Šekspīrs bija latvietis
22.04.2014

The Truth About William

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Šis stāsts piedalās interneta žurnāla Satori.lv organizētajā literāro leģendu konkursā "Šekspīrs bija latvietis", kas tiek veidots sadarbībā ar Britu padomi Latvijā un NORVIK Banku, Viljama Šekspīra 450. jubilejas gada ietvaros.

Visas desmit Satori.lv publicētās leģendas par Šekspīru piedalās lasītāju balsojumā, tāpēc ikviens ir aicināts balsot par savu mīļāko stāstu, spiežot "Patīk" pogu konkrētās publikācijas atvērumā.

 

(Not to be published until after my death. Copies to be sent to the University of Latvia, Oxford University, Harvard University and the board of Satori)

It gives me no particular pleasure to rip apart the fabric of my homeland's culture, but as destiny seems to have chosen me specifically to bear witness to one incontrovertible fact, how could I refuse? As the poet said: "What fates impose, that men must needs abide".

For the truth of it is this: Shakespeare belongs to Latvia as much as he does to England. He was born and died in England and there he achieved his mysterious form of (mostly posthumous) fame, but I do not feel it is overstating the case to say Shakespeare was a Latvian – rather, as close as we can get to the idea of a Latvian at the time during which he moved on the surface of this planet.

The circumstances by which I came to this discovery are unremarkable. I have always loved the written word as a reader but I am no writer. I made a living in the unpoetical world of finance, specialising in cleaning up debt-mired or nationalised banks. A passion for theatre in the evenings and a good book at bedtime is a natural response to having to move in such unimaginative circles through the day.

My expertise took me across Europe and with the coming of the most recent financial crisis I found myself in Latvia, employing my well-worn methods to return money to the taxpayer after various frauds and incompetencies had seen a major bank collapse in questionable circumstances.

I grew to like the place and  learned a little of the language and history to fill my weekends. But in a business in which discretion and secrecy are basic requirements I disliked the frequency with which press and officials would spot me having confidential meetings with bank debtors or creditors in Riga. These meetings were simply part of the business – trying to persuade people to pay up or rein back on their demands – but were always quite erroneously attributed to shady practices with the clear insinuation that I was trying to line my own pockets.

Consequently I bought a house in the country. I had intended only to rent but when the owner offered it to me at what seemed a very reasonable price, I accepted with little hesitation, expecting to sell it on for a profit in a couple of years. Located about 100 kilometres from Riga near Cesis, it was, the seller proudly told me, an old manor house built on even older foundations and over the centuries the site had been the home to various nobles of Polish, Swedish and German ancestry.

That all had its appeal, I suppose, but what interested me more was the complete privacy and silence the place gave to me. I could walk around the pond talking as loudly as I wished on my mobile. Contacts and acquaintances could visit and deals would be done for hundreds of thousands as we sipped tea on the terrace far, quicker than any arrangement could have been made if conducted in whispers inside an expensive Riga restaurant.

It felt like a place where secrets could be safely kept. Even when a team of investigative journalists attempted to 'doorstep' me at my new home, they ended up lounging on picnic rugs and admitting to me that their editors had decided to interrupt my solitude more from hope than expectation of a scoop.

It was a large house and much work needed to be done to make it more comfortable and practical. Even though it seemed my work with the bank was coming to an end and I might soon depart to repeat my financial first aid in another country I decided to keep it as a base to which I could always retreat for solitude and clarity of thought.

There was always some small group of workers improving the water supply or the electricity, making the doors more secure or fixing cracked tiles in the roof. I decided it was time for the damp and dusty vaulted cellar to be turned into something worthy of storing wine, so I hired a gang to flatten and concrete the floor, repoint the brickwork and install a climate control system – which turned out to be more useful that I could ever have suspected bearing in mind subsequent events.

I was upstairs talking to a gentleman attempting to headhunt me on behalf of the Banco Commerciale di Venezia when I smelled the coarse cigarette smoke I had come to associate with the foreman overseeing the cellar renovation. I went to the window from which I could see him talking to his workers on the steps which led down to the shadowy basement of the house. It was difficult to ascertain exactly what they were discussing. There was a lot of gesticulating and head-scratching.

