Oprah Was Born Too Late

by Bob Sparrow

King Henry VIII

Much of the world was watching Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on TV – it is said to be the most watched event in the history of television.  I watched some of it, but soon tired of the bagpipes and pomp that accompanied the ceremony of a truly magnificent queen.  Queen Elizabeth II, may have been the longest reigning English monarch, but her reign was far from the most interesting.  Yes, we’re wondering if Harry and William will patch things up between them, if the ‘royal family’ will ever really accept Megan, or if King Charles will ever be forgiven for his distant relationship with Diana.  But if you think there is drama in today’s royal family – this is nothing!!!

Here are a few ‘royals’ that Oprah would have given anything to interview back in the day.

I’d say King Henry VIII is probably at the top of the list of ‘most interesting monarchs’. He took the thrown when he was only 17, six weeks later he married Catherine ‘The Cougar’ of Aragon – who was 23 and happened to be the widow of Henry’s brother, Arthur.  She was the daughter of Spain’s Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, and their marriage was an arrangement to strengthen the English-Spanish alliance.  Like a good king’s wife, she bore him three sons and three daughters, unfortunately all were stillborn except one girl – who would become Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) – another great interview for Oprah.

Those who have a smattering of English monarch knowledge know some of the history of the five wives that ensued, each with their own story.  Although some of Henry’s wives lost their heads, several of the marriages were annulled, with Henry breaking from the Catholic church and forming the Church of England.  Additionally, Henry was known as the ‘Father of the Royal Navy’ – starting the dominance of England on the seas, that lasted for centuries.  There is so much more, but let’s move on.

The ‘Virgin (?) Queen’

Two years before Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, was beheaded, she and Henry had a girl, which he essentially disowned after the beheading because she was not a male.  Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, encouraged Henry to bring the daughter back into the fold, which he did.  She, Queen Elizabeth I, became one of England’s most accomplished monarchs.  She was called the ‘Virgin Queen’, although we’re not sure about that, but we do know that she never married.

Back to Elizabeth’s first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic, who many thought should be the Queen of England.  Her relationship with Elizabeth was rocky, at best, in fact ultimately Queen Elizabeth had her imprisoned for 19 years!  After her release, Mary was plotting to overthrow Elizabeth to become Queen of England, but Elizabeth found out and had her beheaded.  Oops!  Elizabeth’s reign was looked at as ‘The Golden Age’ of British history, both in exploration with Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, as well as literature, with William Shakespeare.

Plump ‘Queen Victoria’

Then there is Victoria, the 18-year-old, 4 foot 11, portly queen, who married her first cousin, Prince Albert.  They had nine children and she sat on the throne for 63 years, (obviously a very sturdy throne!) a record broken by Queen Elizabeth II, who was her great, great granddaughter.  But the record for all monarchs is held by Louis XIV of France, who took the throne at 4 years old and served for just over 72 years.  They say, “Long live the king”, but Charles would have to live to be 145 to break Louis’ record!

And who can forget King George III, the king who married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a German, whom he met on their wedding day?  Their marriage lasted . . . are you ready for it?  Got ya!  Fifty-seven years!!!  They had 15 children!  We, here in the colonies, of course, know George then best, along with the ineptness of the Earl of Sandwich, for losing the Revolutionary War.

Oprah would have had a field day!

The Bard by Any Other Name

by Bob Sparrow

Just a friendly reminder that there’s a special birthday coming up at the end of this week, on Saturday, April 23rd.  No, don’t worry that you only have a few shopping days left, he’s virtually impossible to shop for, plus . . . he’s dead.  Coincidently, he died on his birthday in 1616.  Yes, it’s my old friend, William Shakespeare.  OK, he’s really not my old friend, I’m old, but not that old!  Like most of us, I was introduced to ‘The Bard’ in high school.  I remember sleeping through class, as English teacher, Miss O’Brien, droned on about a guy who, I think, sold deer meat, called ‘The Merchant of Venison’.  I clearly wasn’t paying much attention during most of my high school years.  That fact was recently brought to my attention on a Zoom call with a number of my former high school classmates, a few weeks ago.  Our former student body president, Billy Dale Hall, who was on the call and reads our blog, said, in a most respectful way, something like, “I’m surprised that you write a blog, could you even write in high school?”  OK, maybe it wasn’t that respectful, but to his point, I could barely read in high school.

Dr. Viola Chapman

Fast forward to Westminster College where I was fortunate enough to ‘have’ to take a literature class from a Dr. Viola Chapman (Yes, in this photo she looks a bit like Norman Bates’ mother, but she was a really good teacher); fortunately, I had discovered a love of reading a year or so earlier, and in her class, I was learning to recognize and appreciate good literature.  Before I graduated, I had taken every class in English and American literature that Dr. Chapman taught, and ended up with a minor in English.  I was particularly drawn to Shakespeare because she made him so interesting.  Thank you, Viola!!

After reading most of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and visiting his house in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (he wasn’t home), I started reading things about how Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays and speculations about who might have.  Why, you ask, would anyone question the authenticity of William Shakespeare as the greatest writer in modern history?  Here’s a few bullets:

  • There’s no record of him ever attending grammar school, much less a university
  • Both his parents and his three children were illiterate
  • He writes intimately of kings and queens, yet had no access to the royal court
  • He wrote in detail about foreign places, but never personally left England
  • There was no public mourning at the time of his death
  • His will, which listed several gifts, did not include a single book from what would presumably be an extensive library

There’s more, but I think you get the drift here.  Those who have followed this ‘cold case’ for any length of time, know many of the likely suspects who might have or could have written Shakespeare’s plays.  My favorite is Christopher Marlowe, not because I think he’s definitely the one that wrote the plays, but because he has the most intriguing story.

Marlowe or Shakespeare                                      Who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays?

Marlowe was born in the same year as Shakespeare, 1564, but supposedly died at the age of 29, around the same time that Shakespeare started to write his plays. One theory is that Marlowe was a spy in Queen Elizabeth I’s secret service and his death, in a bar room fight, was faked to save his life and put him under cover.  After he went into hiding on ‘the continent’, he continued writing and sending his work to an actor/playwright broker in London named William Shakespeare.   Pledged to keep Marlowe’s identity a secret, Shakespeare submitted the plays with his own name on them.   It is also speculated that ‘Slick Willie’ collected plays from others who were high in the queen’s court and didn’t want to put their name on anything that might have jeopardized their position or their life!

For the lay person, the reading about ‘who wrote Shakespeare’s plays’ may be more interesting than the plays themselves, and for those of us who who even care about this, we hope that some day a ‘Rosetta Stone’ will be discovered that will solve this mystery once and for all.  In the mean time, our birthday boy, William Shakespeare, enjoyed a great life and an even greater after-life.  So I guess, All’s Well That Ends Well!