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Open Drama Night

Last night at the Drama Barn's Open Drama Night, the Drama Society showcased two student-written plays back-to-back: Just Kids by Thomas Meerstadt and The Name of the Power that Moves You by Hamish Todd

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Just Kids
Written and Directed by Thomas Meerstadt
Venue: The Drama Barn
Running: 23rd May 2011 Only
Rating: ***

The Name of the Power that Moves You
Written and Directed by Hamish Todd
Produced by Sam Partridge
Venue: The Drama Barn
Running: 23rd May 2011 Only
Rating: *****

Last night at the Drama Barn's Open Drama Night, the Drama Society showcased two student-written plays back-to-back: Just Kids by Thomas Meerstadt and The Name of the Power that Moves You by Hamish Todd. Two very different plays, both stylistically and in genre; I wish to talk about them separately for neither warrant comparison with the other.

Thomas Meerstadt's Just Kids told the dark story of two friends' high school secret, as a series of monologues and duologues conveying the reminisces of childhood from these two very different individuals. Dan Chatfield played the character of John superbly, tackling lengthy monologues with emotion that reflected a quiet man slowly encapsulated by guilt. The character of James, played by Mike Owen, offered a stark contrast in character, being a carefree, ostentatious man. In scenes they shared, the two characters had a good dynamic. Simple staging and clever lighting effects enabled the creation of contrasting scenes: some of an eerie and troubled atmosphere as John battled with his memories of the death of a former lover, others of a more humorous nature as John met old school acquaintances. Chatfield's clever asides were playful in manner, which offered a light relief from the darkness of the play. In true ODN style, the play engaged with a reflection on morality and the darkness of human nature, for the character of James wished to leave memories of the past behind whilst John was steeped in guilt and unable to forget. The title Just Kids plays on the theme of innocence as you are left reflecting on whether childhood games can really leave everyone blameless.

In attempting to review Hamish Todd's The Name of the Power that Moves You, I am afraid my words will not do it justice. An ambassador for student theatre, this short play steps outside the expectations of student productions and offers us a sharp, intellectual, genius of a play which I would have no qualms paying for at the York Theatre Royal; in fact, it rather supersedes what I have seen at the Theatre Royal. A Brechtian style piece, based on a lecture Todd received by Brian Moriarty, the play explores the history or rather the historiography surrounding the issue of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Hamish Todd casts this production perfectly, with a wide range of characters who are believable, entertaining yet educational, each performing their role to the highest of standards whilst aided by thoughtful choice of costume. Mark Williams plays the narrator James Wilmot in a rather Jude Law-esque manner - charming, intelligent and often amusing - who introduces us to the various participants throughout history. From Francis Bacon to Olivia Serres, and from Queen Elizabeth to Ignatius Donnelly, the play tracks the history of scepticism, educating us in the various anagrams, coincidences and amusing anecdotes that people have concocted in their attempts to prove that Shakespeare cannot claim authorship over the plays. However, the narrator closes the play with a reminder that this question is somewhat irrelevant. Although one will always be curious about the man behind the plays, surely the emotions they provoke and the intellect they inspire far outweigh any question of authorship. On speaking to the director after the show, he revealed the motivation behind his play: that is, the upcoming movie Anonymous by Roland Emmerich, which he terms an "oil spill" of a movie. Overall, a very intelligent and thought-provoking thirty-minute production that proves the importance of academic intellect within amateur dramatics. It was a shame that this production was a one-night performance, but it has shown Hamish Todd's future work deserves to be followed closely.

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Howard Schumann Posted on Tuesday 24 May 2011

Contrary to the play, knowing the true author of the Shakespeare canon would increase our knowledge of the plays and Sonnets 100%. Interpreters of these works are now operating in the dark with nothing to go on.

As far as characterizing the Roland Emmerich film as an "oil spill" of a movie (whatever that means), it is nice that the playwright has so much insight into a film that won't be released until September. How much credence would you give to a review by a film critic that has not seen the movie he is writing about?


