• Something weird happened to me this summer.  I read the Tragedy of Arthur, the fifth offering by novelist Arthur Phillips.  It’s a play; no, an introduction to a play; no, a faux memoir, except that’s not entirely accurate either.  Whatever it is, it’s hard to pin down.  Either way, the basic premise of the book is that Arthur Phillips is given a long-lost Shakespearean play by his father, Arthur Phillips Sr.  Random House is publishing it, and given his role in bringing the play to light, Arthur Jr. has been contracted to write the introduction and annotations.  So far so clear.
    • what’s weird is that as I was arguing the Shakespeare authorship question with a staunch Oxfordian, I found myself quoting from rather absurd arguments in the Tragedy of Arthur, mistaking them for the content of Shapiro’s book.
    • Reading The Tragedy of Arthur as a novel is tricky, as all of the characters are real people, allegedly.
    • Away to some important plot elements.  We are told early on that Arthur, the protagonist, had a rather irregular relationship with his father.  Arthur, his father, a talented but luckless forger, has spent much of his life in jail.
    • One play that is of particular importance is The Most Excellent and Tragical Historie of Arthur, King of Britain, a curious play that has never before been seen by anyone other than Arthur Sr. and his children
    • We’re now a few decades in.  Arthur Jr. is a successful novelist and Arthur Sr. is serving a prison term for forgery.  Knowing he’s soon to expire, Arthur Sr. decides to let his son in on an important secret: the book he long ago bequeathed to Dana is a forgery.  Senior had made it from an actual first edition quarto that he found in an estate in England.  It is Arthur Jr.’s task to use his literary connections to see the original published.
    • Arthur, knowing his father’s history, has the play subjected to a battery of authentication tests,
    • Shapiro himself makes an appearance as the unnamed but readily identifiable “Brooklyn-born Ivy league Bardman.”
    • In his own review of The Tragedy of Arthur, James Shapiro tells the story of his contact with Phillips.
    • It seems Phillips was seeking Shapiro’s help in forging a play, the very same play that is included at the end of the novel/introduction.
    • The Tragedy of Arthur accomplishes something bold and quite ingenious.  With its nebulous lines between fiction and reality, the book attempts and succeeds in showing us just how possible it is to recreate Shakespeare and rewrite history.

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