Monday, April 21, 2008

Shakespeare on a plane.

Sitting on the third floor of my bungalow, which overlooks a magnificent natural harbour on the spectacular Buckinghamshire coastline, I am struck by the delightful realisation, while reading a Chinese biography of William Shakespeare (the celebrated Welsh pole-vaulter, and inventor of the first commercially successful flushing television), that it's not entirely necessary to be 'correct' in order to be considered amongst the greatest proponents of one's chosen field.

Mr Wm Shaksp himself, for example, has been known to sign his name in up-to eleven different ways (there is some conjecture as to whether all of the known signatures are genuine) proving, or at the very least suggesting, that he either couldn't spell consistently, or frankly didn't care to. Consensus has it that he was also an indifferent typist (a trait which he and I share).

The biography to which I have referred is written by the most excellent Bill Bryson[1], of whom I have been a dedicated fan for absolutely ages - some several years, in fact, before I'd ever heard of him.

Having read approximately three quarters of this book I am much gruntled by the fact that Shaky (as his friends almost certainly didn't refer to him) steadfastly refused to allow such trivial issues as geographical inaccuracy to bother him. Bryson points out that, in Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Bard of Avon has Prospero and Valentine set sail from Milan and Verona, even though both cities were a good few hours train journey from salt water in the 1600s.

Anachronisms probably didn't bother him either - given how easy it would have been for him to look things up on the internet to establish their temporal veracity. (For example, he seemed particularly unfazed by the presence of a 1960's police telephone box in his room during a recent episode of the BBC's Dr Who.)

And he positively revelled in neologism, an art in which he was clearly a master.

This is all most excellent news to me, and there's hope for me yet, it would seem. Why? Well...

I've a tendency to tell porkies - sometimes under artistic licence, but more often simply because I'm fundamentally dishonest. This is not a laudable trait and its particularly annoying to me that, while obdurate in their refusal to follow any good example I try and set them, my kids have picked up on the art of lying pointlessly with what is evidently some gusto.

I'm also a lazy fellow. For example, despite having only a sketchy appreciation of European Geography, I have taken Mr Bryson's assertions as to the landlocked nature of those two (Italian?) cities on faith. Mind you, it's not easy for me to check the facts because I am currently on an aeroplane (I lied about being upstairs in a bungalow - see the earlier reference to dishonesty) and the stewardess I just asked doesn't know either.

Finally, I have (as recorded elsewhere in this blog) been an accidental neologist myself for some time - and a very enjoyable practice it is, too. Pausing for a moment of introspection, I must now abandon my dislike of the word 'updation' (coined, according to urban legend, in the burgeoning technical industries of India). If I don't, then I'll be guilty of hypocrisy in the extreme by using words like 'confustion', and indeed going on to invent more new ones. Like this, for example: Fallacio: The unfortunately mistaken act of orally stimulating the wrong gentleman's wedding tackle.

Right, well, I appear to have been rabbiting on for a considerable time, and I want to get back to the book now‚ there's only a couple of hours until we land, and I wanna find out how it ends before we get to San Fransisco.

Time and weather permitting, I shall commit further offences against the written word whilst on my Californian odyssey. I'll bet you just can't wait, can you?

[1] Bill Bryson: Shakespeare. Wonder how long it took him to think THAT title up?


Meg Bear said...

I also like Bryson although that one about the history of the world bored me to tears.

Codger said...

My dear chap,

I know you are currently in the land of fruits, nuts and flakes, but reading this latest missive I'm wondering if the fog that normally settles on those parts didn't have some "added" ingredient?

Either that or you've been sniffing your box again!