Charles Nevin: The Third Leader

Big Bill's year
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The Independent Online

McKellen's Lear, Stewart's Prospero, Dench as a musical merry wife of Windsor; Ninagawa's Titus Andronicus, Al-Bassam's Richard III: a feast of infinite variety and joys delighting in joys, Stratford the oyster and cynosure of all eyes.

Terrific. But it wouldn't be the Bard without some wintry discontent. Already, I sense alarums and furbish'd arms as factions clash over the canon on offer and the claims of Pericles (in), Edward III (out) and my own contender, Fair Em, the Miller's Daughter of Manchester (very far out).

And that's before pickets arrive on behalf of those top alternative authors, Bacon, Oxford, Marlowe and Derby. My favourite moment in this debate was at a lunch where the late Enoch Powell declared that the "Man of Stratford" could not have written the plays because of the paucity of contemporary accounts of him in society. To which Jeremy Deedes, displaying the grounded approach typical of his family, replied, "Well, I expect he was quite busy, writing all those plays."

But, as somebody said, the play's the thing. So what would a Stratford virgin conclude after a year and 37 plays? Probably that our love of life, fear of death, conceits and deceits, odd moments of nobility and battles with the worst of ourselves have never been better said. And, of course, as he put it, via Puck: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"