To our ever-living playwright

Thursday was the day they celebrate William Shakespeare's birthday, and events again conspired to underscore the attention the world continues to heap upon things Shakespearean. The previous Saturday I saw a play about Shakespeare, and that Monday a talk on the authorship question. Both events drew big crowds.

All this for a guy who wrote with gross inaccuracy about dead kings, often in iambic pentameter, and whose life and work have been shrouded in mystery for four centuries.

I suspect if you added up the Shakespeare plays produced around the world, the economic impact of the tourism, the books, the scholarship, the movies and newspaper and magazine pieces, the sweatshirts and coffee mugs, Shakespeare must be the world's leading dead entrepreneur (Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein and John Lennon are no doubt doing well, and I'm not counting Jesus of Nazareth, who's mostly in a nonprofit category).

New York actor-writer Hank Whittemore presented "Shake-speare's Treason," an Oxfordian interpretation of the sonnets, Monday night at Carpenter Hall. His story is that the sonnets, those exquisite little mysteries, fall into place if you read them as being written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, to Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, and Queen Elizabeth.

Whittemore argues that Oxford not only wrote the plays of Shakespeare, a claim most literary experts reject, but that Southampton is the "fair youth" and Elizabeth the "dark lady" of the sonnets, and Southampton de Vere's son by Elizabeth. Which is why the sonnets were suppressed when they were published in 1609. Stifle that dismissive chuckle and check it out in "The Monument," a 900-page analysis (see or

"Equivocation," probably the most brilliant new play I've seen in years, shows that a drama can be wrong about almost everything and still be incandescent theater.

Cain assumes that Guilielmus Shakspere of Stratford-Upon-Avon wrote the plays, a belief that's at least open to question these days. See the "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" circulating under the signatures of Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. See the Wall Street Journal of April 16, in which Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says the evidence is that the Shakespeare canon was written by Edward de Vere.

"Equivocation" reprises the old theory that the Gunpowder Plot, in which provincial English Catholics planned to blow up King James I and Parliament in 1605, was a creation of Robert Cecil to frame the innocent. Cain also has Cecil accuse Shakespeare of never taking positions on the day's burning issues, of contriving to be all things to all men, of making a commercial buck as others struggled and died.

You don't assume characters speak for their playwrights (think of slippery old windbag Polonius on being true to yourself), but I think Cain speaks through Cecil.

But warts and all, "Equivocation" is smart and complex and darkly funny, and the white heat of its moral crisis never diminishes.

About that birthday thing. De Vere's was the 12th, and there's no evidence Guilielmus was born the 23rd. That's the traditional birthday of St. George, the dragon-slayer, and you know what they say. Some have greatness thrust upon them.

Call Bill Varble at 776-4478; e-mail

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