The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0304  Tuesday, 3 February 2004

From:           Peter Bridgman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 2004 12:22:48 -0000
Subject: 15.0283 More on "In Search of Shakespeare"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0283 More on "In Search of Shakespeare"

I found this on the Guardian website.....  It's a reply from Michael
Wood to Professor Taylor's criticisms.

Peter Bridgman

False impressions

Gary Taylor's review of my Shakespeare series (The heaven of
invention, July 12) has just come to my attention, and I feel that
it would be unfair to let him leave your readers with the impression
that, because we are only film-makers, we have not done our homework.

It is nowhere stated in the films, as he says, that Othello was
written in "protest" at the treatment of black people, nor do I
believe this to be the case. Professor Taylor says I got the dates
wrong. He is mistaken here. The Hatfield House papers referring to
the government's ideas about the repatriation of black people are
from 1601 through to the summer of 1602; the latest scholarly
opinion (eg Honigmann's new Arden edition) is that Othello was
written in 1602. But even if it were the case that Othello had been
written before these letters, it would make no difference to the
general argument put forward by many scholars, including Honigmann
and (in our film) Imtiaz Habib, namely that issues of race were in
the air - and that Shakespeare was interested in them.

I was struck too by Professor Taylor's comment that to treat
Marlowe's death at such length was "obscene". Marlowe's death was
significant in Shakespeare's life - and is very revealing about his

Taylor sums up by saying, sweepingly, that, "Shakespeare never
sacrificed anything for anyone". I would be interested to see the
evidence which might support his claim - though the fascinating new
discovery that The Phoenix and Turtle was written to commemorate the
executed Catholic widow Anne Line may even be a tiny hint that, on
occasion, he was prepared to do something for someone.

This takes us to the nub of Taylor's objections - that our series
portrayed a "courageous" Shakespeare who was PC - and a persecuted
Catholic to boot.  But the films don't say any of this, and nor does
the book. On matters of race, one might fairly surmise (as does
Professor Habib) that he became a more thoughtful person between
Titus and Othello; the possibility of his anti-Semitism, far from
being ignored, is discussed at some length in my book; on his
Catholicism, it is surely not going too far to imagine that his
experience was shaped by the troubles of growing up in a Catholic
family and that as an adult - like many of his generation - he found
himself caught between two worlds? In general, one might get the
impression that in his maturity he was a cunning artist who in his
work situated himself between extremes and therefore often appears
to take up a kind of oppositional stance: a subject on which a
brilliant paper was written a few years back - by Professor Taylor

Television is a popular medium, and I would be the first to admit
that the compromises one makes with complex subjects are not always
happy ones.  Shakespeare's biography is a difficult subject, and it
may be that not all the devices we used to try to bring it to life
came off. But the goal was to excite and interest a general audience.

Oh, and by the way - given that my old shoulder bag raised Taylor's
hackles - whether in the Andes or the Cotswolds, we have a small
crew, and I always carry my own bag, with books, notes and dried
fruit and nuts.

Michael Wood

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