Head-holder Posted on Wednesday 25 May 2011

What? Are you joking? Whilst I thought that 'The Name of the Power that Moves You' was both an engaging and thought-provoking play, I also thought that 'Just Kids' was the biggest load of tripe I've ever seen. The script was a mangled mess, as was the story. The fact that the play's climax was spent with one of the two characters shouting in a (seemingly abandoned) restaurant without him being kicked out for violent behaviour is one such flaw. The acting itself just made me feel embarrassed. Dan Chatfield delivered his lines with as much fluidity as that of constipation, having a habit to say the first few words of a 'shout-y' line with volume, and then immediately swallow all emotion and temper.

Oh my word, it was bad.


Hamish Todd Posted on Thursday 26 May 2011

Hey Howard!

I can definitely understand why you'd be uneasy accepting my judgement about a film I have not seen. I'll just give you the facts:

The film is based on the "Prince Tudor II" theory of Shakespeare's identity. This theory states that Shakespeare was the illegitimate son of queen Elizabeth, and then went on to become her illicit lover, and then they had a kid. You can read about it here:

The "theory" is based on what is objectively a load of complete garbage, but Roland Emmerich buys into it because he thinks it's cool. By the way, Emmerich made "Eight Legged Freaks", "Independence Day", "Godzilla" and "10,000 BC". 10,000 BC was based on another "historical theory" that was cooked up by Ignatius Donnelly, the same madman who originally proposed the Prince Tudor theory.

Can a completely historically inaccurate film be good? I'm sure it can. But this one has some very, very sinister motives. After spending a while reading about the Shakespeare authorship problem, the conclusion I've drawn is that when we allow our instinct for embellishment to get out of control... people can actually get hurt. The truth can be distorted, just because a couple of people wanted to have some fun writing an alternative history. We all want to *know* Shakespeare, but we may have to come to terms with the possibility that we never can.

This film is going to exploit our desire to know Shakespeare, and it's going to have a distorting and stupid impact on the intellectual landscape of the places it will be shown. I suspect that not many people will like it as entertainment (I just look at Emmerich's track record... though I guess you never know!), but regardless of that, they will be moved to talk about the Shakespeare Authorship Problem. People will write stupid articles and have stupid conversations at dinner parties. There will be damage done to the image of Shakespeare in the public consciousness.

By the way I do agree that knowing more about the man would increase our knowledge. It would be lovely to know more about him. But I disagree that it would increase our knowledge 100%. Sorry to be pernickety, but the hideous fact is that people have gone so, so far beyond what they ever should have, trying to work out more stuff.

One last thing! For anyone who is interested, the lecture my play was based on is available here: And, of course, thank you for this lovely review :) I don't think my play was all THAT good, but it's wonderful to think that someone felt that way.


Howard Schumann Posted on Thursday 2 Jun 2011

Your information about both the Prince Tudor Theory and the Shakespeare Authorship debate leaves a great deal to be desired. How many books have you actually read on the subject?

Have you read "Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography" by Diana Price? What about "Shakespeare by Another Name" by Mark Anderson, or how about "Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom" by Charles Beauclerk, a brilliant book making a plausible case for the possible incestuous relationship between Oxford and Elizabeth based on a precise and detailed reading of the plays?

Have you read the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt signed by over 2,000 people from all walks of life including 366 academics?

For your information, the Prince Tudor theory had nothing to do with Ignatius Donnelly. In relation to Oxford, it was first promoted by Percy Allen and Bernard Ward in their 1934 book, "Anne Cecil, Elizabeth and Oxford." Since then it has been taken up by Charlton Ogburn, Paul Streitz, Charles Beauclerk, Hank Whittemore, and Elizabeth Sears among others.

Before spouting off about how something is garbage, I suggest you inform yourself about the evidence both for and against.


Hamish Todd Posted on Saturday 4 Jun 2011

Forgive me for patronizing you.

I wouldn't claim to be an expert in this field, but I know a thing or two, and I did actually point out in the play that there are some intelligent people who express doubt about Shakespeare's authorship. I'm a big fan of some of these people (Orson Welles and Kenneth Branagh!). Brunel university now has an entire Bachelor's in the subject.

I apologise for my honest mistake with regard to the Donnelly-prince tudor connection. I do recall reading somewhere that Emmerich got interested in Prince Tudor II via Donnelly though.

