By Charles Matthews

Sunday, November 27, 2011

4. The Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips, pp. 74-96


Dana's insistence on her anti-Stratfordian theory begins to wane, but she continues to believe that The Tragedy of Arthur is a genuine Elizabethan play by Shakespeare, whoever he may have been. Arthur posits "that the authenticity of Arthur was tightly bound in Dana's subconscious to the authenticity of her father's love for her."

Their father was released on parole in March of 1986, their senior year, but he violated the terms of his parole by attending Dana's graduation ceremony at Brown. He was arrested for it, and therefore missed Arthur's graduation. Her obsession with the idea of the wager between the Earl of Oxford and Feivel-Phillips had led her to believe it was genuine, and that "she would inherit $9 million in 2014." When she realized that her father "had no congratulations or legacy to present, no key to a hidden world of elite secrets," she had a breakdown, but had recovered from it when she went to live with Arthur in New York that fall.
Unlike other anti-Stratfordians, once her initial psychological splinter was tweezed out, she let the whole stupid thing go. She came out of it where she began and gave Shakespeare back his life's work (and gave her father back a loving, wiser daughter). She still loved the plays.... She was converted by the fire of her experience into a lover of works, not authors.
Arthur goes to work in advertising, and Dana works as a waitress and in other odd jobs, trying to become a stage actress. 


Arthur Sr. serves six months for his parole violation, but when he is released in December 1986, Ted Constantine has him arrested on a new charge. Arthur flies to Minneapolis for the hearing, but Dana has "won the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in an off-Broadway children's theater production of The Wizard of Oz and didn't dare give her understudy an opportunity to bump her off."

Unfortunately, his father grows truculent with his public defender and quarrelsome with Arthur himself, contending that Arthur is wasting his life in advertising. Frustrated and offended, Arthur returns to New York. His father is convicted of the crime -- forging New York state lottery tickets -- and because Minnesota has introduced mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders is sent to prison, not to be released until 2009.

Back in New York, Arthur gets drunk with Dana and a girlfriend, and wakes up with a terrible pain in his crotch: He has had his penis tattooed.
I healed, and the result became clear (though only under certain conditions). Then it produces the effect of a sort of stylized medieval scepter (admittedly for a tiny king) inscribed with a regal motto of sovereignty -- Arthur Rex -- although a jester's belled baton has been occasionally cited by select viewers. 


Dana's play ends its run, and she goes to Minnesota to see her father. While she is there, their stepfather, Sil, is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Arthur flies out to see him, and struck by the mess he has made of his relationship with his actual father, tries to show affection for Sil, who he is convinced is going to die. "I told him that I loved him. He laughed for a while and nodded. And lived for another twenty-two years."

Then he goes to see his father in prison and says, "I think you're in here because of me, and I'm sorry." But his father assures him, "I put myself in here. Nothing you could have done or said could have stopped that." He tells his mother that he's moving back to Minneapolis, but she tells him to go back to New York and look after his sister instead. "And so I flew back to New York with Dana, decided -- in my next swing -- that I was irrelevant to them all, and that was okay, if I could just be a man about it." So he tries writing short stories about his relationship with his family members but "the stories always sucked."

He notes, in summarizing Act III, "After Arthur marries,one of his many abandoned loves finds comfort with a kindly shepherd named Silvius, willing to marry Arthur's sloppy seconds. This is more than the most lenient statistician can bear."


Dana is cast as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet in New Jersey, and Arthur goes to watch a rehearsal in which the Gertrude and the Claudius argue about the motivation behind Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death. Arthur observes that Shakespeare never indicates the way a line should be read. "This is, I believe, one of the reasons Shakespeare continues to be popular: he offers directors a share of credit, lets them add their two cents. It also makes actors and directors responsible for justifying weakness in the plays."

Later, he argues this point with Dana, saying, "That's why we keep going back to [Shakespeare] for the ten billionth production of this lame play.... You all talk it out until you make it make sense for him. He wrote it, so it must be right." But Dana accuses him of attacking Shakespeare when he's really mad at his father: "You've so conflated him with his favorite writer that you want to punish one by taking shots at the other." He retorts that she is "part of a vast, unconscious conspiracy of enablers, all of whom operate without central control but to the same end: to make a man who died four centuries ago into a god."

Arthur approvingly notes Samuel Pepys's judgment that Romeo and Juliet was "the worst [play] that ever I heard in my life." And that in 1850, "before the Shakespeare-industrial complex had crushed our spirit," Herman Melville dismissed the "absolute and unconditional admiration of Shakespeare" as one of "our Anglo-Saxon superstitions," and unworthy of Americans. "I liked Moby-Dick until I read that quote. Now I love Moby-Dick."

But it soon becomes apparent that this resentment of Shakespeare is founded in Arthur's sense that he isn't playing on a level field with Shakespeare. He claims, "If it didn't have his name on it, half his work would be booed off the stage, dismissed by critics as stumbling, run out of print." By contrast, he cites the harsh dismissal by a "blogger" of a work of his own (and of the actual Arthur Phillips), The Egyptologist. By contrast, Shakespeare is "let off easy all the time."

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