I’ve been toying with the idea of a Shakespeare readathon for a while, and am trying to justify it to myself. When I do work out the ‘why?’, I’ll post …
In the meantime, a friend received a full set of BBC Shakespeare on DVD for Christmas. This worried me quite a bit: mostly because I had a small (and I DO mean small) cameo in the gift’s selection. But, what if she hates them, or simply finds them staid and sooo-1980s? Their overwhelmingly earnest nature and general quaintness – which I find as endearing as original series Star Trek – might pall quickly.
With this terribly over-egotistical sense of responsibility (for her enjoyment of someone else’s gift) firmly entrenched, I asked how she planned to watch them and received the wonderfully blithe reply: “Oh, as they come in the box set,” to put me firmly in my place. That ought to be that. And yet it really isn’t.
Another friend stayed at mine for the first time before Christmas. In truth the flat – largely a bomb site – is set up to display my Shakespeare to best effect. Or perhaps simply to distract from the surrounding chaos. Pretty much from the front door you can see the skull with the jaunty Yorick beanie perched, like a wingless but stupidly happy (and warm) version of Poe’s Raven, atop a bookshelf which quite obviously has a ‘set’ of something on the top shelf. That something turns out to be my Arden Thirds, spilling over onto shelf two, with the rest of the bookshelf being devoted to critical and historical works.
But I digress. Like any monomaniacal bloke, the important things need to be ordered. Obsessively. Examples: my Discworld hardbacks are lined up in order of publication, and I have been known to text friends out of the blue to ask them what shelf I ought to put book XXXX on. ‘Horror’, ‘Gothic’ or ‘Victorian Lit’? Such requests naturally meet with derision, but I can’t help them. My Ardens follow a strict alphabetical order. And after expressing vague approval of the Ardens my friend who, to be fair, knows his onions, told me he could put them into ‘proper’ order if I wanted. Not trusting myself to reply without an audible ‘harrumph’, I silently signalled gratitude but equally reluctance to put him to any trouble. At least I hope that’s what came across … My Ardens remained, at least, untouched, but as the evening wore on I found myself casting furtive glances at them, as if they’d betrayed me in some subtle, ill-defined way. Like a silent but extremely deadly fart where everyone knows the source of the awful stench but no-one’s saying anything.
Things coming in threes, it’s now time to consider a Shakespeare chronology that goes beyond knowing the reigning monarch at the time, waxing lyrical about ‘Daemonologie’ and Shakespeare’s new boss to Macbeth classes, or being consistently taken by surprise at my emotional response to Prospero’s abjuration of his arts and books. All endings must have a beginning, after all.
So. I have a friend to ‘save’ from a potentially unwise (if not disastrous) viewing order – whether they want it or not. A second friend needs to be told – as soon as I can wangle it into a conversation – that my shelf has been reordered. Finally, I need to settle on a chronology for my adventure. Off I trundled to do some research.
At this stage, my problems were just beginning …
Even a cursory glance at a few sources suggested that the chronology is almost as hotly disputed as the authorship question. Like an Early Modern game of ‘Find The Lady’, my expectations seem to be defied at every turn, and no two results were the same! Most confusingly of all for someone who likes neat explanations and is overly dismayed by lack of apparent logic, how could the Henrys be written, let alone read, in the ‘wrong’ order? At least those unexpected 2,3,1 patterns knocked a few contenders out of the mix, and much as I love the Crystals (David and Ben), they’re clearly two acts short of a quarto if they want me to read Henry VI in reverse order! (edit – having since tucked into the intro of HVI part I, the reasons are slightly clearer, but I still don’t feel emotionally equipped to treat the first part as a ‘prequel’)
Once you get to know me, you’ll realise that this is the kind of quandary that could induce terminal mental paralysis. At the end of the day, I had to pick one, quickly, and accept the consequences. I could always reflect on it another time, and no doubt will. So, on the basis that it’s Ardens I’ll be reading so far as possible, coupled with that thorny Henry VI issue, I’ve plumped for the order in the Arden Miscellany. There. Published, and therefore committed. Next stop, to reorder my shelf, which is the equivalent of making things ‘Facebook official’ …