I think that with all this stuff it is worth being very careful about what you believe; this applies to the conventional reading of Shakespeare's life just as much as any other. Personally I am a Stratfordian but I can completely understand someone taking an agnostic position on it all; what I warn in my play is the fact that we have a certain bias toward believing romantic things. The fact that they seem plausible is not the same thing as there being evidence in their favor.

I would hope you could agree with me about this, in isolation. I'm sure you're aware of the large amount of other, conflicting theories, which can all sound plausible too! In times of weakness, the Marlowe theory appeals to me somewhat.

I don't take the authors you've listed there very seriously, and I don't think very many academics do. It's highly tenuous to base historical propositions on specific readings of the plays. Drawing inspiration from one's own life was not a tradition before the romantics came along. There's not much reason to think Shakespeare would do it, unless there is something we wish to impose onto him.

It's perfectly understandable why people want to try and get some feeling for Shakespeare's life out of his work - he's very interesting! And what he writes is so rich. But we risk harming him when we attribute too much, and the Prince Tudor II theory strikes me as something we should treat with slow consideration.

It's an extraordinarily powerful thought - Elizabeth and Shakespeare, two of the most important people of the millenium! Mother and Son! Lovers! Parents! What an amazing bearing such a story would have on history, psychology, royalty, and of course Shakespeare studies!

And what an insult it would be if it were false. Elizabeth, virginal and so, so powerful. Shakespeare, intelligent and seemingly so intent on producing divine works. We should speak of these people in hushed tones, only daring to assert anything about them if we have concrete evidence. And there is so little concrete evidence about Shakespeare, and so little reason for there to be any.

Prince Tudor II is rather a minority opinion among anti-Stratfordians, or even among Oxfordians. The film seems to me to be the ultimate testament to its seductiveness. I don't think we have enough evidence to allow ourselves to accept it, because it is quite a horrifying claim regardless of whether it is true.

I leave you with this interesting interview with James Sharpio: He is not unsympathetic toward you.


Voice of Reason Posted on Saturday 4 Jun 2011

Surely it is irrelevant who the 'real' Shakespeare truly was? The value of his work comes from the meaning we as we readers/viewers get from it, not the sordid details of the historical person's life.


Hamish Todd Posted on Saturday 4 Jun 2011

^^^ Yes! But you've got to admit it would feel good to know the sordid details of his life.


Howard Schumann Posted on Saturday 4 Jun 2011

I think Shapiro has done a grave disservice to students discovering literature for the first time and reading that early works of poetry and drama were not autobiographical. Every author writes from his experience, from what he has gone through in life. Shakespeare's work, especially the Sonnets are full of passion and pain, full of love and full of grief. I would sooner believe that the Psalms of David were a literary exercise than believe that about the Sonnets.

I know that academics including Shapiro take a jaundiced view of the authorship attribution to Oxford, but why would we expect anything different. They have based their entire careers promoting the orthodox viewpoint. Unless forced to by an incontrovertible "smoking gun", they will defend their position to the bitter end.

Having said that, there are some independent thinkers in some English departments including Dr. Delahoyde at Washington State and Dr. Wright at Concordia. In any event, it is important not to look for the so-called experts to shape your views but to examine the issues and think for yourself.

You say your not fond of the authors I mentioned. Does that mean you have read their books or are swayed by some Stratfordians? If that is the case, you owe it to yourself to examine the issues raised by these books. I have known these authors for many years and can vouch for the depth of their scholarship and the integrity of their ideas.

To Voice of Reason - "Biography means a man's life matters. It matters who Shakespeare is because it matters who we are. Every moment" - Sarah Smith


Hamish Todd Posted on Sunday 5 Jun 2011

Heh. I know about Psalm 46 too.

It would be wonderful if there was some huge puzzle that we could dilligently and indisputably put together about Shakespeare's life. We could spend our lives decoding and discussing it. Orville Owen did this, and on his deathbed he warned us against it.

