Shakespeare's Globe: The People, the Places, the Events
Shakespeare, Sebastian, New Statesman (1996)
When the Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson, was pelted with green custard last week, he reportedly remarked to an aide that the fluid "looked like guacamole" -a reference to the apocryphal tale that he once mistook chip-shop mushy peas for avocado dip. Mandelson has always denied it, but as his humorous aside shows, he is fully aware that it is the destiny of politicians to be remembered for words they didn't actually say. In years to come we will forget all about the green custard assault, but the guacamole stain on his reputation will never go away. This media virus has become encrypted in his political DNA, just as David Cameron will be forever associated with the words "Hug a hoodie", even though they were not his but originated with an Observer headline writer. Jim Callaghan's "Crisis? What crisis?" also entered the lexicon despite the quip never having passed his lips.
Similarly, Gordon Brown has often been mocked for pronouncing on "the death of celebrity culture". But the words he used were not quite so definitive. "I think we're moving from this period when, if you like, celebrity matters," he told a literary festival back in 2007. Politicians: we misquote them at our convenience and at their peril.
Is the newly discovered portrait of Shakespeare really that of my namesake? I am in two minds and yes, since you ask, my family claims to be descended from the Bard, although parish records were destroyed in a flood in the late 17th century, so there is no firm proof. My favourite picture still remains the Chandos portrait from the National Portrait Gallery (based on the engraving by Martin Droeshout), a copy of which used to hang on my grandparents' wall. I was always impressed by how this portrait showed the playwright sporting an earring (sadly missing from the new Cobbe oil painting). What a groover, I thought. Then I read in a biography some years ago that this was not a sign of grooviness. Far from it. In Elizabethan times, wearing an earring was a cure for short-sightedness and was akin to a form of acupuncture. Now I am very short-sighted and I have a Shakespeare forehead. What more evidence do I need that I am related?
The French ambassador in London, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, continues to astound with his polymathy. When confronted with the winner of this year's Duff Cooper Prize, a 600-page book about the inventor of the atomic bomb, Maurice G-M read every word of it in a week. Sacrebieu! This is quite a feat, given that English is the ambassador's second language. More impressive still was his performance at the prize presentation, proclaiming the scholarship of Martin J Sherwin and Kai Bird, co-authors of American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer. …