The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0197 Thursday, 15 March 2007
Date: Tuesday, 13 Mar 2007 17:27:58 +0100
Subject: 18.0184 Ian Richardson, AL Rowse & the Dark Lady
Comment: Re: SHK 18.0184 Ian Richardson, AL Rowse & the Dark Lady
I just listened to "Accolades", by Christopher William Hill, the Dark
Lady play where Ian Richardson plays A. L. Rowse.
Richardson is very good, and it is moving to hear him.
This being said, I was (unfavourably) impressed by the meanness of the
whole thing. Is it possible that A. L. Rowse should be remembered that
way? And only that way?
I had a completely different experience with him.
I was at the time making a living with radio plays, I wrote 2 or 3 a
year, and was always on the lookout for subjects. That is how I hit upon
Francis Tregian jun., the collector of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. In
order to try to understand what kind of compulsion made Tregian collect
not only the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, but a couple of thousand other
music pieces as well, I thought I should understand something of his
childhood. I went to London and started asking around. The only book
about Elizabethan Cornwall in which the Tregian (who were Cornish) were
mentioned was "Tudor Cornwall", by A. L. Rowse, whom I didn't know at
all. I was told by scholars that he was still alive, but that I
shouldn't go and see him, as he would eat me alive and be unbearably
rude to me.
I did not take that advice and went anyway.
He was very courteous, listened to whatever I had to say at the time,
and told me he wondered why I was interested in the Tregian, they had
been fools. He had not really concentrated on the son, only the father
(who was a fanatical fool indeed), I explained that I thought the son
interesting because of the music, and he merely said: "I am willing to
revise my judgement, but prove that the younger Tregian was not the same
fool as his father." To cut a long story short I tried and succeeded
(this contradicts the play, already). So he struck a bargain with me: I
should write "my" story about Francis Tregian and he would help me all
he could. But then I should write "his" story, about his Dark Lady
"You see, he said, for years now I have been convinced Emilia Bassano
was the Dark Lady, scholars won't believe me because I blundered at the
beginning. So maybe if you make a character in a novel of her, people
might believe us. I would do it myself, but I am unable to write novels."
The radio play about Tregian became a full-blown novel. For almost four
years, I flew to Cornwall from Switzerland at least once a month (often
twice), spent a day with Rowse or in his library, and worked with him.
First I completed the Tregian novel, called "Le trajet d'une rivi