Expressing oneself is not the same as reconstructing one's own life. It is not diminishing to Shakespeare's work to say it was not all about him. To me, it suggests that aside from being the cleverest man who ever lived, he was also very humble, which is a beautiful thought (but I must not think it, as that would be a thought about the man, rather than the work!). Great art does not have to be about the artist themselves - is Chartes cathedrale? Is the Magic Flute? Is Beowulf? In each of these cases, we might say "Well yes, a little bit..." but we do not let ourselves get carried away with this.

In your condemning of the academics who stand against you, I see suggestions of laziness and conspiracy. I beg you to reconsider your perspective on these people.

Sympathize, for example, with the dilemma they are presented with when they see the diversity of thought within the anti-Stratfordian field - or even simply within the Oxfordian field! Almost everyone varies the story behind the author they propose. And absolutely everyone proposes that theirs is the one true perspective! There's a lovely feature on Shakespeare studies here: Though its mention of the authorship problem does not even begin to explore it properly, I hope you can understand the incredulity that these scholars have.


Howard Schumann Posted on Monday 6 Jun 2011

Sorry, I do not look to authority to do my thinking for me. If you have studied history you will see all of the times when any new ideas that threatened the status quo were opposed by orthodox institutions such as the academies and the church.

I think the most important thing is not to cite authority but to analyze the issues which apparently you are unwilling to do. Here are some key ones.

1. Look at what the Sonnets are telling us.

The Sonnets are written by a man who is clearly much older than William of Stratford. Conventional chronology dates the sonnets to between 1592 and 1596. At this time, William of Stratford would have been in his late twenties and early thirties (Oxford was 14 years older). Even if we up the date to 1599, William of Stratford was still in his thirties.

The sonnets tell us that the poet was in his declining years when writing them. He was "Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity," "With Time's injurious hand crushed and o'er worn", in the "twilight of life". He is lamenting "all those friends" who have died, "my lovers gone". His is "That time of year/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs that shake against the cold."

The sonnets that most contradict Will of Stratford's life story are those about shame and disgrace to name and reputation. Here Shakespeare's biographers have nothing to go on.

2. The plays focus on issues related to the aristocracy.

Of the 37 plays, 36 are laid in royal courts and the world of the nobility. The principal characters are almost all aristocrats with the exception perhaps of Shylock and Falstaff. From all we can tell, Shakespeare fully shared the outlook of his characters, identifying fully with the courtesies, chivalries, and generosity of aristocratic life. Lower class characters in Shakespeare are almost all introduced for comic effect and given little development. Their names are indicative of their worth: Snug, Stout, Starveling, Dogberry, Simple, Mouldy, Wart, Feeble, etc.

The history plays are concerned mostly with the consolidation and maintenance of royal power and are concerned with righting the wrongs that fall on people of high blood. His comedies are far removed from the practicalities of everyday life or the realistic need to make a living. Shakespeare's vision is a deeply conservative, feudalistic and aristocratic one.

3. The plays used sources that were untranslated into English at the time of composition.

For example:

Francois de Belleforest Histories tragiques
Ser Giovanni Fioranetino's Il Pecorone
Epitia and Hecatommithi
Luigi da Porto's Romeus and Juliet (Italian)
Jorge de Montemayor's Diana (Spanish)

Shakespeare's reliance on books in foreign languages puzzles the experts, so we can suppose all sorts of things rather than conclude the obvious. If the man who was Shakespeare regularly relied on books not yet translated from Italian, French, and Spanish, then he must have been able to read in Italian, French, and Spanish. We know specifically that Oxford was fluent in four foreign languages, Latin, Greek, Italian, and French.

4. Oxford's connection to the plays. This has been demonstrated to be more than coincidence. One of the main arguments is the play "All's Well That Ends Well".

Oxford became a ward of court in Lord Burghley's household at the age of twelve. Oxford left his widowed mother to become a royal ward.

Bertram left his widowed mother to become a royal ward.

Oxford's guardian's daughter fell in love with him and wanted to be married.

Bertram's foster-sister fell in love with him and wanted to be married.

Oxford was of more noble birth than Anne and did not favor marriage.

Bertram argued he was of too high birth for marriage.

Following an ailment, marriage was agreed and the Queen consented to Oxford's marriage.

Following an illness, the King consented to the marriage.

The wedding was at first postponed, no reason was given.