The foreman noticed me watching and waved me down to look. It seemed it might be important so I told the headhunter to call back later and descended the steps down which which the workers had already disappeared. I wondered how much their latest discovery would cost me.

What it cost me was my destiny. From the day this letter is read I will no longer be known as a highly competent banker but as something else – something more important but not entirely pleasant in the eyes of many. I will be known as the man who stole Shakespeare from the English.

Before I tell you the final and decisive part of my testimony, here are a few facts to consider. Shakespeare is commonly agreed to have been born in Warwickshire 1564. Little is known about his childhood and the next important record of him does not appear until 1582 when he married Anne Hathaway. It is generally assumed he attended school in England but there is no proof of this.

In 1576, when William was 12, Shakespeare's father was financially ruined. He was charged with various offences involving selling wool on the black market - commodity fraud and insider dealing, in a way. Supporting a family would have been difficult.

Meanwhile, modern-day Latvia was caught up in the Livonian War. In 1577 and 1578 a series of battles raged for control of Cesis, then known by its German name of Wenden. Magnus, the rebellious 'King' of Livonia, Sweden's John III and Poland's politician supreme Stefan Bathory all fought for control against that proto-dictator Ivan the Terrible. It was a situation in which all the power, diplomacy and brutality of the age was evident. Mercenaries from across Europe are known to have participated. It would have provided quite an education to any intelligent teenager.

I cannot prove that the young Shakespeare served as a squire or camp follower, that he spent his formative years in Livonia and acquired mastery of the language in much the same way that Conrad conquered English while serving as a sailor in the Merchant Navy. I cannot prove William's first love was a Latvian Juliet, that his young ears pricked up as he heard soldiers talking on the eve of battle, that he noted how generals plotted their campaigns or how ambassadors weaved their words of flattery and threat. Between 1585 and 1592, Shakespeare again disappears from records. I cannot prove he returned to a Livonia.

Scholars agree that by 1591 he had already produced works of such political sophistication as Henry VI parts one and two and the brutality of Titus Andronicus. Let us also remember that the start of his very first play, Two Gentlemen of Verona, is a scene in which a young man prepares to set out from home and see the world to educate himself saying: "I rather would entreat thy company/To see the wonders of the world abroad/Than, living dully sluggardized at home/Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness. "

By this point, I imagine you have already written me off as another crank peddling a fantasy about the 'true' identity of Shakespeare that is even more tenuous than the well-trodden claims of Bacon, Marlowe, Oxford and the rest. Therefore I ask you not to believe me but to perform the necessary forensic examinations.

In the basement of my house, in a small, iron-bound chest is a tin box. Inside the box is a linen sack. Inside the sack is a piece of cotton in dark red and white measuring 80 centimetres by 40 centimetres. It is the flag of Latvia wrapped around a rectangular object weighing 4 kilos. The protective layers are of my own design.

I invite you to unwrap the contents with the greatest of care and see truth manifest before you: a roughly-bound, hand-written collection of papers dated 1587 but unsigned. There are a few experiments with poetry, some sonnets with strangely familiar phrasing and many pages of unattributed dialogue, rather like a reporter's notes.

There is also what appears to be the complete text of a play. But the most remarkable fact is that all of this verse and drama is written not in English, not even in the German of the Baltic aristocracy or the Latin of the learned ecclesiastical classes but in demotic Latvian language using the German spelling conventions of the time! Its title can be translated as: "The Two Gentlemen of Wenden."

Naturally you will assume it is a forgery. Your experts can ascertain otherwise by examining the chemical composition of the paper and ink, the style of binding and so on. Perhaps there are even other, literal, fingerprints. That is the only proof the world will accept, I know, but to me the greatest proof lies elsewhere, partly in this very letter you are reading now. I send it to you in English, not Latvian, for which I apologise. How could an emigrant to Latvia, possessing only the most rudimentary grasp of the ancient Latvian language, convert the works of Shakespeare into a form of language that never officially existed? That would truly be a miracle even greater than the one I have just outlined to you.

BEIGAS

 

Miks Koljērs

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