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Oxford Shakespeare yarn is no myth
Buy this photo » Professor Laurie Maguire, left, and Dr Emma Smith at the Painted Room
TWO Shakespeare ‘mythbusters’ have refused to debunk an old Oxford yarn about the author’s “stay in a hotel room” above a city bookmakers.
Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith have laid to rest most of the nation’s cherished stories about our legendary playwright in their new book 30 Great Myths About Shakespeare.
But during a trip to the Painted Room – the hidden Elizabethan treasure in the heart of modern Oxford – they were in no mood to rule out the hotel tale.
“It is exactly the kind of inn he would have stayed at,” said Oxford University Professor of English Ms Maguire as she prepared for her talk in the Divinity Schools at the city literary festival last week.
The story goes that Shakespeare stopped off at Oxford’s Crown Tavern on the way home from London to Stratford to enjoy the hospitality of his friend John Davenant, vintner and Mayor of Oxford.
He is reputed to have stayed in the room above what is now a bookies on Cornmarket.
Between them, Ms Maguire and Hertford College don Ms Smith have carved a reputation for their quest to discover the “real” Shakespeare.
Myths abound about the playwright in part because of half-remembered or out-of-date scholarship and because, they argue, Shakespeare is such an elusive and charismatic cultural property.
Some of the more persistent myths – Shakespeare was not well educated, uninterested in having his plays printed, wrote politically incorrect plays and hated his wife – are exploded with ease.
But the pair have also made some major findings of their own, which could help change the way the world views Shakespeare.
Prof Maguire said: “We did not want it to be a question of dealing with the myths that crop up in most biographies. It is just there is a body of assumed knowledge that has grown up around Shakespeare, like the idea that Queen Elizabeth loved his work.”
One of the most enduring myths to be nailed – that the Earl of Oxford wrote ‘Shakespeare’– is that we don’t know much about his life.
“The records are not scant. It’s just that what there is doesn’t tell use what we want to know,” explained Prof Maguire.
“So we know about his property inheritance and investments but not his attitude to his children, why he spent so much time in London, and did he return home regularly?
“The documentary evidence suggests a personality less nice than the persona from the plays.”
- 30 Great Myths About Shakespeare is published by Wiley-Blackwell