Bertram attempted to change the King's mind regarding his marriage.

After the wedding, Oxford suddenly left the country.

After the wedding, Bertram suddenly left the country.

A reconciliation between Oxford and Anne is contrived by switching his bed companion for his wife. As a result, a son is born. Confirmation of this reconciliation appears in The Histories of Essex by Morant and Wright: 1836.

A reconciliation between Bertram and Helena is contrived by switching his bed companion for his wife. As a result, a son is born.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Look at the issues, not swallow whole the put downs by those defending the status quo.


Hamish Todd Posted on Monday 6 Jun 2011

Now you're patronizing me. Like I say, I sympathize with anti-Stratfordianism. I just believe that the arguments put forward for the other proponents are overexcited.

To be brutally honest, I don't want to debate you (I think this mostly goes back to the probability that an Elizabethan dramatist would draw inspiration from his own life story). I know that, to you, this is evidence of blindness and laziness in me. It's just that I know the history of all this. I know how many of you guys have wasted your careers and your (often very proficient!) brains on this issue. I know about the libraries of anti-Stratfordian literature. I know about the cryptographers and the guys who dig up people's graves looking for manuscripts. I know about poor Delia Bacon and sad Arnesburg.

Feel free to disassociate yourself from a lot of them, but put yourself in my position. To me you're not dissimilar from a 9/11 truther, or a climate skeptic. There is a very definite appeal to believing what you do, an appeal that does not necessarily have anything to do with any evidence in its favour.

It's great fun playing the detective, rising above the people who unthinkingly accept what they are told - but it is an enjoyment we ought to be wary of. There is the possibility of forgetting about the beauty and wisdom that we truly read Shakespeare for. And there is the possibility of being morbidly wrong, which we see played out every day among the different proponents of Shakespeare authors.


Howard Schumann Posted on Tuesday 7 Jun 2011

Knowing the true author of the Shakespeare canon would not only not harm the beauty and wisdom of the works but would enhance our understanding of the meaning and implications of them. Otherwise, they are just disembodied work without a human being attached to them.

You say that the appeal of anti-Stratfordians has nothing to do with evidence. Sorry, it has everything to do with evidence. All evidence is circumstantial on each side but the weight of the evidence leans strongly in favor of Oxford.

I have outlined some of the evidence above but you have chosen to ignore it. Do you not have an answer for any of the above points? Do you think that the obvious parallels I described in "All's Well That Ends Well" was a coincidence? You say you know the history of this. Well, guess what, the history is important only to those who refuse to deal with the evidence and would rather discuss the alleged psychological aberrations of those past writers who held a minority position.

You compare me to a 9/11 truther or a "climate skeptic" whatever that may mean. Are you now denying the obvious fact of global warming? Why don't you also accuse me of being a holocaust denier, anything to escape dealing with the issues.

If you are so certain of your point of view, please address the following 13 questions in a way that will not defy logic and common sense.

1. The Sonnets were published in 1609 bearing the most personal and intimate details of a man's life. At a time when the author was allegedly still alive, he offered no dedication, took no part in its publication nor did he attempt to stop publication. What is your explanation for this? Saying that it was all a literary exercise is not credible. That is obvious to anyone who has read them.

2. The dedication to the Sonnets is written to our "ever-living author", a tribute almost always reserved for someone who is no longer alive. Please explain?

3. In Sonnet #125, the author claims to have "borne the canopy". This refers to carrying the canopy over royalty during a procession. Oxford was known to have done this on several occasions. A commoner such as Shaksper would not have been allowed within 1000 feet of the monarchs. Please explain.

4. The first 100 or so verses of the sonnets entreat a fair young man to marry. Scholars agree that the fair young man refers to Henry Wriotheseley, the 3rd Earl of Southhampton. No commoner such as Shaksper of Stratford would be allowed to address an Earl in such a manner. Please explain.

5. Shakespeare without question was one of the greatest if not the greatest writer in the English language, yet his daughters were illiterate. How is this possible?

6. None of Shaksper's relatives from Stratford ever claimed that their relative was the famous author. Explain.

7. Dr. Hall was the husband of Susan Shaksper, daughter of William. In his journals he refers to famous men he knew, yet never once mentions his wife's illustrious father. Please explain.

