27. 30 October 2001 (Shakespeare on TV; oxymoron; Madariaga; RAF interview)

Dear John,


   Thanks for yours. You certainly get around (in yer tea 'alf­'our, as we Cockneys tend to say, if not stopped) despite what seems to be a move from Wrexham Road to Llanfair Road. Personally, I suspect a landslip.

   It seems that Shakespeare studies are flourishing - a fact surely due in no small measure to your own involvement. But, perhaps independently, he's also everywhere on TV; I can hardly switch my set on without hearing David Starkey carrying on about Elizabeth, or the so-called house detectives spinning theories of how Romeo and Juliet may have (or alternatively may not have) been composed in the garden of the actual house being detected. That play is a topic I'm working on at the moment, mainly in an effort to show that the 1597 text is not, repeat not, a 'memorial reconstruction' of the allegedly pre-existing 1599 version. But both are notable for (among other things) their use of oxymoron. Perhaps someone (John Florio?) told Shakespeare about this curious Latin fixation, also found in Spanish and Italian song sources translated by Heyse or Geibel and set by Schumann and Wolf. Anyhow, both those TV programmes mentioned the third (I hope that's right) Earl of Southampton, who is rightly if rarely remembered in such contexts.

   I see that you've become so well-known, not to say kenspeckled, as a Shakespeare scholar that you've received the attentions of that celebrated nutter from Brighton, who spent some time trying to persuade my dear friend Hayat Matthews (author of a great book on Bacon and daughter of Salvador de Madariaga, who translated Hamlet into Spanish) that Cervantes was 'really' a pen-name of Shakespeare [or was it Bacon?], the true writer of Don Quixote.

   I'm glad to see that someone (apart from the two Davids Hume and Stove, Scottish and Australian respectively, and, more modestly, me) is speaking up in favour of induction. I'll see what light the London Library can shed on J. P.DeCourcy Day and his works.

   If it was you who couldn't speak English until you were eight. may I say that you've more than made up for this small defect (if that's the right way of describing it) by making such great strides since then?

   Funny you should mention volunteering to be a machine-gunner. I've done exactly that, but I was rather dissuaded by Bernard Shore, a distinguished viola-player who was employed as an interviewer-recruiter by the RAF in about 1943, when I saw myself as a tail-end Charlie. We talked about music, and I happened to mention that I tried to play the runs in the last movement of the Waldstein properly fingered and not glissando. I  rather fancied myself as a pianist in those days, as one does at seventeen; the discovery that I wasn't destined to be world-class in that field was one of my earliest (if not keenest) disappointments. Being rejected for air-crew was another. But I learned later that the average life-span of a RAF gunner was about a fortnight from the completion of training, and thereupon became somewhat reconciled to the quieter (and longer) existence of an Army cryptanalyst.

   It's bit late for me to model myself on William; but he's always looked a likely lad to me. So, in his very different way, does James. It was Robert Benchley, wasn't it, who said that fatherhood or its equivalent entitled one to receive the order of the pater dolorosus, the bearer of which insignia was thereby qualified to solicit alms on the cathedral steps? The juniors concerned have this extraordinary ability to be an enduring cause of concern to their seniors; I have no words of comfort for you or Denise. Did I tell you, by the way, that our younger son just happened to be in New York on 11 September last, and was able to watch, from his hotel window, the fall of the second tower?

   Back to Shakespeare, who I dare say enjoyed London and the Blackfriars address. And the best of good fortune to your own work in these vineyards. Why not Edwin Mellen as well as the London nine? They're great publishers, I reckon, who are about to bring out a new edition of Thomas of Woodstock c. 1590.

   Yours as ever