audience that day, which at the outdoor Globe in summer is an amazing thing. Worst production? I tend to block them out.