8. The sonnets are widely accepted to have been written in the early 1590s at a time when the man from Stratford would have been in his late twenties, yet his sonnets tell us that the poet was lame and in his declining years when writing them. Please explain.

9. The sonnets that most contradict Will of Stratford's life story are those about shame and disgrace to name and reputation. The sonnets talk about a man who was in disgrace from fortune and men's eyes. What is there in the life of the man from Stratford that would have disgraced him?

10. Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey were literary pamphleteers who wrote about the most prominent literary figures of the day and have many references to the Earl of Oxford, yet are strangely silent on any writer named Shakespeare. Why?

11. After two successful poems were published under the name of Shakespeare (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece), all the plays were published anonymously for five years until 1598 when William Cecil died. Is there some cause and effect?

12. At the height of his popularity, Shaksper retired to Stratford and bought property. It is widely agreed that many of his latter works were collaborations. Why would the greatest author in the language suddenly turn away from his profession, become a wealthy landowner and entrust the completion of his work to lesser writers?

13. Many of the known sources for the plays were books in Italian, French, and Spanish that were untranslated at the time. There is no evidence that Shakspere could read any language other than English and there is even some question whether or not he was literate since nothing of his writing remains. There is no literary paper trail of any sort. While Oxford was fluent in those languages, what is there in the known background of the man from Stratford that could explain this knowledge?


Hamish Todd Posted on Wednesday 8 Jun 2011

I am trying to express an instinct - one that exists in me as well as you. I would like to see that you understand it.

I do not deny climate change. A "climate skeptic" is a person who is skeptical about climate change.

Like 9/11 truthers and climate skeptics, you are a conspiracy theorist. This is not an insult. Vidal and Chomsky propose conspiracies, and like you they give evidence for their beliefs. But they demonstrate an awareness of the instinct I allude to above.

I did not say "the appeal of anti-Stratfordian[ism] has nothing to do with evidence". I said "the appeal of anti-Stratfordianism does not *necessarily* have anything to do with evidence".

I know that seems pedantic, but I was not saying what you think I was saying, and the difference between the two statements is the difference between wariness and ambivalence to the instinct I am talking about.

Simplistically phrased, the instinct is: we wish to turn the world into a puzzle that only we can solve. This instinct leads us to the most romantic perspectives, the most zealous rhetoric, the most shocking connections. It also moves us to shun authority and place small disputes at the center of the universe.

None of the above is always bad. It is just that, unchecked, it can be destructive. It is on this instinct that I blame most daft conspiracies. And I presume that you would join me when I blame on it the Marlowe and Bacon propositions, and the others that we see here

There is another way in which I believe you have misrepresented me. I am not certain of my viewpoint (Stratfordianism that is).

I am showing horrible disdain for your arguments by ignoring them. I wish that I didn't have to ignore them - I really and truly do. You have no reason to believe this, but I do have refutations for you! And citations, and histories, and witticisms, and statistical observations, and aesthetic judgements, and [more] soapboxing about human nature!

Sadly, I do have to ignore your arguments, if I want to avoid succumbing to the instinct I am outlining. It is a stupid situation that the world has lead us into. I don't want to leave you with nothing, so I point you here: They are in need of a kick up the arse, and I am sure you can provide.

Again, I'm sorry.


Howard Schumann Posted on Wednesday 8 Jun 2011

Thanks for engaging in the discussion and for your honesty. Unfortunately, today there is too much labeling of any dissent as being a "conspiracy theory". Naturally, people don't want to be called a "conspiracy nut" so they adhere to the conventional wisdom, even though they may have private doubts. This enforces conformity where there should be open and honest debate.

In the case of Shakespeare, there was no conspiracy, more like a cover-up engineered by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, King's Men to protect the source of their plays from an authoritarian government, the same government that put artists such as Ben Jonson in the Tower for their works, and are suspected to have had a hand in killing Marlowe.

In any event, in a democracy, people should be thinking critically and asking the hard questions to authority figures. Psychologizing and labeling dissenters with one epithet or another is a recipe for fascism.