Much of my time, lately, has been (willingly and happily) given over to various incarnations of the ever-expanding Liars’ League. This, coupled with the current Shakespearean exertions of leading Liar Ben Crystal, caused me to start (like a guilty thing/Upon a fearful summons) when, part-way through Anthony Burgess’ predictably virtuose 1964 novelisation of Shakespeare’s life Nothing Like The Sun (‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;/Coral is far more red than her lips’ red’ – Sonnet 130), I came across this:
WS said, bold cider-boy and crony of justices and scholars: ‘… As for acting, is it not all lies? A boy is made a woman, a short man will add a cubit with stilt-shoes – ‘
‘Chopines,’ corrected Master Woodford.
‘ – A living man will say he is dying. Now I grant that in Seneca there was none of this, for his plays were not acted but read aloud.’
‘Oh, God preserve us from cheesy cant,’ said Master Quedgeley. ‘That is Banbury talk … Life,’ so went Quedgeley on, ‘is in a sense all lies. We watch ourselves act every day. Philip drunk and Philip sober. One is inside the other watching the other. And so I am John Quedgeley and Jack Quedgeley and Jockey Quedgeley and Master Quedgeley, Justice of Peace, and all. It is all acting.’
And WS saw that this was true, revolving it in the murk of the bottom of his cider-tankard.
I think that Burgess – the hobbyist linguist who wrote the marvellous study of language and speech A Mouthful Of Air – would have loved to have seen (or, rather, heard) Hamlet in its original pronunciation, and that it’s rather a shame that he will be too dead to attend at Reno, Nevada, tomorrow.