by Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer
Sometimes I wish that I were an English major, which is what I thought I would be back in middle school. Attending Dr. Paul Budra’s talk titled The Shakespeare Conspiracy gave me a small glimpse of what that would have been like. He carries a contagious enthusiasm, and his ability to connect with the audience through humor made for a delightful evening at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.
Dr. Budra specializes in Shakespeare and early modern literature, and he is an English professor at SFU. In his talk, he discussed how Shakespeare has been the subject of many conspiracy theories, and he argued that such theories provide valuable insight into the “modern conspiratorial imagination.”
He started the talk by saying, “It’s very Shakespearean of you to be here during a plague year.”
A professor with a dark sense of humour? I’m sold.
Dr. Budra then went on to analyse, and perhaps debunk to an extent, the conspiracy theories about Shakespeare. One particularly interesting example involved Thomas Looney, and yes, he did pause over this surname. Dr. Budra explained that Looney did not find any historical facts that could prove his theory that Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not the real writer of his plays. So he wrote down a list of attributes that he thought the real Shakespeare must have had, and then proceeded to look into history to match that made-up description. Looney argued that the plays and poems are “disguised autobiography.” Dr. Budra explained that this illustrated the classic strategy of allegory that conspiracy theorists used, such that “the received narrative points to the real underlying narrative that they, as expert critics, see.”
Further, he argues that conspiracy theorists are reductionists. “They reduce Shakespeare’s writing to a puzzle, they solve it, turning it into an Agatha Christie novel, revealing the hidden clues and shouting ‘Aha! Got you!’” as he eloquently put it.
He states that conspiracy theorists “flatten out reality and impose upon it a simplistic moral rhetoric.” But that’s not the way to be. Because, ultimately, “Great literature, great art like Shakespeare is important because it continually makes us imagine — imagine another time, imagine another culture, imagine understanding reality in a different way, it tricks us into imaging what it must be like to be the other. And that’s our Shakespeare conspiracy.”
If you missed the lecture on March 10 you can watch the whole thing online at the SFU Public Square YouTube Page