I’ve presented several somewhat unorthodox Marlowe-related papers at academic conferences over the last three years, but yesterday was my first appearance at the conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. Though I’m an old hand at presenting my work in public, and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of doing so (whether reading poetry or giving a talk), it was a strangely nerve-wracking event. The last time I felt so jittery in the run-up to speaking in public was at the Barbican ten years ago. In the delivery, I don’t suppose my nerves were obvious to anyone except myself, and the handful of people who spent the tea-break in the lecture hall, and watched me enter and leave three times to rearrange the laptop and notes on the lectern. Once I began, and the first joke got a laugh, it was easy to ride on the energy of an audience who were hoping to be entertained and engaged.
When I called home afterwards to report that I got plenty of laughs, my husband was worried. Like many, he assumes that such a gathering must be deeply earnest and everyone who presents imbued with a sense of their own rightness and everyone else’s wrongness. Well, one or two were. But generally there was an air of
enjoyment and playfulness, and Dr Bill Leahy’s hosting ensured a light atmosphere from the outset. My husband hadn’t seen my presentation, of course – I spare him such things, since he got bored of the subject of Shakespeare authorship in late 2005 (about 10 minutes after I started talking about it). As the last speaker of the day, and speaking to a broad-based audience, I had a duty to ensure the entertainment value of my talk was reasonably high.
As only those who saw the talk will appreciate, my approach to the authorship question is much less dogmatic than many people (including my husband) assume. I’ve seen my views misrepresented several times already, and no doubt this is only the start. I’ve seen it reported (in an academic journal) that “poet Ros Barber has become convinced that Christopher Marlowe wrote the plays we ascribe to Shakespeare”, which makes me sound like one of those fervent near-lunatics one side-steps at parties. Though I remember the passion of the personal conversation from which this statement arose, this was never the point I was making. My point has always simply been that the theory is not as ludicrous as it might at first seem, and that when we read the historical evidence through this particular framework: “look what happens”… “isn’t that interesting?”
For an example of one of my arguments, a small portion of yesterday’s Globe talk features as the most recent post on the Marlowe Shakespeare connection blog. You’re very welcome to visit there and read it. I would like to think it raises uncertainties rather than banging home convictions. The Shakespeare Authorship Question is very far from breaking through the academic taboo and attaining anything like respectability; even further away from becoming The Shakespeare Authorship Answer.